Chicago Bears: 2012 NFL draft

Bears agree to terms with WR Jeffery

May, 2, 2012

The Chicago Bears announced they agreed to terms Wednesday with second-round pick Alshon Jeffery on a four-year contract.

[+] EnlargeAlshon Jeffery
Josh D. Weiss/US PresswireSecond-round selection Alshon Jeffery is the first Bears' draft pick to agree to terms with the team.
Jeffrey agreed to a four-year, $4.52 million deal that included a signing bonus of close to $1.75 million, a source told ESPN NFL Insider John Clayton.

Jeffery becomes the first of the club's 2012 draft class to come to terms on a contract. The rest of the class, including first-round pick Shea McClellin remains unsigned. But the Bears typically move quickly toward signing its rookies. Implementation of the NFL's new rookie wage scale should also speed signings around the league.

The 45th overall pick, Jeffery caught 183 passes for 3,042 yards and 23 touchdowns in 33 starts, before renouncing his senior year of eligibility. Jeffery is one of three players in SEC history to surpass 3,000 yards receiving, and only former Georgia star Terrance Edwards -- who racked up 3,093 yards from 1999 through 2002 -- has gained more receiving yardage than Chicago's second-round pick.

After producing a sophomore season in which he caught 88 passes for 1,517 yards and nine touchdowns, Jeffery watched his numbers dip as South Carolina worked through issues at quarterback.

"Our coaches and all of us as a team, we just went with the best situation to win us the game," Jeffery said. "We thought if teams were gonna double and triple team, and give us the run, we thought we would run the ball more. That would win the most games. We won 11 games. We broke the school record. So that worked out for us."

Injuries a big part of Hardin story

April, 27, 2012
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- It's tough to objectively analyze the Chicago Bears' third-round selection of Oregon State safety Brandon Hardin without first mentioning his medical history.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Hardin
Jason O. Watson/US PresswireBrandon Hardin's career at Oregon State was cut short before the 2011 season when he broke a shoulder, requiring season-ending surgery.
Hardin missed the entire 2011 season after undergoing surgery to repair a fractured shoulder. He also played with a broken hand in 2008 while dealing with a sprained wrist on the other arm. Given the amount of time Major Wright has missed in just two seasons, not to mention the fact Chris Conte was placed on IR last year with a foot injury, durability at safety is a serious concern.

All that being said, Hardin, a collegiate cornerback, is a physical 6-foot-3 defensive back who recorded a career-best 63 tackles in 2010. Bears general manager Phil Emery described Hardin as an aggressive player who "strikes" his opponents. He also, if healthy, projects to be a solid contributor on special teams, a role he manned early in his career at Oregon State.

Hardin is expected to be the Bears’ third and fourth safety and lineup primarily in the box at strong safety.

Even though the club re-signed veteran Craig Steltz to a two-year deal, the need for safety was obvious after the departure of Brandon Meriweather in free agency. Steltz and Hardin will be counted on to provide depth behind starters Wright and Conte, but both could be pressed into duty if either of the two first-team safeties suffer another injury or falter on the field, two entirely possible scenarios.

Emery told the media Friday night the organization gave Hardin "a good medical grade" and that he's "medically sound".

Hardin represents the ninth safety taken by the Bears since Lovie Smith became head coach in 2004. For the Bears’ sake, hopefully he's more of the Chris Harris and Danieal Manning variety, easily the two best safeties selected in that time frame, and less of the Kevin Payne or Al Afalava types who contributed early but never lasted more than a couple of seasons.

Hester likes pick; ready to be 'playmaker'

April, 27, 2012
LOMBARD, Ill. -- Just after Devin Hester stepped off a stage in the Dick’s Sporting Goods parking lot, he was given the news: The Chicago Bears drafted a receiver, Alshon Jeffery, in the second round of the NFL draft.

[+] EnlargeDevin Hester
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesDevin Hester is coming off his least productive season as a receiver since 2007.
Like the rabid Bears fans who came out to see him, Hester said he knew that move was coming, and just like the fans, he's happy the Bears got a big target. It's been a long time coming.

“We need at least five or six solid receivers with this type of offense that we got,” he said at an event to promote Nike’s new football jersey. “We knew that we were going to go into this draft and get another receiver. We know, as players, that we need another guy. In this league, guys get hurt, left and right, and the more you preserve your players, alternate in and out, the longer they last.”

The days of forcing Hester into a No. 1 receiver role are gone. Now the Bears have a legitimate proven top guy in Brandon Marshall and the 6-foot-3, 218-pound Jeffery gives Jay Cutler another big target.

Earl Bennett, who got a new deal last season, is the glue guy, the classic third-down slot receiver, and Johnny Knox is out for the time being as he recovers from back surgery. The other receivers are fill-in guys. But what’s Hester’s role on offense now?

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Bears find Marshall complement in Jeffery

April, 27, 2012
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Had Alshon Jeffery left South Carolina after the 2010 season, the Chicago Bears never would have been in a position to select the wide receiver in the second round, No. 45 overall.

[+] EnlargeAlshon Jeffery
Mike Ehrmann/Getty ImagesAlshon Jeffery's production dropped off from his sophomore to junior seasons.
As a sophomore, Jeffery led the SEC with 108.4 receiving yards per game, catching 88 passes for 1,517 yards and nine touchdowns. But Jeffery's numbers fell off his junior season when he managed 49 receptions for 762 yards and eight touchdowns. Many point to Jeffery's weight as the reason behind the dropoff in production -- he lost over 15 pounds and checked in at 214 pounds at his official pro day at South Carolina -- but it should also be noted that South Carolina dismissed its starting quarterback Stephen Garcia early in the 2011 season and went to a more run-based attack on offense.

Jeffery's talent and potential was ultimately too much for the Bears to pass up. After Jeffery made an official visit to the Bears the week prior to the draft, the club moved up five spots to select him in the second round.

At 6-foot-3, Jeffery is the kind of playmaker the Bears need to complement Brandon Marshall on the outside, and the combination of Earl Bennett and Devin Hester in the slot. Quarterback Jay Cutler had been vocal about wanting bigger targets at receiver, and new general manager Phil Emery delivered.

Plus, given the uncertainty surrounding the status of Johnny Knox next year, the Bears needed to add another wide receiver to the group to protect themselves. They had both Wake Forest's Chris Givens and Nevada's Rishard Matthews at Halas Hall for private visits, but Jeffery clearly graded out much higher on the team’s draft board. After Georgia Tech's Stephen Hill went to the New York Jets at No. 43, the Bears knew they had to strike.

Of course, there is some risk involved with Jeffery, who was not only named the MVP of the 2012 Capital One Bowl, he was also ejected for fighting. But talent is talent. Jeffery has plenty of it and proved to be ultra-productive in the most competitive conference in the country at a position where the Bears had a large need.

That is why he makes total sense for the Bears at No. 45.

Bears move up to draft WR Jeffery

April, 27, 2012
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The Chicago Bears swapped spots in the second round with the St. Louis Rams to move up five spots (No. 45 overall) to draft South Carolina receiver Alshon Jeffery.

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ESPNChicago's Jeff Dickerson and Michael C. Wright discuss the surprise pick from the Bears in Boise State DE/OLB Shea McClellin.

Surprise pick just way Emery liked it

April, 26, 2012
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Considering the unknowns involved in evaluating any NFL draft pick too soon, it makes more sense to be excited about Chicago Bears’ first-round choice Shea McClellin than it does to start comparing him to Dan Bazuin.

But sure enough, that name popped up Thursday night, a nervous and knee-jerk reaction by those who remembered Bazuin, a second-round Bears pick five years ago out of Central Michigan who, like McClellin, was projected as a defensive end, then waived after one year and his second knee surgery.

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LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The scouting staff of the Chicago Bears looked beyond measureable attributes in the build-up to new general manager Phil Emery making the first draft selection of his tenure with the club.

[+] EnlargeShea McClellin
Otto Kitsinger III/Getty ImagesShea McClellin had 20.5 sacks during his four seasons at Boise State.
In taking Boise State defensive end Shea McClellin, the Bears did what too many teams around the league don’t do. They didn’t overthink it.

They relied on the production they saw on the field from burning through copious amounts of McClellin’s game tapes from Boise State, and private workouts with defensive line coach Mike Phair. Not bench-press reps, 40-yard dash times, or Bod Pod testing.

At least that’s the impression Emery gave in explaining the team’s decision to use the 19th pick on McClellin, who -- despite a history of playing multiple positions -- will start off playing left defensive end for the Bears.

The Bears chose McClellin despite the availability of several big-name prospects that were viewed from the outside as more appealing.

“If there’s one area that stands out for me as an evaluator in evaluating Shea -- myself and our coaches and scouts -- is his high level of football instincts. This is a very natural player,” Emery said. “He plays with a very low pad level. He finds the ball quickly, through blocks, which is a skill in itself. He reads pressure well. He can feel where the ball’s going. He has a very natural ability to find the right path to the ball off blocks, and make tackles as quick as possible.”

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New GM Emery is now on the clock

April, 25, 2012
CHICAGO -- You want to believe first-year Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery, you really do.

He certainly seemed earnest when he said earlier this week that he is "excited" to show what his staff can do in the draft room Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

And there were no noticeable signs the pressure was getting to him.

"I'm having a blast actually," Emery said. "I'm having a good time. I'm having the time of my life. It's a great city, great fans. I'm enjoying every second of it."

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Bears draft preview: Kickers/punters

April, 25, 2012
Consider the kicking and punting game for the Chicago Bears pretty much sewn up for the foreseeable future with veterans Robbie Gould and 2011 free-agent acquisition Adam Podlesh in the fray.

Since 1995, the Bears have spent picks on just two players at either position so it’s a safe bet the Bears aren’t headed that direction again in 2012.

The most accurate kicker in NFL history, Gould set a franchise record by hitting six field goals from distances of 50 or more yards, and connected on 20 or more attempts (28) for the seventh consecutive year. Podlesh, meanwhile, logged a career-best and single season franchise record for net punting average (40.4), which also ranked as sixth best in the NFL.

So if the Bears add anything at either kicker or punter, don’t expect for it to be anything more than an undrafted developmental prospect.

Bears draft preview: Defensive ends

April, 24, 2012
Nick PerryRic Tapia/Icon SMIUSC's Nick Perry is one of five defensive ends the Bears are known to have worked out or hosted before the draft.
The need to boost the pass rush seems to always serve as an offseason theme in recent years for the Chicago Bears headed into the draft.

The club’s responses to the deficiency have become monotonous.

“Do we need to do a better job with it? Yes,” Bears coach Lovie Smith said. “I think those guys would say that. We’re saying that because we’re capable of doing more.”

The difference now, though, is the Bears seem to have intensified their search to add a capable pass rusher opposite Julius Peppers, and it appears the club could target a defensive end with the 19th pick in the NFL draft. The Bears’ pre-draft activities seem to indicate as much.

Of the top 20 players at the position, the Bears have either worked out or hosted at least five of the prospects including South Carolina’s Melvin Ingram, Illinois’ Whitney Mercilus, and Southern Cal’s Nick Perry, in addition to West Virginia’s Bruce Irvin, and Tim Fugger of Vanderbilt.

The extensive work done on the prospects surely stems from the team’s production in 2011. The Bears tied for 19th in sacks last season, with 17 of their 33 sacks coming from the defensive end position. The club brought back veteran Israel Idonije (five sacks in 2011) for another season, but it’s likely the Bears would use him as a rotational player if it can land a starter in the draft to play opposite Peppers.

“Julius Peppers is arguably the best player in the NFL. That’s what I think,” Smith said. “He will very seldom lead the league in sacks because he gets respect; always double-teamed, triple-teamed.”

That’s exactly why it’s imperative the Bears land another pass rusher at some point in the draft, especially in a division with so many talented quarterbacks such as Aaron Rodgers of Green Bay and Detroit’s Matthew Stafford.

The next 10:11. Trevor Guyton, California, 6-3, 285; 12. Cam Johnson, Virginia, 6-4, 268; 13. Malik Jackson, Tennessee, 6-5, 284; 14. Jake Bequette, Arkansas, 6-5, 274; 15. Jack Crawford, Penn State, 6-5, 274; 16. Jacquies Smith, Missouri, 6-3, 253; 17. Justin Francis, Rutgers, 6-2, 268; 18. Tim Fugger, Vanderbilt, 6-3, 248; 19. Kourtnei Brown, Clemson, 6-5, 256; 20. Frank Alexander, Oklahoma, 6-4, 270.

Position grade: B.

Analysis:The Bears have scoured this year’s class extensively to find what they believe could be a fit opposite Peppers. They shouldn’t experience too many problems finding it because of the sheer depth of this class, headlined by Melvin Ingram and Quentin Coples. The Bears have either worked out or hosted at least five of the top 20 players at the position. That’s a strong indication that at some point, the team will draft a defensive end.
Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery revealed Monday the club has fielded multiple calls from other team around the league seeking to move up and down the board through trades leading up to the NFL draft.

[+] EnlargePhil Emery
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastPhil Emery says the Bears have field multiple calls from teams looking to move in the draft.
Naturally, Emery wouldn’t divulge plans, but disclosed “we’re working on a core of about seven players” as potential first-round targets, adding that his main concern headed into the draft is being “ready no matter what the scenario is.”

Obviously, trades fall into that category for the Bears, which hold the No. 19 overall pick.

“The biggest concern I have is that we’re ready for no matter what the scenario is; that we’ve thought through [them all], that we have [them] down on paper, that we’ve made those decisions prior to the draft that no matter what happens, we have an answer, and we have an answer that we feel good about,” Emery said, adding, “That that player that we end up picking regardless of it’s at 19 or a trade-up or trade-down scenario, no matter what happens around us that we’ve figured out how to get a good player.”

Emery explained the fluidity associated with holding the 19th pick is “why we have seven players in the mix, so that we have a solution to whatever scenario happens in front or around us.”

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Bears draft preview: Defensive tackles

April, 22, 2012
Dontari PoeJoe Robbins/Getty ImagesMemphis defensive tackle Dontari Poe could be available when the Bears pick at No. 19.
Depth at defensive tackle took a major hit for the Chicago Bears with the departure in free agency of Amobi Okoye and the decision to release veteran Anthony Adams.

Outside of starters Henry Melton and Matt Toeaina, rising second-year man Stephen Paea is the only defensive tackle on the roster with experience, meaning this is likely a position the Bears would look to address in the NFL draft.

Interestingly, it’s believed the Bears haven’t used any of their NFL-allotted 30 pre-draft visits to host any defensive tackle prospects. The inactivity with potential prospects at the position could be viewed as one of the many smokescreens teams perpetuate in the days leading up to the draft.

The Bears relied on a rotation of five players -- Melton, Toeina, Okoye, Paea and Adams -- last season at defensive tackle, and that group combined for 13 sacks, including four from Okoye to rank No. 2 among the defensive tackles. Bears coach Lovie Smith spoke of wanting to improve the pass rush at the NFL combine.

That can’t be accomplished by simply adding to the workload of Paea, a second-round pick in 2011, who was inactive last season for the first five games. So look for the Bears to try to add an interior either through the draft or with undrafted rookies. The Bears will also look for more significant contributions from some of the young players on the current roster such as Jordan Miller.

“Everything needs to be ramped up,” Smith said. “But I like some of the things we were able to do on the defensive line [in 2011].”

The next 10: 11. Billy Winn, Boise State, 6-5, 295; 12. Jaye Howard, Florida, 6-3, 301; 13. Josh Chapman, Alabama, 6-1, 316; 14. DaJohn Harris, Southern California, 6-3, 306; 15. Hebron Fangupo, Brigham Young, 6-1, 323; 16. Mike Daniels, Iowa, 6-1, 290; 17. Rennie Moore, Clemson, 6-3, 270; 18. Markus Kuhn, North Carolina State, 6-5, 299; 19. Travian Robertson, South Carolina, 6-4, 302; 20. Marcus Fortson, Miami, 6-1, 301.

Position grade: A.

Analysis: This year’s class contains several strong interior pass rushers, which is somewhat of an anomaly. One of the hallmarks of Chicago’s system is the pass-rushing defensive tackle, and a player such as Poe, who possesses freakish athleticism, could be available at No. 19. A player like Iowa’s Mike Daniels could be a later-round consideration. At the very least, the Bears need to add depth at defensive tackle because of the departures of Okoye and Anderson.

Bears draft preview: Cornerbacks

April, 21, 2012
Titus YoungAP Photo/Matt CilleyOregon State cornerback Brandon Hardin, left, who has visited with the Bears, could wind up at safety in the NFL.
The Chicago Bears upgraded the talent of their depth at cornerback by replacing free-agent departures Zack Bowman and Corey Graham with veterans Kelvin Hayden and Jonathan Wilhite.

If healthy, Hayden should challenge Tim Jennings for the starting job opposite Charles Tillman. But with Hayden the key word is “if,” which is why it makes sense for the Bears to strongly consider adding a cornerback in the draft capable of challenging for a starting job.

Improved quarterback play around the division with players such as Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers and Detroit’s Matthew Stafford, coupled with the dangerous receivers of the NFC North intensifies the need to stock rosters with top-notch cover men.

“I don’t have the statistics to say, but I would say from two years ago through last year, our division has definitely improved. I would say it’s going to continue to improve and you start at the quarterback position,” Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “You have four relatively young quarterbacks that are getting ready to play in the high part of their careers.”

The Bears see what’s developing and are making the appropriate moves to compensate. Surely they also view the current situation at cornerback as somewhat unsettled because of Jennings’ struggles last season, paired with the health of Hayden.

Hayden struggled to play with a dislocated toe last season in Atlanta, and the Falcons eventually placed him on the injured reserve. Having started in 47 games in seven seasons, Hayden has also failed multiple team physicals in the past because of a 2010 neck injury, and isn’t yet fully recovered from the toe injury that ended his 2011 campaign.

Wilhite, meanwhile, is viewed as a backup, although he’s displayed the ability to start in the past.

So the Bears could be looking for insurance. The Bears have held private workouts with West Virginia’s Keith Tandy and Montana’s Trumaine Johnson, in addition to bringing in Oregon State cornerback Brandon Hardin in for a visit.

Johnson projects as a second-round pick, while Tandy will likely go undrafted or taken late. Although Hardin and Tandy played corner in college, scouts project both could move to free safety in the NFL.

The next 10: 11. Jayron Hosley, Virginia Tech, 5-10, 178; 12. Chase Minnifield, Virginia, 5-11, 183; 13. Jamell Fleming, Oklahoma, 5-11, 206; 14. Josh Norman, Coastal Carolina, 6-0, 197; 15. Ron Brooks, Louisiana State, 5-10, 190; 16. Trevin Wade, Arizona, 5-10, 192; 17. Omar Bolden, Arizona State, 5-11, 202; 18. Leonard Johnson, Iowa State, 5-10, 196; 19. Shaun Prater, Iowa, 5-10, 190; 20. Asa Jackson, Cal Poly, 5-10, 191.

Position grade: B-.

Analysis: Passing offenses are becoming much more prolific, heightening the demand for shutdown corners. Three appear to be first-round locks, but some of the NFL’s future stars could come from the raw small-school prospects such as Montana’s Johnson, and Coastal Carolina’s Josh Norman. Because of the uncertainty at cornerback opposite Tillman going into 2012, look for the Bears to be in the mix to add at the position.

The Bears have also shown interest in Louisiana State cornerback Ron Brooks, who projects as a fourth to fifth-round pick that would provide added value on special teams as a gunner.

Illinois' Allen wants to blaze new NFL trail

April, 20, 2012
Chicago’s King High School has always been touted for its basketball history.

[+] EnlargeJeff Allen
Jeff Hanisch/US PresswireIllinois' Jeff Allen is projected to be selected in the second round of the NFL draft by Mel Kiper.
From Marcus Liberty to Rashard Griffith to Leon Smith to Thomas Hamilton to Jamie Brandon to Imari Sawyer, the list of basketball stars to come through the Chicago South Side school has been plentiful.

King’s football program is a different story. It isn’t nearly as known, but Jeff Allen plans to change that.
Allen, who graduated from King in 2008 and started four years on the offensive line at Illinois, is expected to be selected somewhere in the opening rounds of the NFL draft next week.

“We have had some decent players from our high school program go onto college,” Allen said of King. “We just haven’t had any great players. That would be an honor for me. We’ve had some great players throughout time, but they obviously played basketball. To be included in the same sentence with them would be an honor.”

Always one of the bigger kids growing up, Allen gravitated toward football at an early age. His dreams of the NFL started not too long after he began playing when he was 9 years old.

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