Bears general manager Phil Emery spent a lot of time and millions of dollars during free agency to address a defense that was historically awful last season.
Now the Bears need to add some young blood to the mix.
With the draft moved back to May 8-10 this year, there’s some extra time for Emery and Co. to move players around on their draft board. But the Bears’ needs — even after their impressive haul in free agency — remain clear.
Defense comes first.
Major Wright and Chris Conte didn’t benefit from the all injuries in front of them at linebacker and on the line, but every flaw they had was exposed. It became apparent that better players — and better competition — were needed.
Wright is gone and Conte just had shoulder surgery, making the safety battles wide-open. Are free-agent additions Ryan Mundy and M.D. Jennings real answers? Can Conte recover in time to hold on to his spot?
There are impact safeties in this draft, starting with Louisville’s Calvin Pryor and Alabama’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. But it’s not a deep class, which is why safety outweighs the Bears’ need at defensive tackle.
The growing importance of safeties (see all the money they’ve received in free agency recently) can’t be ignored. Offenses are attacking defenses in many ways, and having do-everything safeties has become crucial.
2. Defensive tackle
A young defensive tackle or two will deepen a group that looks solid on paper but has question marks: Jeremiah Ratliff (a 32-year-old who last played a full season in 2011), Stephen Paea (a productive player who was hindered by turf toe last season), Nate Collins (an emerging player coming off surgery for a torn anterior cruciate ligament) and Israel Idonije (a versatile 33-year-old coming off a tough stint in Detroit).
Pittsburgh’s Aaron Donald heads a deep group of players who could help the Bears. A number of talented tackles could be had in the second round — think Arizona State’s Will Sutton — or later. But if Donald falls to the Bears at No. 14, he might be too appealing to pass up.
Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings will return. At some point, though, an eventual replacement for Tillman, who is entering his 12th season, has to be found. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and Lions receiver Calvin Johnson aren’t leaving the division soon.
This draft class has corners with size and potential, including several who might be there in the second round or later. Emery has said he preferred the corners in the draft over those who might have been available in free agency.
4. Receiver/tight end
No. 3 receiver Earl Bennett was released, rookie Marquess Wilson has plenty to prove and there’s not exactly a pass-catching option behind tight end Martellus Bennett. Coach Marc Trestman’s offense always could use another playmaker, and having insurance in case Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Bennett miss time is important.
5. Running back
The Bears have been looking at running backs. Why? All that’s behind Matt Forte is Michael Ford, who went undrafted out of LSU last year. He had impressive moments last preseason — remember his spinning touchdown against the Raiders? — and might develop into a viable reserve capable of making an impact as a receiver. But he needs to be pushed.