LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- If a team wants to play it safe in the NFL draft, it's tough to go wrong when it goes big in the first round, which is what the Chicago Bears did Thursday in selecting Oregon offensive guard Kyle Long -- son of the legendary Howie Long -- with the 20th pick.
Still, it's a move worth questioning.
Long was the eighth offensive lineman selected in the first round and is the first guard taken by the franchise in the first round since 1960. Long immediately revs up the competition for the starting job at left guard, and if he ends up starting, the new Bear potentially provides the final ingredient for a near-total makeover on the offensive line.
But given his limited body of work, it's absolutely fair to scrutinize this pick, even with general manager Phil Emery working hard at selling Long immediately after the move as "the type of athlete that we have targeted: a fast, tough, dynamic athlete."
With just four starts of major college football on his dossier, even Long seemed surprised.
"I didn't expect to go this high in the draft," Long said.
Tabbed by some scouts as a second-round pick at the earliest, in part because of his measureable attributes and family pedigree, Long took an unconventional route to the NFL. He started his college career at Florida State as a baseball pitcher and was drafted in 2008 by the Chicago White Sox in the 23rd round. But Long left Florida State after a DUI arrest in 2009 and enrolled at Saddleback Community College in Mission Viejo, Calif., where, in 2010, he attempted to play defensive end and quarterback before moving to the offensive line in 2011.
After starting 10 games opposite fellow offensive line prospect Menelik Watson at Saddleback in 2011, Long left for Oregon while Watson departed for Florida State.
At Oregon, Long played in 11 games for the 2012 Ducks but started just four at left guard, at which he created a buzz among the scouting community despite limited experience as a starter.
"Despite his limited time at Oregon, he was a starter at the end of the season," Emery said. "He did very well. His Senior Bowl was excellent. I thought he was the best offensive lineman on the field at the Senior Bowl."
We'll venture to guess he was also the most inexperienced.
"I think it's a good thing and a bad thing. My inexperience can be looked at in two ways," Long said. "I feel like I can get a lot better in Chicago with coaching and the right guys around me."
Long spoke with new coach Marc Trestman immediately after the club made the pick, and the coach made it clear the team considered him to be a raw prospect in need of refinement. Will the Bears be able to coach up Long sufficiently for him to contribute as a rookie?
That's unclear at this point, but it's worth pointing out that 2012 first-round pick Shea McClellin, although promising, didn't make a significant impact in his first season with the Bears.
If Long pans out, surely it's positive news for quarterback Jay Cutler, who has suffered through four brutal seasons in Chicago during which he's absorbed 148 sacks, 97 more than he took the previous three seasons in Denver.
Given his physical attributes, which include, as Emery stated, "rare" athleticism, Long could also provide punch in the rushing game. At the NFL combine, Long was measured with 15.8 percent body fat, which ranked as lowest among the offensive linemen. Long's skill set makes him an ideal player to pull and block efficiently in space.
"That's part of the reason we're extremely excited about having him here is his versatility," said Emery, who added the Bears had been targeting Long for approximately two weeks. "We feel like he can be a starting right tackle. We feel like he can be a good left tackle. So that's a part of what attracted us to him."
Long ran a 4.94-second 40-yard dash at the combine (third fastest among offensive linemen), and scouts consider him as tough as his Hall of Fame father, Howie, and older brother Chris, who is a defensive end with the St. Louis Rams.
Another positive for Long is he played -- albeit one season -- in an offensive system at Oregon that features an up-tempo style similar to what will be employed in Chicago. Emery called that similarity "great that he's developed in that type of system," but surely it's difficult to evaluate a potential prospect with so little in the way of game tape to study.
"Obviously, he's had an interesting road to get to the point where he's at in life, but we're excited to welcome him to the Chicago Bears," Emery said. "Athletically, when you watch him move and the things on tape and the things he's done in workouts, there's no reason he can't go on the right side; right tackle, right guard, left guard, left tackle."