Bears could make impact late in draft

The Bears will be spectators early in the draft partly because of their trade for quarterback Jay Cutler. Mark Cunningham/Getty Images

CHICAGO -- There will be no big smiles and handshakes, no grand announcement proclaiming, "With the 11th pick in the 2010 draft, the Chicago Bears select ... Jay Cutler!"

You could say that's essentially what they did, though.

Their first-round pick went to Denver in the Cutler trade a year ago and they sent their second-rounder to Tampa Bay for the late Gaines Adams. That means the Bears, with the 75th pick, will be early spectators in what's widely considered a strong draft, a fact that makes at least some fans cringe.

Then again, they don't have to worry about another early-round disappointment. And will anyone complain if Cutler regains his Pro Bowl form after throwing 26 interceptions last season?

"You really have to take it into context with the trades you've made," NFL Network draft expert Mike Mayock said. "It's too early to judge Cutler."

About the only thing Mayock is sure of is this: Even without an early pick, the Bears can improve in this draft. And there still is room for that, even after a coaching shakeup and a free-agent shopping spree.

A 7-9 record and third straight playoff miss got general manager Jerry Angelo and coach Lovie Smith a win-or-else mandate from president Ted Phillips and a sense of urgency that resulted in a flurry of activity.

Smith relinquished his play-calling duties while promoting Rod Marinelli to defensive coordinator and overhauled the offensive staff, hiring offensive coordinator Mike Martz and line coach Mike Tice.

Angelo reeled in top prize Julius Peppers with a six-year deal worth potentially $91.5 million on the same day running back Chester Taylor and blocking tight end Brandon Manumaleuna signed with Chicago.

Peppers should give a much-needed boost to a defense that ranked 17th overall and tied for 13th in sacks with 35. The running game figures to be better with Taylor and Matt Forte in the backfield, and Manumaleuna gives Cutler more protection.

Now, the attention is on the draft, where there have been some notable hits (Lance Briggs, third round) and big disappointments (Cedric Benson, Rex Grossman and Michael Haynes in the first round) under Angelo. But if the experts are right, he has a big opportunity to address some major needs, particularly on the offensive line and in the defensive backfield.

"This year's class is so much deeper than usual," ESPN Scouts Inc. director of college football scouting Todd McShay said. "I just did a tiered ranking last night. Usually, you go through the top 10 tiers of the draft and just kind of section them off. The top four are the elite prospects and then the next nine guys are early to mid and so-on and so-on. Usually, I get down to the 10th tier and I only get about 90 to 100 prospects."

This year, he came up with 129, so he believes teams in the third round are getting about "a half to three-quarters of a round in better value" compared to previous drafts.

Ideally, Mayock said the Bears would go with a cornerback or safety in the third round "if the stars lined up." But that's a big "if."

"When you get to 75, they're going to sit there and say, 'Who's the highest-rated corner or safety on our board?" Mayock said. "If he's rated 85 and we're drafting 75 and there's an offensive tackle that we've got rated 55, well, they're probably going to go there anyway. You can't dilute your overall talent base for need."

McShay and Mayock identified Oregon safety T.J. Ward as possible targets if the Bears decide to go with a defensive back, although McShay sees him more as a fourth-rounder. Mayock also mentioned safeties Chad Jones of LSU and Reshad Jones of Georgia, along with cornerbacks Kevin Thomas of Southern California, Alabama's Javier Arenas and Akwasi Owusu-Ansah of Indiana (Pa.).

McShay also praised Florida safety Major Wright, saying, "He runs well. Not a great athlete in terms of turning and running in man-to-man coverage, but he's a big hitter and has good closing burst."

If the Bears decide to go with a lineman, McShay sees Utah's Zane Beadles and Alabama's Mike Johnson as potential starters at guard.

"[They] are two players that I think are capable of stepping in, starting right away and being absolutely capable of holding down the spot as a starter and doing a good job as a rookie," he said.