5 Biggest Draft Steals: Chicago Bears Edition
Everyone has a different interpretation of what a draft “steal” is. Is it someone who was drafted near the end of the draft and had a serviceable career? Is it someone who was supposed to go early but ended up slipping more than he should have? Is it someone who went after the first round? Who knows. A steal, in my mind, is someone who overcame expectations and gave his team/fans more greatness than we could have ever imagined. It’s pretty much a mixture of all the questions I just posed. For instance, a player like Brian Urlacher can’t be considered a steal because he was drafted 9th overall and was projected to be a perennial pro bowl linebacker. Marques Colston, who was drafted in the 7th round out of Hofstra, is, without a doubt, considered a steal. Aaron Rodgers, who was supposed to be a top 5-10 pick at worst, was absolutely a steal at 24, even though he was still taken in the first round. You get the point. So without further ado, here is my idea of the five biggest draft steals in Chicago Bears history:
5) Matt Forte, 2nd round, 44th overall pick in 2008, Running Back, Tulane University: Putting Forte on this list may be a bit of a stretch, but I don’t care – I love Forte and highly enjoy watching him play. When Roger Goodell called his name just four years ago, I didn’t have a clue what to think. At the time, Cedric Benson was still our running back, so it was difficult for me to understand why we’d waste our second round pick on another running back after how the Jones/Benson experiment played out. The Bears passed on two guys I loved in college to draft Forte: Desean Jackson and Ray Rice. I was pretty skeptical. However, Forte was extremely underrated in college (his senior season was unheard of) and won MVP of the Senior Bowl, so I tried to be optimistic. 2 months later, Benson was let go by the Bears, and a star was born.
During his very first game in the NFL against the Colts, Forte rushed for 123 yards (including a 50-yarder) and 1 touchdown to go along with three receptions for 18 yards. Instantly, I believed we struck gold, and that has very much been the case. After an incredible rookie campaign (1,715 yards from scrimmage and 12 touchdowns) that would have landed him Offensive Rookie of the Year had it not been for Chris Johnson’s historical season, Forte struggled during his second season, as he and the entire offense tried to adapt to playing with a new quarterback (Cutler) and a pass-first offense that contained zero legitimate wide receivers whatsoever. Since then, though, Forte managed to finish in the top 10 in yards from scrimmage in 2010 (1,616) and 2011 (1,487) even after missing four games during the 2011 season. He has totaled 6,218 yards from scrimmage through 60 career games (4,233 rushing, 1,985 receiving) along with 29 total touchdowns. Over the past two seasons, Forte has averaged 4.7 yards per carry and an amazing (for a running back) 10.1 yards per reception. He has been as valuable to the Bears offense as any running back, and almost any player, in the league.
That being said, PAY THE MAN!
4) Devin Hester, 2nd round, 56th overall pick in 2006, CB/WR/KR/PR, University of Miami: Right after the Bears drafted Hester six years ago, I watched this like 17 times in a row. No joke. I started to fantasize about how great it would be if Hester could pull off crazy maneuvers like that for the Bears. And before I knew it, that fantasy became an incredible reality.
Against the Packers in the 2006 season opener (Hester’s first NFL game), Hester took a punt 84 yards to the house. Right then and there, everyone knew he was legit. The lightning-fast speed, the ridiculous footwork and downfield awareness, the ability to break tackles – we all witnessed it with our own eyes. It was a very magical season for the Bears, and a lot of it had to do with Hester. He returned three punts and two kickoffs for touchdowns. His 83-yard punt return TD in week 6 (Grossman turned the ball over six times that game) to beat the Cardinals 24-23 led to one of the greatest rants in sports (I’ll never forget that game for the rest of my life). He returned a missed field goal 108 yards for a touchdown in week 9 against the Giants. And most importantly, he became the first player ever to return the opening kickoff in the Super Bowl for a touchdown.
Hester became such a threat that opposing teams had to start game planning around him. That the only way to beat the Bears was to keep the ball out of Devin Hester’s hands. Think about that for a second. If you keep the ball out of the kick/punt returner’s hands, you should win. It sounds insane, but it worked a lot of the time. Hester didn’t return one punt or kickoff for a touchdown during the 2008 and 2009 seasons, and we finished a couple of unexciting seasons with a combined record of 16-16. That’s how important he has been to our franchise. He has made three All-Pro First-Teams and Pro Bowls, and he holds the record for most career punt returns (12) and total returns (17 punts and kickoffs) in NFL history. And that doesn’t even count his Super Bowl XLI kickoff return or 108-yard field goal return, either.
3) Olin Kreutz, 3rd round, 64th overall in 1998, Center, University of Washington: When the Bears and Kreutz decided to part ways last summer, I was legitimately upset. He stuck with this franchise through thick and thin and was our most consistent offensive player throughout the 2000s decade. It’s tough for anyone to justify how truly good a center or offensive lineman is because most people don’t understand what their statistics mean. So, if you look at the accomplishments that Kreutz made as a Bear, you should understand exactly why he’s on this list. As a six-time pro bowler (2001-2006) and a four-time all-pro center, Kreutz started 159 out of 160 games from 2001-2010 and did every single thing the Bears asked of him and more. He also secured a spot on the NFL 2000s all-decade team. He was irreplaceable and, at times, under-appreciated. Any team would be lucky to have a player like Olin Kreutz.
2) Lance Briggs, 3rd round, 68th overall in 2003, Linebacker, University of Arizona: After the 2006-07 Super Bowl season, Lance Briggs became a free agent. Everyone wanted to see him back in a Bears uniform, but no one knew what was going to happen. The Bears franchise tagged him a couple of weeks later, but he made it known that he was upset with the amount of money he was earning and didn’t feel the Bears wanted him in their future plans.
Soon after that, I saw him at the movie theater with his girlfriend. At that moment, I went from a (really cool) 17-year-old high school senior to a pubescent 12-year-old girl. I got so nervous, had butterflies in my stomach and couldn’t get this stupid little smile off my face. As he walked past me, I managed to maintain some composure and said “Hey Lance, I just want you to know how much we love you here in Chicago. Please come back, we need you more than you can even imagine.” He proceeded to stick his fist out, give me a pound and said “I’ll do what I can, my man.” True story.
It wasn’t until a year later that Briggs’ value to the defense surmounted the absurd stinginess of Jerry Angelo and the McCaskeys, when they finally offered him a much deserved 6-year, $36 million deal. But, I can’t help but ask: was it because of me, and me alone, that Briggs decided to stick it to the man, be patient and play (at a pro-bowl level, mind you) through the entire 2007-08 season with these contract distractions? Or was it because of Urlacher, who was willing to take a pay cut to keep Briggs on the team, and the rest of the players that he decided to stay in Chicago? Probably the latter. But do I try to convince people that it actually was because of the me? Absolutely.
Anyways, Briggs belongs on this list for a variety of reasons. He has made seven consecutive pro bowls dating back to 2005, and he’s a three-time all-pro linebacker. Briggs has only missed four games in his entire nine-year career. During that period, he has recorded 969 tackles, 10.5 sacks, 13 interceptions (three for touchdowns), 14 forced fumbles, 7 fumble recoveries (one for a touchdown), and 64 pass deflections. I defy you to find any great Bears linebackers who were drafted as late as Briggs and have had the kind of success that he’s had. You can’t. He deserves the 2 spot on this list.
1) Richard Dent, 8th round, 203rd overall in 1983, Defensive End, Tennessee State University: A 2011 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee, Richard Dent is, by far, the biggest draft steal in Bears history. He was, and still is, widely considered the best player on the greatest defense of all time. The Bears finished 15-1 during the 1985 season and shut out both of their opponents in the playoffs en route to a monstrous Super Bowl XX defeat over the Patriots. With a league-high 17 sacks during the regular season, Dent performed in what’s believed to be the most impressive defensive post-season performance in NFL history: 7 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and 2 forced fumbles in the divisional playoff game against the Giants. Legendary. Dent went on to win Super Bowl XX MVP, and he remains one of six defensive players ever to do so.
Throughout his career, Dent made four pro bowls and five all-pro teams. He recorded 137.5 sacks, making him one of only 27 players to be a part of the 100 sacks club. How many 8th round draft picks can say all of this for themselves? Well, not many considering there are only seven rounds in the draft these days, but you know what I mean. Richard Dent was an absolute steal if I’ve ever seen one.
Honorable Mentions: Mike Singletary, Linebacker; Doug Plank, Safety; Johnny Knox, Wide Receiver
Stay tuned for the 5 Biggest Draft Busts: Chicago Bulls Edition.