I have spent the last 36 years analyzing and predicting the NFL Draft from the national perspective with no allegiance to any single team. As such, my “Draft Board” has never included allowances for a specific team’s needs.
That contrast has been screaming at me the past 36 hours or so since our friends at Bleacher Report asked me for my top five choices for the Bears at No. 14 in the first round.
The top five players on my overall draft board as it sits today are: 1. Jadeveon Clowney, 2. Khalil Mack, 3. Sammy Watkins, 4. Greg Robinson and 5. Anthony Barr.
But there is no point in putting any of those players on my “Bears Board” because there isn’t a snowball’s chance down south that any of them will be available at 14.
6-10 on my board are 6. Blake Bortles, 7. Jake Matthews, 8. Kelvin Benjamin, 9. Justin Gilbert and 10. C.J. Mosley.
The Bears are not in a position to consider Bortles or Benjamin, and I can’t find a scenario in which Matthews or Mosley last to 14.
Gilbert shouldn’t slide to 14, but he could. Teddy Bridgewater and Johnny Manziel will almost certainly be overdrafted, even though there is no way they’re among the 15 best prospects in this draft. Eric Ebron, Derek Carr, Timmy Jernigan and Aaron Donald could be taken too high as well.
It also is worth noting that there are miniscule differences in the grades that most NFL teams and I will put on players ranked between seven and 10, 12 and 15, etc.
Gilbert shouldn’t be there for the Bears, but he could be and, if he is, I would hope the Bears would jump all over him. Their greatest need is at safety, and it’s easy to argue their second greatest need is cornerback.
Gilbert could step in at free safety on Day One of training camp or, better yet, the Bears could move Tillman to safety and start Gilbert at corner, strengthening their two biggest weaknesses with one pick.
That is why Gilbert is No. 1 on my “Bears Board.”
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Calvin Pryor are the two best pure safeties in this draft, and I have them as the 18th and 19th best prospects overall. Again, the difference in the grades I have on them and 12. Stephon Tuitt, 13. Marqise Lee and 14. Taylor Lewan is miniscule.
The Bears need two new starting safeties. If Gilbert, Clinton-Dix or Pryor are available at 14, they have to take one as both the best available player and their greatest need, so Clinton-Dix and Pryor are Nos. 2 and 3.
Unlike many, I don’t believe Jernigan or Donald are among the top 25 prospects in this draft.
I have Tuitt at No. 4 on my Bears Board because he may be able to play a three-, four- or five-technique depending on where he lands.
The problem is the Bears already have signed five defensive ends, and Jeremiah Ratliff, Nate Collins and Lamarr Houston in free agency. Phil Emery has said he wants Allen, Young and Houston on the field at the same time. Houston’s best fit is really as a three-technique, and Allen and Young aren’t sliding inside.
Why would you reach for Jernigan or Donald and still leave huge holes in the secondary? Tuitt is a better prospect and at least his versatility makes sense.
Eric Ebron is in the fifth slot on my Bears Board. I know, Martellus Bennett is set at tight end. But Ebron is one of the top six or seven athletes in this draft, the Bears have zero depth behind Bennett, and what if the Bears trade down? Ebron has potential Pro Bowler written all over him.
Of course I’d love a Clowney, Matthews or Mosley, but realistically Gilbert is probably the very best the Bears can hope for, and Clinton-Dix or Pryor would be really nice fits.
Hub's Bears Big Board
1. Oklahoma State CB Justin Gilbert
2. Alabama FS Ha Ha Clinton-Dix
3. Louisville SS Calvin Pryor
4. Notre Dame DT Stephon Tuitt
5. North Carolina TE Eric Ebron