Who do the Bears draft in what could be Jay Cutler’s last season in Chicago?

Story posted March 27, 2013 in Sports, CommRadio, NFL Draft by Ron Weidman

The Chicago Bears have been busy making moves this offseason, including replacing Lovie Smith as the head coach. One move they avoided making, however, is an extension for quarterback Jay Cutler. Considering the necessity for improvement in other positions, namely the offensive line, the Bears are likely to wait until next season to discuss an extension or trade.

In the past three years, the Bears have shown that they are a playoff contender, but not strong enough to be a Super Bowl contender.

In 2010, Chicago finished second in the NFC with a regular season record of 11-5. Cutler threw for 3,274 yards and had a completion rate of 60.4 percent. With his 23 touchdowns and 16 interceptions, they entered the playoffs and made it all the way the NFC Championship game. A torn MCL kept Cutler from finishing the game. Fans and players alike criticized Cutler for his absence in the final minutes of a game win away from the Super Bowl. The Bears fell to the Packers who would go on to win Super Bowl XLV.

In 2011, Chicago finished seventh in the NFC, with a regular season record of 8-8.  Cutler broke his thumb in a game against the San Diego Chargers, and the Bears lost the next five straight games, ruining their chances at the playoffs.

In the 2012, Chicago went 10-6 in the regular season. They were ranked seventh in the conference and missed the playoffs again. Cutler threw for 3,033 yards, 19 touchdowns and 14 interceptions, with a completion rate of 58.8 percent. These numbers are around what they were when in the NFC Championship Game, so what does that mean for Chicago? It means that decisions during offseason and upcoming draft are crucial in pushing the franchise into the elite category.

In the 2013 draft, the Bears hold only five picks: the 20th overall (first round), the 50th (second), the 117th (fourth), the 153rd (fifth) and the 188th (sixth). The limited number of picks makes it all the more important that the Bears make the right selections.

With a need for offensive linemen and the possibility of improvement in many other positions, it’s unlikely they will pursue drafting a quarterback to potentially replace Cutler. Instead, their first round pick  (20th overall) will most likely go towards a lineman. A player of interest might be Barrett Jones, a center from Alabama. His most attractive quality is his versatility, which could be incredibly helpful on a precarious offensive line. During his four years starting for last season’s national champions, he played all five offensive line positions. He has the size of an interior NFL player at 6-foot-4 and 306 pounds. Jones has a high football IQ, is able to use his size to create running lanes, is a good pass protector, and pushes hard towards free rushers to ensure his quarterback isn’t brought down. Overall, he would be a great addition to a line that could use solid youth to build upon.

Even if Chicago takes a lineman with its first pick, it might be a sound strategy to pick up another lineman with the second pick. Perhaps Oregon’s freakishly athletic Kyle Long is a solid option. For his size (6-foot-6, 313 lbs.), he is exceptionally quick. At the NFL Combine, he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.94 seconds. His mechanics are a little unrefined, but his size and team-oriented attitude might be hugely beneficial for the Bears considering Brian Urlacher’s entrance into free agency.

The Bears' lack of depth in the cornerback position might push them to take Illinois corner Terry Hawthorne in the fourth round. He has the size and physicality to effectively go up against large NFL receivers. Hawthorne doesn’t hesitate to attack the ball often creating turnovers. In his career he has 163 tackles, 12.5 tackles for a loss, 6 interceptions (two of which were pick-sixes), and 28 passes defended. Currently, the Bears have three cornerbacks entering free agency, so it might make sense for them to pick up Hawthorne to fill some of the hole in the secondary.

In the fifth round, Chicago might grab a wide receiver. Brandon Marshall had a great season in 2012, but should an injury occur, the Bears would be without a weapon to maintain an efficient offense. Also, it doesn’t hurt to have another player with big playmaking ability. Kenny Stills from Oklahoma might be able to provide the Bears with what they are looking for. He has had some off the field issues, but caught 82 passes for 959 yards and 11 touchdowns in the 2012 season. His athleticism, solid hands and ability to break away from defenders might make him solid fifth round pick to boost the Bears offense.

With their final pick in the sixth round, Chicago could choose to draft a tight end ease some of their offensive struggles. If Chris Gragg is still available, he might be a valuable asset. A knee injury forced him to play in only five games his senior year at Arkansas. His stats in college aren’t astounding, but definitely show promise. His NFL Combine performance definitely made him an attractive pick. He ran the fastest 40-yard dash of any tight end (4.50 seconds), had a vertical jump of 37.5 inches, a broad jump of 125.0 inches, and managed to complete the 3 cone drill in 7.08 seconds. Should the Bears draft him, they can work on honing his skills to bolster a struggling group of tight ends. Should he stay healthy, after several years in the NFL I’d suspect he’d be an effective player that any team wouldn’t mind having on their roster.

The Bears have been hovering around the line that separates elite teams from the rest for a few seasons now. Jay Cutler has one more season to make the Bears into a feared NFC team. He won’t be able to do it alone, so this draft is important for Chicago. Offensive linemen will be a focus, while several other positions could benefit from fresh talent. The Bears have done a lot of restructuring but still have much more to do. We will have to wait and see if it works out for them.

Ron Weidman is a junior majoring in Telecommunications. To contact him, email rdw5126@psu.edu.