Commentary

First draft: Mystery, science, theater

Can new GM Phil Emery avoid another Bears blunder in the first round?

Updated: April 25, 2012, 11:31 AM ET
By Melissa Isaacson | ESPNChicago.com

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.

[+] EnlargePhil Emery
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastPhil Emery says the Bears have field multiple calls from teams looking to move in the draft.

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."

Although he seemed like he was trying a little too hard to convince us, you want to have faith that Emery's credentials in college scouting will help offset the fact that this is the first NFL draft he has run.

And you try to be fair and minimize his role in Bears drafts from 1998 to 2004, when Emery was an area scout, and the team made such first-round picks as eventual busts Curtis Enis, Cade McNown (second-round pick that year: Russell Davis, who was cut after his first season), David Terrell and Michael Haynes.

But by minimizing Emery's previous roles (which also is easy to do for his years in Kansas City, where he served as director of college scouting under authoritative GM Scott Pioli), it just emphasizes the fact that as it was with former Bears GM Jerry Angelo when he was hired, we're dealing with a lot of unknowns.

Like Emery's first draft class, which will take a couple of seasons to fairly judge, we really don't know what we're getting yet.

What we do know is Emery's eyes light up when he talks about the ins and outs of building the foundation of an NFL team, and although no one has accused him of being economical with his words, he actually told us some interesting stuff this week about the Bears' plans.

Among them, that they have identified about seven players they will consider taking with their first-round pick (19th overall). That it's a good draft for wideouts, defensive ends and tackles, and for projecting offensive tackles to guards. And that they dig beyond college teams' company lines when it comes to evaluating players' medical histories.

"I always tell our scouts that you want to look at statements from the staff, the postgame comments and the coach's comments," Emery said. "His first press conference of the week will tell you a lot about the injury status of a player. And the day before the game because they always tell you why a guy may not play and what the injury was.

"So [we dig] those out, entering them into our database so we can ask the right questions of the player when we interview him. When we get him at an all-star game, [we] can say, 'Hey, looks like you had a head injury and you were held out the first quarter.'

"They'll say, 'Where'd you get that?' and then say, 'Yeah, I had a concussion.' [You dig] those things out through your own research, asking the athlete the question, giving that information to our medical staff so that they can further investigate those injuries during the combine."

That's a great start, considering the Bears haven't always been known for making the extra phone call. And you still wonder whether the last regime took too big a gamble on Gabe Carimi.

If a player is an injury risk or any other sort of risk, Emery said, his name is flagged, moved to the right of the column and "flipped over" if the risk is too high. If a player's name is merely tilted, "a lot of discussion" follows before the team will move forward.

Hey, it sounds like a safety net, at least.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Marshall
David Banks/US PresswirePhil Emery made waves with the acquistion of Brandon Marshall. This year's draft is his second chance to add premiere talent.

Emery's answer to a question of what will happen if he and coach Lovie Smith disagree on a pick was also encouraging. Emery said the tough decisions will be made well before draft day, that he makes the final call and that differences in opinion will be handled thusly:

"As a general rule, if there's disagreement in the final process [over] a player, we move away from that player because we want players that we all feel can help us win championships," Emery said.

Sounds simple enough, but disagreements over players have been as much a part of the Bears' war room history as the term "war room." And while differing opinions can be constructive and unavoidable in some cases, you do not want your GM and coach arguing over personnel during the season.

Emery revealed that he differs philosophically from Smith -- who generally prefers speed over size -- when he talked about wanting players from the fifth round down who have "high measurables," meaning height, weight and speed, because those players are more likely to continue to develop.

Considering that development was something of a problem during the Angelo/Smith years, that seems like hopeful news as well.

But let's face it, there's also a lot of luck involved in the draft, although it was interesting that Emery did not view (bad) luck as a factor in higher draft picks failing as much as (good) luck plays into lower picks succeeding.

Hard work and preparation, he said, later apologizing for the cliche, is what makes you lucky. And sometimes, Emery admitted, luck just makes you lucky, which is another reason to root for the new guy.

"There's a little luck in all of life, right?" he said. "That's why I'm here."

Melissa Isaacson

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for espnW.com, ESPN Chicago and ESPN.com. The award-winning writer has covered Chicago sports for most of her 31-year career, including at the Chicago Tribune before joining ESPN in 2009. Isaacson has also covered tennis since 1986.