Commentary

Surprise just way Emery liked it

GM bypassed bigger names at DE for McClellin, a bold move in first Chicago draft

Updated: April 27, 2012, 1:31 AM ET
By Melissa Isaacson | ESPNChicago.com

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.

[+] EnlargeShea McClellin
Otto Kitsinger III/Getty ImagesShea McClellin had 20.5 sacks during his four seasons at Boise State.

Maybe it's just a Chicago reflex to come up with the most pessimistic comparison available, as inappropriate as it might be. After all, McClellin was a surprise to many who preferred the Bears choose Illinois defensive end Whitney Mercilus or South Carolina defensive end Melvin Ingram or anyone who didn't play their college ball on a blue field.

Of course, that sort of thinking would have made Brian Urlacher, who played on red turf at New Mexico, just as undesirable. Actually, come to think of it, there were those who wondered at the time if Urlacher could convert from a college safety at a mid-major into an impact player in the NFL.

McClellin -- a 6-foot-3, 260-pound pass rusher who has played linebacker but will line up at left end opposite Julius Peppers and wear the same number as Hall of Famer Dan Hampton, as if the kid doesn't have enough pressure already -- was indeed a surprise at No. 19.

But that was exactly the way Bears general manager Phil Emery, running his first NFL draft, liked it.

"At the Senior Bowl, he played more linebacker than rushing, so that was kinda good for us because not as many people saw him as a rusher," said Emery, who said he did a lot of work on McClellin as director of college scouting for the Kansas City Chiefs, where he would have fit nicely into their 3-4 defense. "He played SAM backer in that game and all we could find on tape out of all the one on one Senior Bowl rushes was one rush. So people got into him late."

Amid all the talk about his low pads and good leverage, a portrait emerges of a versatile player, a natural athlete who could play linebacker if he had to, can play either end, will certainly play in the nickel package, and excels at special teams. Not that you're looking for a special teamer with your No. 1 pick.

A small-town kid who grew up on a farm, McClellin joked Thursday night by phone to the Bears media corps that chasing down quarterbacks was not unlike "my ability to chase chickens. … It's kind of similar …" But, he added, he also considered himself "a big-city guy."

"I don't think it will be that hard of a transition, really," he said.

Emery has to think so as well.

It was a bold but telling move by the Bears' GM, who nonetheless downplayed the suggestion that he was making a statement with his first pick.

"It just says that player was at that spot at that time and he was the highest-rated player we had among the seven [they targeted in the first-round]," he said.

If he can get to the quarterback and contribute "right away" as Emery hopes, then all the draft day stuff will matter about as much as the fact that he played on that goofy blue turf.

"As I told [defensive coordinator] Rod [Marinelli] as he came out of the room after he talked to him, 'Rod, you've got a Monster of of the Midway. Let's get to work.'

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.

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