The Chicago Bears have a very up-and-down draft history, with a few more downs than ups in recent memory. In the last five NFL Drafts, the Bears have only really struck gold twice: RB Matt Forte (second round, 2008), and DT Henry Melton (3rd round, 2009). There’s been a few solid picks here and there since, but the meat of the Bears roster added in that time has been via trade (WR Brandon Marshall and QB Jay Cutler) and free agency (DE Julius Peppers, LT Jermon Bushrod, MLB DJ Williams, CB Tim Jennings).
The first draft under second year GM Phil Emery was not a very good one. It produced one injury-prone starter (WR Alshon Jeffery), one situational backup (DE Shea McClellin), and a below average nickel back (CB Isaiah Frey). Their other three picks, including third and fourth rounders, aren’t even on the team any more.
Emery’s second draft class, however, is looking like it’s the real deal, especially by the offensive linemen.
The Bears have been trying to improve a sub-par offensive line for years now, and they’ve only found futililty (Gabe Carimi and Chris Williams, anyone?). But in Emery’s second year on the job, he’s seemingly found three long term answers along the line, including two first year players.
First, he signed Bushrod from the New Orleans Saints to a five-year $35 million dollar deal. Then, he drafted guard Kyle Long in the first round from Oregon, at which point he met some criticism from pundits who said Long was more of a second round prospect. Then he found Jordan Mills, from Louisiana Tech in the fourth round, and most had little to no expectations of his potential impact.
Three weeks into the season, the Bears rookie offensive linemen are blowing all expectations out of the water. Both Long and Mills are starters on the right side of the Bears offensive line, and both have certainly played a role in the teams 3-0 start.
The most impressive aspect of this rookie tandem is that they’ve played next to each other. Usually when you draft a tackle, you like to pair him with a grizzled vet at guard. Likewise, when you draft a guard, you want him to play between two vets. This is to help the rookies see things in a defensive front that they may normally not, to lean on for quick questions on assignments in the huddle, or for making adjustments at the line of scrimmage. It expedites the learning curve, essentially.
Long and Mills, however, are both learning together on the fly, without the benefit of being surrounded by veterans (Long is at least stationed next to 12-year vet Roberto Garza at center), making it all the more impressive. Both are playing at a very high level right now, assisting in both the run game and passing attack.
The jury’s still out on the other rookies from the Bears 2013 Draft class, but they also look promising. Linebackers Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene both have shown flashes of brilliance in the short time they’ve been on the field, and the staff seems very high on their futures. Undrafted free agents like Michael Ford, Zach Minter and David Bass are all listed on the two-deep, which should give praise to the new and improved scouting department.
All in all, the Bears finally drafted some solutions along the offensive line, something they’ve struggled to do for years. Heck, just hitting on their first-rounder was a pleasant surprise, considering the lack of success there in the recent years (McClellin, Carimi, Williams, etc).
Now it’ll be up to Emery to make it two solid, productive drafts in a row when May 2014 rolls around.