INDIANAPOLIS — After the Bears traded Brandon Marshall to the Jets last March and expressed a desire to pair a young receiver with Alshon Jeffery, drafting Kevin White in the first round seemed obvious.
This year feels different.
Starting with the Bears’ pick at No. 11, some intriguing scenarios could play out, leading to major discussions. Here are three that bear watching:
The top quarterbacks
There are two teams in front of the Bears that undoubtedly need a quarterback: the Browns at No. 2 and the 49ers at No. 7.
But what if North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz or Cal’s Jared Goff falls to No. 11?
The Bears are committed to Jay Cutler, but if they view Wentz or Goff as a transcendent talent, they should take a quarterback first.
The Bears will be prepared if Wentz or Goff falls to them. Last year, the Bears did their due diligence on Jameis Winston, the eventual first overall pick, which included a visit to Halas Hall.
Wentz or Goff’s availability likely would increase trade opportunities for the Bears. The Eagles (No. 13) and Rams (No. 15) need a quarterback, and general manager Ryan Pace sounds open to dealing. He said having nine picks gives him more flexibility.
“You have ammunition now,” Pace said last week. “You can be more aggressive with moving up and down in the draft.”
Pace described the quarterback class as a good one, saying there are a handful of players ranked near the top of the overall board. He also said he felt good about a handful of midround quarterbacks, and Bears representatives met with several at the combine.
But if the Bears are set on drafting a quarterback to learn behind Cutler, grabbing one of the best would be the pertinent move. NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock likened Wentz to Colts star Andrew Luck.
In January, Cutler said the No. 11 pick should provide the Bears with a player who could help immediately but he’d understand if the team selected a quarterback.
“I’d feel like I can’t play forever,” Cutler said.
At this point in his career, Cutler, a team captain, would handle such a move without making waves.
The injured linebacker
If he were healthy, Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith would be a top-10 pick. He tore the anterior cruciate and lateral collateral ligaments in his left kneeJan. 1and now is dealing with nerve damage.
After his medical examinations at the combine, teams are concerned that he’ll miss the entire 2016 season, which would drop him off most teams’ draft board. To change that outlook, Smith’s medical recheck in April is crucial.
But the Bears are planning and building for beyond 2016. They’re not in a win-now mode. If there’s a chance that Smith can regain his once-elite form, shouldn’t he stay on the Bears’ board? At what point in the draft is his risk worth the reward?
Before the combine, NFL Network analysts Bucky Brooks and Daniel Jeremiah, two former scouts, rated Smith as their fourth- and ninth-best prospect overall, respectively.
Pace was asked about Smith at the combine, and he mentioned Todd Gurley. The Georgia running back had a positive medical recheck last year after tearing his ACL in November 2014. The Rams drafted Gurley with the 10th overall pick, and he became the NFL’s offensive rookie of the year.
“We have to determine, ‘Hey, this guy is going to be an elite, special player, but it means that he’s going to miss a little time early on,’ ” Pace said. “Then as a club you’ve got to make that decision. You saw last year with Gurley, sometimes those decisions are worth it.”
The Bears’ experience with White, who missed all of last season after shin surgery, will have no bearing on the decision.
The stud running back
Pace and Fox praised running backs Jeremy Langford and Ka’Deem Carey at the combine. Their belief in them is why Matt Forte wasn’t offered a contract.
But what if Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott is available at No. 11?
Elliott is considered the best running back in the draft. The 11th pick might seem high, but Gurley was the 10th pick last year and Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon was selected at No. 15 by the Chargers.
Jeremiah and Brooks rate Elliott as the ninth- and 10th-best player in the draft, respectively.
Elliott also has a strong connection to the Bears because of running backs coach Stan Drayton, who coached Elliott at Ohio State.
“That’s my guy,” Elliott said. “He was hard on me since I got on campus. He’s really the biggest reason why I’m here today, why I’m the back I am today.
“If I went to Chicago and played for Stan Drayton, I know he would be a guy who would stay on my case. He would never let me get content. He’d always push me. That’s what he was for me at Ohio State. It would be nice to reunite with him.”
Follow me on Twitter @adamjahns.