Chicago Bears: 2014 Draft focus

Bears draft focus: RB

May, 1, 2014
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The signing of veteran tailback Shaun Draughn last week eased some concerns about the Bears' lack of depth in their offensive backfield, but the team could decide to add another running back in the later rounds of next month's draft to compliment the current trio of Matt Forte, Michael Ford and Draughn.

One potential candidate is Wisconsin running back James White, the Badgers' fourth all-time leading rusher with 4,015 yards. White's 45 career rushing touchdowns ranks third in school history.

ESPNChicago.com reported in mid-April that the Bears had traveled to Madison, Wis. and conducted a private workout with White, who led all rushers with 11 carries for 62 yards and one touchdown at the 2014 at the 2014 Senior Bowl.

Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas reportedly made a pre-draft visit to Halas Hall.

Both White and Thomas are listed at 5-foot-9.

While Forte handled almost all of the snaps at running back last year in Marc Trestman's offense, the Bears do need to have a plan in place in case Forte is forced to miss time or a game due to injury. The club released veteran Michael Bush prior to the start of free agency.

Ford is a promising second-year player out of LSU, but he did not carry the ball in 2013. However, he is expected to compete for the No. 2 job in the preseason.

Since the general consensus in the NFL is that running backs can be found almost anywhere, the Bears should have a large group of players to choose from if they want to invest one of their final picks in the position.

Five potential targets:
1. James White, Wisconsin

2. De'Anthony Thomas, Oregon

3. Isaiah Crowell, Alabama State

4. Marion Grice, Arizona State

5. James Wilder Jr., Florida State

The next five: 6. Jerick McKinnon, Georgia Southern; 7. Rajion Neal, Tennessee; 8. Tyler Gaffney, Louisville; 9. Senorise Perry; 10. Storm Johnson, UCF.

Position grade: C

Bears draft focus: C/OG

April, 30, 2014
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The outlook for the interior of the offensive line changed significantly for the Chicago Bears in 2013 due in part to the first-round acquisition of Kyle Long, who started all 16 games at right guard last season en route to making the Pro Bowl, and veteran free-agent signee Matt Slauson.

Combined with contributions from tackles Jermon Bushrod and Jordan Mills as well as veteran center Roberto Garza, Chicago’s offensive line finished 2013 tied for fourth fewest in sacks allowed.

So it’s safe to deduce the Bears -- with more pressing needs on the defensive side of the ball -- likely won’t spend much time pondering whether to use an early pick in the NFL draft to select an offensive guard or a center. There’s plenty of depth already at the position in proven veterans such as Eben Britton and James Brown, who can play both guard and tackle.

The club also added a starter in waiting during free agency in veteran center Brian de la Puente, who has familiarity with offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer, in addition to bolstering the depth at that position by re-signing Taylor Boggs.

So if the Bears add to the interior of the offensive line at some point in the draft, count on it being in the later rounds, if at all.

“Feel very good about the development of our O-line,” Bears general manager Phil Emery said back in January. “We’re going in the right direction. There have been four new members of our starting unit. They have worked together extremely hard. Our penalty discipline is an outstanding difference from one year to the next. Last year, we had 38 offensive line penalties. This year, we had 16. To me, that is 22 less sacks. That is 22 [fewer] negative plays.”

Here are some center/guard prospects projected to be taken in the mid to late rounds that might garner interest from the Bears:

Five potential targets

Player School Projected Round

1. G Chris Watt, Notre Dame, 4-5

2. C Tyler Larsen, Utah State, 4-5

3. G/C Anthony Steen, Alabama, 4-5

4. G Ryan Groy, Wisconsin, 5-6

5. C Gabe Ikard, Oklahoma, 5-6

Position grade: B-

Bears draft focus: WR

April, 29, 2014
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The Chicago Bears acquired Josh Bellamy, Josh Morgan and Domenik Hixon to compete for roles on special teams in addition to spots as reserves among the receiving corps. Yet, despite appearing to be well stocked at receiver, the Bears could still take a flyer on the position in the later rounds of the NFL draft.

With general manager Phil Emery, no option is out of the question.

But don’t expect the Bears to use an early-round pick on a receiver because currently the needs on defense take precedence.

As it stands, the club’s top targets -- Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery -- are coming off Pro Bowl seasons, and rising second-year man Marquess Wilson figures to receive first dibs at winning the No. 3 receiver spot. The Bears certainly need depth behind their front-line receivers, but it’s worth noting that quarterback Jay Cutler has other options in the passing game in tight end Martellus Bennett and running back Matt Forte.

Should the Bears choose to draft a receiver next month, here is a list of players who might fit the club’s offense. These aren’t the top prospects of the class, but players expected to fall somewhere in the range where the Bears might feel comfortable about taking a receiver:

Five potential targets

Player, School, Projected Round

1. Bruce Ellington, South Carolina, 3-4

2. Cody Latimer, Indiana, 3-4

3. Josh Huff, Oregon, 3-4

4. Brandon Coleman, Rutgers, 4-5

5. Robert Herron, Wyoming, 4-5

The next 5: 6. T.J. Jones, Notre Dame; 7. Corey Brown, Ohio State; 8. Jared Abbrederis, Wisconsin; 9. Martavis Bryant, Clemson; 10. Jeff Janis, Saginaw Valley State.

Position grade: A-

Bears draft focus: QBs

April, 28, 2014
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Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery expressed a comfort level with Jordan Palmer as the primary backup to Jay Cutler, but made it clear the club could be on the hunt for a developmental signal caller sometime next month during the NFL draft.

The club's current roster features Cutler, Palmer and Jerrod Johnson.

“As far as our team is concerned at backup quarterback, we like Jordan Palmer,” Emery said. “That's why we brought him back. He's a guy that fit in incredibly quick. He was a good influence in the room. He's got good intelligence. We want him to develop, and obviously the nice thing about Jordan is that, not only the experience of coming back here, but he has been a backup for a number of years in the league in Cincinnati. He has that experience. He knows what those responsibilities entail. We have a young, developmental player here [in Johnson]. Obviously, we're going to look at the draft for an opportunity to add to our quarterback roster, and at some point, we'll probably bring in a bunch of veterans after this wave of free agency -- the first and second -- and take a look at who's still looking for an opportunity.”

The Bears brought in veterans Josh Freeman and Adam Weber for workouts at Halas Hall, but opted to not sign either of them, and tryouts will likely continue all the way up to the start of training camp. Ideally, the Bears would like to acquire another signal caller in time to participate in the offseason program, organized team activities and minicamps so he can get acclimated to the system and hit the ground running once training camp kicks off.

Throughout the pre-draft process, the Bears have shown interest in Northern Illinois' Jordan Lynch, Tajh Boyd of Clemson and Notre Dame's Tommy Rees. The club spent time with Boyd at the Senior Bowl, met with Lynch at the NFL combine and visited Rees' pro day in addition to bringing him in for a workout at Halas Hall.

The club likely won't use the No. 14 overall pick in the draft to address the quarterback position, but the Bears will certainly explore the possibility of adding to the position in the later rounds.

“We're going to evaluate all the quarterbacks that we think can play, and we'll make decisions accordingly,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said back in February at the combine. “Every quarterback room is different. At this point in time we're excited about the fact that we've got Jay in place, because Jay in place allows us to work and fill the work in a lot of different other areas to complete our football team, and we'll see how it goes. I've been in quarterback rooms where we've had a young player. I've been in quarterback rooms where we haven't. Again, it's whatever is best for the football team. If that player can be developed and help our football team now and in the future, I'm sure he'll be in the consideration.”

Here's a list of potential fits for the Bears. Keep in mind these aren't necessarily the top prospects of the class, but ones which might make the most sense for Chicago:

Five potential targets

Player School Projected Round

1. Jimmy Garoppolo, Eastern Illinois, 3

2. AJ McCarron, Alabama, 3-4

3. Aaron Murray, Georgia, 3-4

4. Tajh Boyd, Clemson, 4

5. Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech, 4-5

The next 5: 6. David Fales, San Jose State; 7. Stephen Morris, Miami (Fla.); 8. Connor Shaw, South Carolina; 9. Jordan Lynch, Northern Illinois; 10. Tommy Rees, Notre Dame.

Position grade: B-

Bears draft focus: CB

April, 25, 2014
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With veteran two-time Pro Bowler Charles Tillman back in the fold on just a one-year deal, the clock is ticking for the Chicago Bears to find a future starting cornerback.

Ideally, the Bears would draft a corner that is comparable in size to Tillman (6-foot-2, 198 pounds) in order to defend the taller wide receivers in the NFC North.

The general consensus is the Bears will probably steer clear of the smaller cornerbacks because 5-foot-8 Tim Jennings just signed a new four-year, $22.4 million contract. The team needs to find a replacement for Tillman.

There is a strong chance the Bears use one of their top-three picks next month on a cornerback, although it remains to be seen in what specific round they pull the trigger.

If Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert falls to the Bears at No. 14, he may be hard to pass up. The trio of Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard, Ohio State’s Bradley Roby and Virginia Tech’s Kyle Fuller are all candidates to be selected in the first round, and should all be on the board when the Bears pick.

Fuller reportedly made a recent pre-draft visit to the Bears.

In the event the Bears wait to take a cornerback until the second or third round, Lindenwood’s Pierre Desir could be an option. ESPNChicago.com reported that Bears director of college scouting Marty Barrett attended Desir’s personal pro day in March.

Desir (6-foot-1, 198 pounds) is a three-time Division II All-American with 25 career interceptions.

Utah’s Keith McGill, Florida State’s Lamarcus Joyner and Nebraska’s Stanley Jean-Baptiste have all been linked to the Bears in the second round in various mock drafts.

This projects to be a particularly deep draft a cornerback, so even if the Bears wait a round or two, they should still be in good shape.

Five projected targets:

1. Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State
2. Darqueze Denard, Michigan State
3. Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech
4. Bradley Roby, Ohio State
5. Pierre Desir, Lindenwood

The next five: 6. Keith McGill, Utah; 7. Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Nebraska; 8. Jason Verrett, TCU; 9. Lamarcus Joyner, Florida State; 10. Aaron Colvin, Oklahoma.

Position grade: A

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