The Bears’ lack of first-round picks in the last two drafts diluted some of the criticism levied at general manager Jerry Angelo regarding his skills as a talent evaluator.
Perhaps that’s why Angelo -- armed with a full complement of picks for this month’s draft -- said, “no” when asked if there was extra pressure this year to make slam-dunk selections, before cracking a joke at his own expense.
“They can’t beat up on the first-round picks from the last couple of years,” Angelo said, laughing, “because of the obvious reasons. But we feel real good. Our formula to draft well is very, very sound. I’m comfortable with our philosophy and how we look at the draft.”
Obviously, critics and Bears fans don’t necessarily see it the same way. So we decided to take a closer look.
With the draft rapidly approaching, we decided to kick off our coverage this week by counting down the team’s steals and busts in the NFL draft under Angelo, who has selected just two every-down Pro Bowlers (Tommie Harris and Nathan Vasher) since 2004.
In addition to the countdown of draft steals and busts, my partner Jeff Dickerson and I will put together four ESPNChicago.com mock drafts leading into the April 28 event, breakdowns of the team’s needs and a look at the top 20 players at each position.
So without further ado, here’s who comes in at No. 5 in our steals/busts countdown:
Steal: WR Johnny Knox, Abilene Christian, fifth round (140th overall)
Hailing from small-school Abilene Christian, Knox didn’t start a single game as a rookie in 2009, but hauled in 45 passes for 527 yards and a pair of touchdowns, in addition to earning a spot in the Pro Bowl as a kick returner.
Knox cranked up his production on offense even more in Year 2, despite playing in a new and somewhat complicated scheme brought in by Mike Martz. Knox caught five or more passes in four games last season, but eclipsed the 100-yard mark just once (five catches, 120 yards against Seattle). Knox nearly became the first Bears receiver since Marty Booker in 2001 to reach 1,000 yards last season, but fell short, finishing with 960 yards on 51 receptions in somewhat of a disappearing act in the Jan. 2 regular-season finale at Green Bay.
Knox acknowledges there’s still room for improvement. But given his progress in two years, there’s a good chance he’ll make a significant leap in 2011 with a year of experience in Martz’s system now on his resume.
Bust: CB Roosevelt Williams, Tuskegee, third round (72nd overall)
Williams entered the league widely considered among the best of the 2002 class in terms of pure coverage skills. But it’s obvious the team didn’t do enough homework concerning the steep learning curve Williams would face in the NFL after playing at a small college.
“I was young, and going there, I had a lot of things thrown at me,” said Williams, who is entering his second year as the cornerbacks coach at Widener University in Pennsylvania. “Coming from the small school I came from, we ran two coverages. So in Chicago, I just couldn’t go out there and do what I do. I was worried about mistakes. The coaches saw my frustration and that didn’t sit well.”
After starting two games as a rookie in 2002, Williams was cut at the end of training camp the following year. In two seasons in the NFL, Williams started five games for the Bears and Cleveland Browns, contributing 20 tackles and no interceptions. Williams also spent time on the offseason rosters of the Washington Redskins and New York Jets, before ending his football career after a stint in the Canadian Football League with the Edmonton Eskimos.