An expected run on receivers might lead Bears general manager Jerry Angelo to choose a safety instead of a receiver when Chicago makes its first pick (49th overall) in Saturday’s NFL Draft.
Failed Bears first-round picks Cade McNown, Michael Haynes and Rex Grossman were the fifth, fourth and fifth players picked at their position.
Two of Chicago’s best first-round picks were the first chosen at their position: defensive lineman Tommie Harris (14th overall in 2004) and tight end Greg Olsen (31st in 2007). It’s not a foolproof test — Curtis Enis was the first running back chosen in 1998 and David Terrell the first receiver in 2001 — but the expected run on receivers might lead Bears general manager Jerry Angelo to choose a safety instead of a receiver when Chicago makes its first pick (49th overall) in Saturday’s NFL Draft.
“The second safety is going to be better-looking than the 13th,” Angelo said. “It’s not last call, but it’s something that you take into consideration when you look at players. When we took Greg Olsen, he was the first tight end taken, so obviously he looked pretty good to us.”
McNown and Haynes, in particular, show the danger of sticking to a thinned-out position. McNown was chosen 12th, one spot after Daunte Culpepper, who flamed out early but made three Pro Bowls. Haynes was chosen in the same draft spot as Harris (No. 14 overall), but was taken four and five spots behind perennial Pro Bowlers Kevin Williams and Terrell Suggs.
Yet Chicago could still take the 13th receiver over the second free safety. Both needs are relatively equal, but “the receiver group,” Angelo said, “is outstanding. All the juniors came out.”
Also, Angelo said it’s easier to get a star safety late than a receiver. He mentioned Ryan Clark, who started at safety for Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh, and former Minnesota star Robert Griffith, both undrafted free agents. He said Griffith was “arguably the best defensive player in our division,” when he played for the Vikings.
“That’s one position you can find players later in the draft, even through free agency,” Angelo said.
He could also be tempted by a pass-rushing defensive end.
“We are never going to rule out defensive linemen,” Angelo said. “That’s always been our mantra.”
On the other hand, Angelo has a long history of bad first-round picks at defensive end, going back to his 20 years with Tampa Bay.
“That truly is a hit-or-miss position,” Angelo said. “The problem with defensive ends is, if they are not double-digit sackers, then what have you got?
“Unfortunately, I’ve learned my lesson the hard way. We (Tampa Bay) had Keith McCants, we had Eric Curry, we had Regan Upshaw. I only have to look at my bone collection to know that is very difficult to do. The best thing that can be said on my evaluation of defensive ends is, if I don’t like you, that’s probably a pretty good sign.”
For immediate help, that leaves Chicago’s top two needs as receiver and free safety. Yet few receivers offer much help as rookies. Third-round pick Earl Bennett didn’t catch a pass last year.
“Receiver is one of the hardest positions for a rookie to come in and play,” said Greg Gabriel, the Bears director of college scouting. “We did a study on it a few years ago, and generally speaking it’s the third year when the light comes on with a receiver.”
Chicago’s three best receiver draft picks of the last 12 years — Bernard Berrian, Marty Booker and Marcus Robinson — all had fewer than 250 yards receiving as rookies and fewer than 500 yards their second year.
Angelo said the problem with rookie receivers is they have to learn three different receiving roles if they aren’t slated as starters. That won’t be a problem if Chicago uses its second-round pick on one this year.
“When we have a penchant for a player, then we will get him up and running,” Angelo vowed, pointing to last year’s rookie 1,000-yard runner Matt Forte as proof.
He doesn’t expect another Forte this year. Just a good fit to the Bears’ current puzzle.
“You are not going to get a home-run player at the 49th pick,” Angelo said. “We’re realistic of that. We want to get a good, quality player that we can win with and who can fit one of those needs that we’re talking about.”
DRAFT PREDICTION: Bears pick Georgia WR Mohamed Massaquoi in the second round. If Massaquoi and Ohio State’s Brian Robiskie are gone, Chicago grabs Alabama safety Rashad Johnson and hopes Penn State receivers Derrick Williams and Deon Butler are still around when it picks in the third round (No. 99 overall).
Matt Trowbridge can be reached at (815) 987-1383 or firstname.lastname@example.org.