Sometimes It Isn’t Rocket Science

Next Fan Up Artwork

Sometimes value and need meet to make for the almost perfect draft pick. That’s what I think happened to me in the “Next Fan Up” mock draft, an exercise performed by the same group I participated with last year.

The Situation

Last year I hated the Bears spot at 14. They needed defensive linemen and safties but none were worth the pick. I ended up taking the best available player, linebacker C.J. Mosley. Not a bad pick in retrospect.

This year with the Bears picking at seven things were totally different. With needs all over the field the odds that a player that could fill one was going to be the best available were high. Here’s what happened with the first six picks:

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The Guy

Before the draft I pegged four impact players in the top ten picks:  Leonard Williams, Jameis Winston,  Dante Fowler, and Danny Shelton.  Some may justifiably criticize me for not including Amari Cooper and Kevin White.  But Cooper may have already hit his peak and White is a one year wonder that relies too much on physical abilities that may not be dominant once he gets to the NFL for my taste.  Don’t get me wrong – I’d gladly take either one.  But I put them a tier below my top four.

To no one’s surprise, the first three of those four top players were gone.  That left Shelton as the best player on my board.  But I knew that few other draftnicks agreed with me.

ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper didn’t put Shelton in his five safest picks in the draft because his ceiling is too low. I think Kiper is under estimating him. Shelton reminds me just a bit of Vince Wilfork and I believe he may turn out to be more than just a clogger in the middle.  He’s never going to be a penetrator but Shelton uses his power and quickness to leverage offensive linemen and collapse the middle of the pocket as a pass rusher.  Even if Kiper is right and Shelton only turns out to be a plug in the middle he’d be valuable as the center piece of any 3-4 defense.  He never gets blocked back off of the line of scrimmage despite almost always being double teamed and he’s uncanny in the way he regularly shed blocks to stop the run.  And you can’t stop anything if you can’t stop the run.


The Attempt to Trade Down

There was little doubt that Shelton (above) was my guy.  The question was could I trade back and still have a reasonable chance to get him and, if so, how far?

Ordinarily I wouldn’t think twice about this unless I had multiple players that I liked with no definite winner heads and tails above everyone else.  But most mock drafts that had Shelton getting past the Bears had him falling to somewhere  in the middle of the round.  The first team behind me that I had with defensive tackle as a need was the Cleveland Browns at 12.  So I figured anywhere in front of them might be relatively safe and was willing to risk going down farther.  With the third oldest roster in the NFL last year and more holes than a golf course full of gophers, heaven knows the Bears need young players.  So I thought it was more important to get more chances in the annual draft lottery and to take the risk losing Shelton, even as someone who I thought was clearly the best available.

But I didn’t trade back.  Why?  Because it take two to tango and no one wanted the pick.  One of the things that’s evident this year is that everyone wants to trade back but almost no one wants to trade up.  At least not into the top ten, especially with Marcus Mariota gone after the second pick.  Only one trade in the mock draft actually took place in that area and that was between the Jets and the Giants, who wanted White.  The tail end of the first round may include more action depending on how highly the teams involved value the quarterbacks that are left and how much they want to over draft to get one.  Other than that, I can’t see it happening.  Most draft experts actually don’t think there are much more than 15 players with first round grades in the entire class.  And I can’t see too many teams trading up into the first round to get second round talent.

The Pick

In the end my choice was clear and I gladly took Shelton at number seven.  I think his talent matches the pick and fills a need.  Perhaps the Bears biggest need.  Last year I said that playing general manager isn’t easy.  But sometimes all you need to do is keep it simple.

Garza Replacement the First Step to Improving the Run Game?

Like many Bears fans, I was saddened to see center Roberto Garza released (via Dan Wiederer at the Chicago Tribune). I can still remember meeting WSCR‘s Mike Mulligan briefly at the Chicago Bears convention downtown in 2005 when he asked me as a fan what I thought of the signing. I said, “The guys missing a ligament in his knee, right?” Mulligan threw his hands up and said, “I know! The guys got no ACL!”.

We should all be so lucky. ACL or not, Garza started 145 games over 10 seasons in Chicago.

We can only speculate as to why the Bears decided to replace Garza. My first thought was age but Will Montgomery, who at least for now replaces Garza in the starting lineup, isn’t exactly a spring chicken at 32. The Bears will evidently be drafting a center some time soon but they probably could have stuck with Garza for another year if all they wanted was a veteran to stand in for a year. Hub Arkush at apparently agrees.

One thing that’s evident about the 2015 Bears is that if they’re going to carry out head coach John Fox‘s plan to run the ball, they’re going to have to do something about the offensive line. Former Bears head coach Marc Trestman was roasted for not running the ball enough but my strong suspicion is that it wasn’t that he didn’t want to run it. It’s that he didn’t think they could block it. How much of that had to do with Garza, I don’t know. To me, Garza always passed the eye test but there’s no denying the Bears has a lot of trouble moving guys out of the way and running up the middle to get tough yards. Statistically he had a mediocre player rating of -1.3 at but his pass blocking efficiency was well above average. That leads me to believe that his weakness in their eyes was run blocking.

It probably isn’t a coincidence that run blocking is Mongomery’s strength. Montgomery is also familiar with the blocking scheme the Bears will be using after playing to offensive coordinator Adam Gase and Bears head coach John Fox last year. At least some of that will likely be zone blocking, something that could improve the performance all along the line with this group, which shows more finesse and athleticism overall than power. I found Montgomery’s comments about it to be intriguing. Via Patrick Finley at the Chicago Sun-Times:

“They can run zone, man schemes, power schemes. I think they do gameplan-specific things as well. I don’t know if I’m the exact fit for this offense — I think I’m a fit for a lot of offenses. It is fun to play for these coaches.”

Diversity is nice but whatever they do, it had better fit their talent (or lack there of).

Debate about Garza aside, whatever else the Bears do this offseason, I hope they do more to improve the offensive line. Garza may or may not have been a weakness in the run game but to my eye both tackles definitely are. Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune appears to believe that former seventh round pick Charles Leno may have a shot somewhere along the line. If they’re going to take the game out of quarterback Jay Cutler‘s hands, they’re going to have give it to Matt Forte and the other runners. And they’re going to have to ride the backs of the boys up front.