- Kevin Seifert, NFL Nation
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Long has a thin Division I resume, having played in 11 games during his only year at Oregon and starting less than half of them.
He has a long list of character questions, including an academic performance so poor that he dropped out of Florida State after one year.
He is projected to play a position that the NFL historically hasn't valued as a top-20 pick. In the previous 15 drafts, NFL teams had selected four guards in the top 20 and never more than one in a year. Thanks to the unique skills of guards Chance Warmack and Jonathan Cooper, Long was actually the third guard taken in the first 20 picks this year.
Now comes the hard part: Why did the Bears draft Long where they did? Thursday night, I figured that general manager Phil Emery would surely provide his reasons. And after reviewing his comments, it appears the Bears' assessment of Long's pure athletic traits overrode any concerns about experience and background. Emery also noted the NFL has trended toward offensive and defensive linemen at the top of recent drafts, elevating his assessment of where Long would and wouldn't be available.
"It's hard to outweigh measurables because he's rare," Emery said.
Emery and the Bears rely on a metric he referred to as the "Athletic Index Score," which measures players "where they are as athletes," he said. According to Emery, Long earned the highest ranking of any offensive guard over the past 12 draft classes. Indeed, Long ran the best 40 time (4.94 seconds) of any guard at the NFL scouting combine. That's pretty quick for a 6-foot-6, 313-pound man.
I won't pretend to know what else goes into the "Athletic Index Score" or how relevant it is for an interior lineman. Emery said Long's lateral agility and feet make his every movement during a play impressive.
Regardless, in any other year, Long almost certainly would have been an interesting second- or third-round prospect. But the Bears clearly felt they needed to skew their assessment of his likely draft value based on historical research.
"It's interesting because the trend the last five years, opposed to the previous 10-year average, the trend is going towards offensive linemen and defensive linemen -- pass protectors, pass rushers," Emery said. "It's almost doubled in both those areas in the last five years."
We will never know if the Bears could have drafted another player in the first round and then circled back to get Long in the second. But it's clear that Emery isn't beyond taking an independent value of the draft. He and his staff really liked Long -- "We've targeted him for the last couple weeks," Emery said -- and they weren't going to get caught up in value mirco-analysis on their way to drafting him.
It's no longer an absurd notion to suggest a team should seek out a long-term starting guard with the No. 20 overall pick. But can Long be that kind of player? Even Long wasn't sure if he was ready to answer that question -- he tried to return to Oregon for 2013 by declaring medical hardship -- but the Bears obviously think so. Man. He must be one heck of an athlete.