As we prepare to watch this year’s Super Bowl, all 32 teams have set their priorities to improving their teams through the draft. After witnessing the worst Bears defense in franchise history, GM Phil Emery and Co. will set their sights on that side of the ball.
Earlier in the month, Emery vowed to improve the defense. “We’re going to be a younger defense…The draft will be focused in that area.”
There are plenty of mock drafts popping up right now, so I will look at some of the possible first round picks that the “experts” predict will go to the Bears.
Louis Nix - NT, Notre Dame
Nix has the body you want in a nose tackle. He is 6’2″ and his listed weight is 350 pounds (though reports have him weighing about 336 now). He does a good job of exploding off the snap and is light on his feet. His strong suit is playing against the run, but his quickness and his counter moves make him a good pass rusher as well.
The one question I have about Nix is his health. He has had a knee problem since he injured it in the 2012 National Championship Game. He opted to rehab instead of surgery and played with the pain throughout the 2013 season, until he finally had surgery for a torn meniscus and missed the final three games of the season.
The last time the Bears drafted a player that had health questions was Stephen Paea in 2011. So far is three seasons, Paea has missed 9 games due to various injuries.
Justin Gilbert - CB, Oklahoma State
The Bears had to decide on which cornerback they would re-sign after the season, and they decided to go with the younger, healthier Tim Jennings. That leaves Charles Tillman, arguably the best corner in franchise history, as the odd man out. It looks as if the team will part ways with him.
Playing in the NFC North, the Bears see some good quarterbacks and wide receivers, so the cornerback position will be critical in the defense’s resurgence.
Gilbert has the size (6’0″ 200 lbs.) and speed to keep up with the talented wide receivers out there. He has great hands and vision, and is the big-play specialist Emery has said he is looking for. He led the Big-12 with six interceptions. He also had six kickoffs for touchdowns in his career in Stillwater, so if the Bears cut Devin Hester loose as well, Gilbert can take over that position as well.
Ha’Sean Clinton-Dix - Safety, Alabama
The play out of the safety position was atrocious this season, and one or maybe both starting safeties could be gone. I expect Major Wright to be given one more chance, but it is not a given. After being tagged as the goat in the loss against the Packers that cost the Bears the division and a playoff spot, Chris Conte is as good as gone.
Clinton-Dix has the big game pedigree, coming out of Alabama and the SEC. He has good vision and reads plays well. He changes directions well and has good acceleration.
Many fans have been calling for Clinton-Dix to be drafted, but I would not pick up a safety in the first round.
Khalil Mack - DE/OLB, Buffalo
The Bears have a decision to make with Julius Peppers. He is due to get paid about $18.1 million next season, after having a down 2013. Emery has to decide whether this season was just an aberration or the start of his decline.
The decision on Shea McClellin looks to be made already. It appears that he will move to linebacker. Even if the Bears do not cut Peppers, they will need a defensive end.
Over his career, Mack had 75 tackles for loss, holding the FBS record. He also had 16 forced fumbles. Those are numbers that attract a lot of attention, even if you played at Buffalo. He has a tremendous physical ability and a high motor.
Mack is projected to play more at linebacker rather than end. At end he may end up being another McClellin.
These are the names most thrown around as possibilities for the Bears. Of these, I like Gilbert the most. He just has that ball-hawking ability that the Bears always seem to have on the defense. He would make the transition from Tillman a smooth one.
What do you think? Do you see any of these players in a Bears uniform, or are there others that have not gotten attention yet? Let me know.