Bears must start to get more talent from their drafts
BY MIKE MULLIGAN email@example.com April 23, 2011 12:52AM
Updated: July 31, 2011 12:16AM
At the NFL Scouting
Combine in February and again at the Bears’ predraft media session last week, general manager Jerry Angelo talked about getting four starters out of the 2011 draft.
He means eventual starters, of course, guys who can become fixtures in the next three years. Adding four starters is a yearly, albeit lofty and elusive, goal for the Bears and most other NFL teams.
‘‘Given where we’re picking in the draft [29th], you can’t . . . feel like you’re going to hit a home run with a player or he’s going to come in here and change the course of your football team,’’ Angelo said. ‘‘Although we do feel like we do every year: We want to come out of this with four starters. That’s our goal every year — to come out with four starters, players that we can win with. And we feel that there is a good potential for that happening.’’
Nothing wrong with dreaming. Heck, three NFL teams drafted four rookie starters just last year. Of course, those teams had a collective 40 picks to pull off the feat. The Bears have six selections, and they are choosing late in rounds as punishment for an 11-5 season that included hosting — and losing — the NFC Championship Game against the Green Bay Packers. The Bears fielded one rookie starter in that game, right tackle J’Marcus Webb, a seventh-round pick.
The Bears, however, aren’t a draft-driven team. Roughly half their starters were selected by other teams. The Bears have garnered their success by making a big trade for quarterback Jay Cutler one year and adding defensive end Julius Peppers in a free-agent deal the next. They still have enough talent to win consistently, but their inability to develop younger players soon — and perhaps for a long time — will be a major problem, especially with the Packers in the NFC North.
On the day the Bears played the Packers for a trip to the Super Bowl, only 22 players on their 53-man roster and two-man injured-reserve list came to the team as rookies from 2005 through 2010, be it as draft picks or college free agents. Packers general manager Ted Thompson, who was hired in 2005, boasted 16 more players of that ilk — 38 — counting an injured list that swelled to 15 strong.
Even if you included all the Bears’ draft picks and undrafted free agents — including Olin Kreutz and Patrick Mannelly, who were selected in 1998 — the number was still only 28, 10 fewer than the Packers had from Thompson’s drafts and rookie free-agent signings alone.
The Bears have had some bad luck since Angelo’s first draft in 2002, when offensive tackle Marc Colombo — their top overall pick — suffered a gruesome knee injury that ruined his time with the team (although he has been a longtime fixture with the Dallas Cowboys). Too many players have gone on to develop elsewhere, and too many have been flat-out busts.
The Bears have no players left from nine taken in 2002, eight taken in 2004 and six taken in 2005. Well, Chris Harris was in the Class of 2005, but he spent his best seasons with the Carolina Panthers, not the Bears.
The Bears have two players left from the 12-man Class of 2003, two from seven taken in 2006 — including Danieal Manning, who might be an unrestricted free agent when the NFL solves its labor dispute — and two from nine selected in 2007.
Seven members of the 12-man Class of 2008 are still on the roster, including starters Chris Williams, Matt Forte and Earl Bennett. Four players remain from nine drafted in 2009, including Johnny Knox and D.J. Moore, and four more from five selected last year.
Given that track record, the Bears are going to need more picks to find the number of contributors they desire. They can trade out of the first round for a couple of added picks in later rounds. Generally speaking, though, there is a drop in talent the lower you go.