Next month marks the 79th draft in NFL history, and few have featured a deeper, more talented pool of prospects than in 2014.
One of the NFL’s charter franchises, the Bears have been a part of every one. They hold the 14th overall pick this year, and if GM Phil Emery stays put, it’ll be the sixth time in franchise history the Bears make a selection at No. 14. In his third draft, it will be Emery’s highest selection.
With the exception of Tommie Harris (14th overall pick in 2004), who was among the NFL’s most dominant defenders early in his career before knee issues derailed him, the Bears have failed to capitalize at No. 14.
Older fans might remember Dick Evey and Rufus Mayes, selected 14th overall in 1964 and 1969, respectively. Then again they might not. Evey played six seasons at defensive tackle for the Bears; Mayes would play just one season in Chicago before being a mainstay at left tackle in Cincinnati for the next nine years.
Fast-forward to 2003 and the Bears’ next crack at No. 14, DE Michael Haynes out of Penn State. He’d make just four starts in three seasons in Chicago – not exactly first half of the first round production.
Former GM Jerry Angelo would nab OL Chris Williams in the same slot six years later. Angelo ignored glaring medical red flags in selecting Williams and, though the former Vanderbilt lineman would make 38 starts over five seasons in Chicago, the Bears cut bait in 2012.
Now, for the potentially good news.
Emery isn’t Angelo. Still in just his third offseason, Emery has made great strides in cleaning up the wasteland of bad Angelo picks. Sure, pro free agency, not the draft, has been his greatest source of success. But if he can start to replicate the young talent infusion on defense that the offense has quickly received, Emery’s Bears will be on the right track.
What’s more, a quick study of the recent history of selecting 14th overall reveals some of the NFL’s elite players currently. Go back further and find gold jacket recipients.
Perhaps Chicago’s greatest focus in three weeks will be strengthening the last line of defense. The NFL’s best safety, Seattle’s Earl Thomas, was selected 14th overall just four years ago. Thomas has been one of the driving forces behind the NFL’s best, most forward-thinking defense.
The Bears will undoubtedly be searching for Charles Tillman’s long-term successor. Just seven years ago, the Jets struck gold with perhaps the best cover corner of this generation, Darrelle Revis. Gang Green coaxed thee All-Pro campaigns, including a defensive player of the year performance in 2009, out of Revis. Then, last offseason, the Jets received the 13th overall pick in 2013 from Tampa Bay in exchange for Revis, and turned that pick into rookie of the year Sheldon Richardson.
Pass rushers more to your liking?
2013 NFL sack leader Robert Quinn was nabbed 14th overall by the Rams in 2011’s loaded first round. Last April, the Panthers found what looks like a cornerstone defensive piece in Star Lotulelei. Carolina’s Thomas Davis, one of the NFL’s gutsiest players, and Super Bowl champion Malcolm Jenkins (originally drafted by New Orleans) have also been selected 14th overall in the past decade.
In fact, Angelo’s Bears notwithstanding, the bust factor at No. 14 has been extremely low dating back 15 years. There are more whiffs even further back, but also Hall of Famers Jim Kelly in 1983 and Dave Robinson in 1963.
Only three more weeks until Emery attempts to reverse the Bears’ fortunes at No. 14. It’s a loaded draft, and history suggests one of the NFL’s next future stars could be available.