You’ve heard the same message from Phil Emery, from Marc Trestman, and from any Chicago Bears beat writer within a 50 mile radius of the Windy City. Defense, defense, defense. After last year’s offensive overhaul resulted in new team records for total yards, total passing yards, total passing touchdowns, and total first downs, playoff optimism is surprisingly high for an 8-8 team that crumbled down the stretch in consecutive years. If this team is truly ready to capitalize on their offensive success and take that next step to the playoffs, then the defense will have to greatly improve from their woeful display in the 2013 season.
Defensive overhauls will generally start up front. The Bears were bullied in the trenches last season, as they finished with an abysmal 2,583 rushing yards to set an all-time franchise record. With incumbents Henry Melton, Corey Wooten, Nate Collins, and even Julius Peppers unsure to return next season, the smart money is on the Bears investing their first round draft pick on the defensive line. At this point, however, the Bears are faced with a precarious dilemma. Elite pass rushers such as Jadeveon Clowney, Kalil Mack, and Anthony Barr are sure to be off the board by the time the Bears approach the podium. Many mock drafts have the Bears nabbing a defensive tackle with this pick, such as Tim Jernigan, Louis Nix III, or Ra’Shede Hagemen, but defensive tackles are not sexy first round picks and tend to slide come draft day. There are a number of options in the secondary that are sure to be available around this spot, such as cornerbacks Justin Gilbert and Darqueze Dennard, or even safeties such as Calvin Pryor or Ha’Sean Clinton-Dix. But these secondary pieces can be interchangeable, and reaching at this stage of the draft can be unnecessary and unwise when similar options can be available in later rounds.
The Bears can certainly stand to upgrade in all of these positions. And for this reason, I expect the Bears to try and trade down from the 14th spot in the draft to maximize their draft potential. Rather than taking one of the names in the list above, they can ship the pick to an offensively-challenged team come draft day, where a quarterback like Derek Carr or a wide receiver like Mike Evans or Marquise Lee may be available. In exchange, the Bears could grab a later first round pick and still grab one of the names listed above, and also add an additional second round pick to infuse even more youth and talent to their depleted defensive corps. Look for teams like the Panthers, Cardinals, Chiefs, or maybe even the Chargers to try and move up to nab a potentially game-changing piece on offense. Phil Emery would be wise to leverage his spot in the draft to add as many pieces to his decrepit defense as he possibly can.