Emery’s First Draft May Suggest a Worrisome Future

Former NFL tackle Seth Payne said a mouth full in 140 characters Friday:

“Seth Payne (@SethPayneTrain)
“4/27/12 7:05 PM
Alshon Jeffrey is big enough for Cutler to see through his earhole as he’s laying on the ground with two defenders on top of him.”

Most Bear fans can appreciate the sentiment.

Why didn’t the Bears take an offensive lineman in the draft?  Dan Pompei at the Chicago Tribune tries to explain:

“They ended up not selected an offensive lineman or a defensive tackle because of the way the draft broke. The Bears took players at other positions who were graded higher, which is the way you are supposed to do it.”

Indeed, that is the way you are supposed to do it.  But fans weren’t the only ones who were left wondering if that matched reality.  Tribune writer David Haugh also tried to puzzle through the way the Bears handled the draft:

“I asked [GM Phil] Emery if selecting [Shea] McClellin meant the Bears considered defensive end a bigger need than the offensive line — my interpretation.

“’No, it just says that player was the highest-rated player among the seven (players the Bears targeted),’ Emery said.”

And the Tribune’s Dan McNeil seemed to be just as flummoxed as he gets to the heart of the matter:

“I wanted a big guy Thursday night when Emery made the 19th selection in the first round, but I wanted one whose jersey number begins with a 6 or a 7. Stanford’s David DeCastro, the highest rated guard in the draft, was still on the board. Iowa tackle Riley Reiff also was waiting to hear his name called.”

I can understand not taking Riley Reiff.  He was projected to go high in this draft but you could argue he was overrated as one of the few potential left tackles.  But David DeCastro is a completely different story.

DeCastro is considered by some to be the best offensive lineman to appear in years.  He’s certainly considered to be the best guard in at least the last 10 drafts.  Whatever the real reason why DeCastro isn’t a Bear, its going to tell you a lot about Phil Emery and the way he handles the draft.

I have two potential explanations for this.  Both disturb me.

Emery had a plan going in – not a bad thing.  He knew that defensive linemen were the strength of the draft and figured that there most likely would be a number good ones available when the Bears picked.  He had his list of potential picks and he was glad to go down it and take the best defensive lineman he could get.  There’s just one problem:  things don’t always go as planned.

The Bears picked at #19 and there was a serious run on defensive linemen in front of them.  Six defensive ends and tackles went starting with the Chiefs at #11 and ending with the Chargers at #18.  This had two effects – a) it depleted Emery’s list and b) it caused DeCastro to fall into their laps.  Instead of grabbing DeCastro to provide a huge upgrade at a position of – albeit lesser – need (as, for instance, the Lions would have done), Emery chose to stick with the plan.  He took his pass rushing defensive end instead of the best player available.  That’s worrisome.

The second potential reason is even more problematic.  All of Emery’s picks in rounds one through seven were at high impact positions.  Emery’s main goal was to get weapons – and he did that.  He got pass rush, he got receiver, he got speedy defensive backs.  He’s said over and over again that he wants players who show up on film.  He got them.

The problem?  Guard isn’t a flashy position that is going to stick out as you watch game tape and you have to wonder if Emery may have undervalued DeCastro because of that.  Even worse, he may have wanted the defensive end because he wanted his first draft pick to make a statement.  And he wanted that statement to come in the form of sacks not in the form of a guy who would labor for ten years in an unheralded, blue collar interior protection role.

If Emery’s pride got in the way of taking DeCastro, Bear fans might be in for a rough ride.

In any case, my read is that Phil Emery took the guys he had in mind going into this draft rather than adjusting his thinking on the fly and letting the draft come to him.  Shea McClellin may well turn out to be a very good player.  But over time, this is a method that most scouts and general managers will tell you is not the way to play the game.  Hopefully Jay Cutler won’t have to wait and see if that’s true through his ear hole.

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