Stop me if this sounds all too familiar: the Bears are on the clock, and there’s a plethora of value out there. Experts and fans get fired up, discussing perfect fits and can’t miss talents. For what seems like a lifetime, Roger Goodell finally makes his way to the podium and gets booed, per usual. He announces the pick, the cameras pan to a bunch of random Bears fans with their arms out, shaking their heads, and within minutes, everyone starts calling, texting and tweeting each other to ask something around the lines of, “Who the hell is that?! What the f**k are they thinking?!”
If that chain of events does, in fact, sound familiar to you, then you’ve had the ability to follow or tune in to the first round of the last two NFL drafts (or any Jerry Angelo-led draft for that matter). And both times, you’ve more than likely ended the night with a bitter Bear taste in your mouth. I hated the Shea McClellin pick last year, and I hate the Kyle Long pick even more this year. McClellin was considered a project going into the 2012 season, a guy NO ONE in their right minds predicted the Bears to draft in the first round. He wasn’t a projected first rounder on any mock draft boards, and he sure as hell wasn’t a projected starter for that Bears defense. The Bears passed on two stud defensive ends, Chandler Jones (drafted 21st by New England, two spots after McClellin) and Whitney Mercilus (drafted 26th by Houston) to select the undersized, still-a-work-in-progress Shea McClellin. Here’s how their rookies seasons fared:
- Shea McClellin: 14 games, 14 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 0 forced turnovers, 0 pass deflections
- Chandler Jones: 14 games, 45 tackles, 6.0 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, 5 pass deflections
- Whitney Mercilus: 16 games, 20 tackles, 6.0 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery, 1 pass deflection
Now does this mean that I’m not a McClellin believer, that I think he’ll end up a bust when it’s all said and done? Absolutely not. The sky is the limit for this kid, and anything can happen as he continues to get stronger and improve his game. However, the numbers speak for themselves and prove that Phil Emery decided to place a premium on a project-type prospect in the first round of the draft as opposed to an instant-impact player, which Jones and Mercilus clearly were last season. And that is exactly what he did again last night.
Before we dive into the prospect overview, here’s the baggage that Kyle Long brings with him to Chicago: DUIs, drug rehab, flunked out of Florida State, converted from a defensive lineman to an offensive lineman just two years ago, and started a whopping five games during his final season of college football at Oregon. Emery claims Long has rebounded from the issues and is “not concerned about Long’s character.” That’s fine – maybe Emery’s right. To be quite honest, I don’t even really care about the baggage. Everyone makes mistakes – flunking out of college not typically one of them – but I care about getting pancakes and hammers out from my offensive lineman, not getting F’s in The Art of Basketweaving. It’s mainly the last two points above, the draft profile, and the absurd amount of talent we passed up for Long that are concerning.
The athletic ability that Long possesses is undeniable. He’s a 6’6, 313 pound offensive lineman with great reach and excellent mobility. He has great physical gifts, and he’s the son of Hall of Famer Howie Long and brother of former second overall pick Chris Long. The issue, however, is not his athleticism – it’s his football inexperience, especially on the offensive line, as well as his tag by many experts, including Bill Polian, as a “developmental player” (and he’s already 24 years old). This is a huge risk/mediocre reward pick if I’ve ever seen one, as Long doesn’t seem to be possess the instant-impact characteristics that Phil Emery claims he does. Apparently, just playing well in the Senior Bowl and doing well in the Combine are the key determinants for future NFL success. It doesn’t make any sense at all, as the Bears need to win NOW, not later. And the only way to do that at this point is to load this team up with as many instant-impact players as it can through the draft.
The Bears could have drafted a defensive tackle like Sharrif Floyd, the man-child out of Florida whom the Vikings potentially stole with the 23rd pick and was scouted as a top-10 talent (plausible nightmare scenario here). Or Tyler Eifert, the tight end out of Notre Dame who some experts have compared to Rob Gronkowski (his playmaking ability, NOT his partying) and drafted immediately after our pick by the Bengals. Or Alec Ogletree, the freakish linebacker out of Georgia who could’ve ended up being an excellent weak side linebacker in the Bears’ 4-3 defense (though if the Bears are able to snag a linebacker like Arthur Brown in the second round, then I won’t care). Or Xavier Rhodes, the 6’1 cornerback out of Florida State who has drawn comparisons to, and has a higher ceiling than, pro-bowler Brandon Browner from the Seahawks. Or, better yet, they could have traded down to acquire more picks and possibly select Long or another capable lineman later since a) the Bears have the least amount of picks of any team in the draft with 5, and b) Long would have absolutely lasted past round one (even he was surprised), plus there are plenty of other good linemen still out there. Instead, Emery went with the player whom many are deeming as a “project” once again, one who will certainly take time to develop and whose “still new to the game of football, and his play is still a bit unrefined.”
What you might consider pessimism, I consider realism. I may regret all my doubts a year from now, as Long’s play on the field may actually shock me more than the pick itself, and I truly hope that’s the case. Maybe Aaron Kromer has something up his sleeve and sees something in this kid that other football people do not. I want to be wrong about this. But after last year’s first round doubts proved to be valid for one season, I’m entitled to have my doubts now for similar reasons. The next two days of the draft may go better than we’re hoping. But until I see Kyle Long actually starting on the offensive line when the Cincinnati Bengals come to town on September 8th until December 29th against Green Bay, I will remain a skeptic.
Phil Emery, please prove me wrong.