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Did The Draft Help The Bears?

I wrote a similar post last season to see if the other NFC North teams really helped themselves in the April draft. I'm starting with the Chicago Bears.

Chicago improved from 7-9 in 2007 to 9-7 in 2008 and missed the playoffs in both of them. This isn't the same team that made it to the Super Bowl in 2006. Based on yardage, Chicago improved both their offense and defense last season. The offense improved from 27th to 26th (out of 32 teams) while the defense improved from 28th to 20th. Yes, Chicago's defense was remarkable back in 2005 and 2006, but it just hasn't been the same the last two seasons. And despite the surprising seasons by QB Kyle Orton and rookie RB Matt Forte, the offense wasn't much better.

After the 2008 draft, it looked like Chicago did a good job. I wrote last May:

Overall this was a really good draft for Chicago. They added three players from different positions to an offense that desperately needed help all over the roster. They even managed to add two more players for the defense. It helped them where they really needed it while still giving several positions on the roster an infusion of young talent. All these guys won't work out, no team will find a future starter with all of their top five draft selections, but, unfortunately, this draft has the potential of really helping them out as soon as next season.

Unfortunately they targeted the right positions, but the scouting failed them. 1st round pick OT Chris Williams got hurt early and never started a game. After the loss of starting LT John St. Clair, Chicago showed little confidence in Williams by signing three offensive tackles in free agency. 2nd round pick RB Matt Forte was a good pick, but he was only ranked 38th overall in 2008 by Football Outsiders despite his big rookie season, in large part because he averages under 4 yards per carry. Their first 3rd round pick, WR Earl Bennett, is penciled in as the No. 2 WR but hasn't caught a pass yet in the NFL. 3rd round pick DT Marcus Harrison was a "decent" backup on the defensive line. Not a great looking haul so far.

Here's what Chicago did in the April 2009 NFL draft:

  • 1st round - Pick traded to Denver for QB Jay Cutler. Just a great move.
  • 2nd round - They traded down for Seattle's picks in the 3rd and 4th rounds.
  • 3rd round - San Diego State DE Jarron Gilbert. Let's lump this pick in with 4th round pick Texas DE Henry Melton. Chicago's defense needed help and GM Jerry Angelo decided he needed to add depth on the defensive line. It appears that Gilbert will play as an undersized tackle and Melton will go into the rotation at end.
  • 3rd round - Oklahoma WR Juaquin Iglesias. As mentioned above, 2008 draftee Earl Bennett hasn't dazzled, so the rookie Iglesias might become the starter.
  • 4th round - Vanderbilt CB D.J. Moore. I'm not impressed with 5'9" cornerbacks; that's usually too short to start. Yea, Hall of Fame CB Darrell Green was only 5'9" as one example of a successful small CB, but he's the exception, not the rule. But CB Nathan Vasher was a huge disappointment last season so there is already talk that Moore might become the starter by the start of the season.

They used the draft to trade for a young Pro Bowl quarterback, so I'm impressed by it for that move alone. The selection of Iglesias shows promise if he can develop some chemistry with Cutler, but the Bears have been lousy at drafting receivers, with recent failures such as Mark Bradley and David Terrell. The other draftees mentioned, Gilbert, Melton, and Moore, are all undersized for their positions. And it doesn't look like anyone else from the 2008 draft class is ready to take a big step forward. Also, Chicago failed to address their gaping hole at safety.

Cutler might make this draft a success, but if Chicago seems to lack depth or they are still struggling to fill out some starting roles in a season or two, the weak 2008 and 2009 drafts might deserve the blame.