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NFL Draft: Here’s what the Bears need

LOUISVILLE KY - OCTOBER 18:  CalvPryor #25 Louisville Cardinals intercepts pass end zone during game against Central FloridKnights PapJohn's

LOUISVILLE, KY - OCTOBER 18: Calvin Pryor #25 of the Louisville Cardinals intercepts a pass in the end zone during the game against the Central Florida Knights at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium on October 18, 2013 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

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Updated: June 10, 2014 6:38AM

The long wait is over.

When the NFL draft starts Thursday — two weeks later than in previous years — an unprecedented offseason of hype, even by NFL standards, will come to an end.

Those sick of mock drafts shouldn’t whine to GM Phil Emery, who has used the extra two weeks to decide what to do with the No. 14 overall pick, develop a strategy for all rounds and make a meticulous list of undrafted free agents to chase.

“I don’t know what they’re complaining about,” Emery said. “This is where the fun is.”

It will be even more fun if the Bears can fill a major need — defensive tackle, safety or maybe even cornerback and linebacker — in the first round.

“It’s not about overanalyzing players,” Emery said. “It’s about working your plan and having more time to do so, which I think is very beneficial, and really has been a very enjoyable process.”

Here’s a look at what the Bears need, who they could draft and which other teams could affect both:

1. Safety, defensive tackle or other?

Patrick Finley: Safety. There are only four high-level ones — Louisville’s Calvin Pryor, Alabama’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Northern Illinois’ Jimmie Ward and Washington State’s Deone Bucannon — so the Bears aren’t guaranteed a second-round safety. Aaron Donald, the only worthy tackle, will be gone before the Bears’ pick at No. 14.

Adam L. Jahns: Call me old-fashioned for writing this, but it all begins up front. Better play in the trenches can hide questionable play in the secondary. Safeties are more valuable in today’s NFL — just look at all the money they are getting now — but a top-tier defensive tackle always has been and always will be invaluable. If Pittsburgh’s Aaron Donald is there at No. 14, take him.

Mark Potash: The most acute need is clearly at safety, with Chris Conte coming off a subpar season and an injury and Major Wright not being re-signed in free agency. The only question is whether there will be an available safety who fits the Bears’ defense worthy of the No. 14 pick.

2. Most overhyped need?

Finley: Drafting a quarterback. If Jay Cutler gets hurt, the offense will be in a world of trouble. A fifth-round draft pick won’t be able to help one iota. Developing a drafted quarterback is an admittedly sexy proposition, but adding a veteran would be the greater short-term asset.

Jahns: Cornerback. The Bears can afford to wait on one — maybe even until the 2015 draft — because Tim Jennings, Charles Tillman, Kelvin Hayden and Isaiah Frey return. This draft is loaded with corners with potential, including plenty that will be mid-round options. But their top two picks should focus on defensive tackles and safeties.

Potash: As porous as the defense was last year, they are in better shape at linebacker than people think. D.J. Williams was effective when he was healthy. Rookie Jon Bostic was put in the worst possible position last year with all the injuries. Shea McClellin was the 12th-ranked OLB in the 2012 draft.

3. Most undervalued need?

Finley: Cornerback. Toss out starters Charles Tillman, Tim Jennings and nickelback Isaiah Frey, and the Bears don’t have a single cornerback who played more than 12 defensive snaps last year. With Tillman and Kelvin Hayden eligible for free agency at the end of the year, the Bears need depth.

Jahns: With the offensive-minded Bears, it’s another pass catcher, whether it’s a receiver or a tight end. What happens if Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery or Martellus Bennett miss significant time next season with injuries? Are Marquess Wilson and Fendi Onobun real options? This draft is deep with offensive skill, especially at receiver.

Potash: The Bears aren’t as set at offensive tackle as it appears. Jermon Bushrod and Jordan Mills functioned well as part of a solid offensive line last year. But for whatever Pro Football Focus’ ratings are worth, Bushrod was 50th and Mills 74th among OTs. That at least bears watching.

4. Emery’s big surprise?

Finley: There are a lot of “ifs” here, but if the Buccaneers draft a quarterback and if the price is right (say, a mid- or late-round pick), Emery should check the availability of Tampa Bay backup Mike Glennon. Glennon is intriguing: He’s young and cheap, and he started 13 games as a rookie.

Jahns: Taking Johnny Manziel with the No. 14 pick. OK, I’m kidding. The big surprise will be no surprise. Emery may draft an offensive player earlier than expected, but it won’t compare to taking Shea McClellin or Kyle Long in the first round like he did the past two years. Emery will trust his staff’s own calculated projections, but the current position in the draft and their defensive needs make their path pretty clear.

Potash: As much help as the Bears need on defense, Emery will draft an RB or a QB in the first three rounds. The devaluation of RBs could provide a bargain too good to pass up. Coach Marc Trestman could turn a third-round QB into a commodity down the road.

5. Keep an eye on:

Finley: The Cowboys. Despite signing three-technique tackle Henry Melton from the Bears, Jerry Jones’ team covets Donald and might have more of an appetite to trade up from No. 16 than the Bears do at No. 14. Like the Bears, Big D needs a safety, too.

Jahns: The teams in front of the Bears in need of quarterbacks, especially the Buccaneers and new coach Lovie Smith. An early run on quarterbacks will send more defensive options the Bears’ way, a dream scenario for Emery. The problem is that some teams want to trade down to get those quarterbacks later in the first round, while others are more content standing pat.

Potash: Though Emery downplayed trade possibilities with his first-round pick, the Bears could trade down in the first round for an extra second- or third-round pick and still get the player they wanted at 14.

It wouldn’t be a shock if the Bears drafted a punter with a late-round pick.

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