When Bears rookie head coach Marc Trestman and second-year general manager Phil Emery address the media Thursday at the NFL's Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, they're likely to say what every other decision maker says about the upcoming draft: "We're looking for the best available player, regardless of position."
What that often means, however, is this: "We're looking for the best available player at one of the positions on our team that needs help."
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For the Bears, that means they'll be eyeballing an excellent group of offensive linemen more closely than any other position, as they contemplate what to do with their first-round pick, the 20th overall.
But that's not all. They're also desperately in need of the kind of tight end that every other NFL team seems to have. You know, the kind who can actually be a factor in the passing game, catch the ball when it's thrown his way, maybe do a little something with it after the catch. Kind of the opposite of what the Bears have now.
Over the last two seasons, no NFL team has gotten less production from the tight end position than the Bears. So they'll be paying close attention to players at those positions as they go through their paces this week at Lucas Oil Stadium.
"We need a tight end that can threaten the defense," said Bears new tight ends coach Andy Bischoff. "We need a tight end that can create stress in the middle of the field or wherever we place him because we're going to line him up next to the tackle, and we're going to line him up outside the numbers, and we're going to line him up in the backfield, and we're going to expect the defense to figure it out.
"So we need a receiver who can catch the ball and can block enough to be lined up in the backfield if we put him there. Absolutely we need a tight end that can catch the ball. The days of the tight end that blocked and ran flat routes in this league are coming to an end. The guys that just run three-yard flat routes, that's not going to do anything for you."
Fortunately for the Bears, there are three outstanding players in this year's crop who resemble the prototype for the modern NFL tight end -- Stanford's Zach Ertz, Notre Dame's Tyler Eifert and San Diego State's Gavin Escobar. All are talented pass catchers, and it's possible all three could still be available when the Bears are on the clock.
Keeping in mind that the Bears missed the playoffs for the fifth time in six tries last season, they're also going to be looking for help at other positions.
Linebacker could be a concern, especially if Brian Urlacher isn't brought back. And they'd be foolish not to take a hard look at an exceptional group of defensive linemen. Right defensive end Julius Peppers is 33, and 32-year-old left defensive end Israel Idonije is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent on March 12, as is Pro Bowl defensive tackle Henry Melton.
Picking 20th in the first round is a disadvantage in many drafts, but not so this year. The consensus among many draft analysts is that there aren't any surefire, world-class players at the very top, but there is an evenly distributed depth of talent throughout the first round.
That means teams drafting at No. 25 could find similar talent to those at No. 5. Depth has been increased by an influx of underclassmen declaring early for the draft, making solid talent available into the third day of the draft, when Rounds 4-7 will wrap up the selection meeting.
"There might be better depth this year than we've seen in 10 years," said NFL Network's Mike Mayock. "In the top 10 picks, I don't see the (guaranteed) difference makers at the top end, but there's more depth."
This is also a draft that appears weak at the skill positions, which should work to the Bears' advantage considering they're unlikely to be looking for help at quarterback and running back. They might only give the wide receivers a cursory look if they can't land a tight end.
"There's a whole lot of holes art the quarterback position," Mayock said, "and I only have one running back -- Alabama's Eddie Lacy -- with a first-round grade."
A lot of mock drafts have West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith going No. 1 overall to the Chiefs and Southern Cal's Matt Barkley in the top 10, simply because the position is always overvalued.
"To me they're more like in the 20-32 range," Mayock said. "With Geno Smith I see flashes but a lot more inconsistency."
But teams looking for help in the trenches this year are in luck. Mayock and many others give first-round grades to at least six offensive linemen, six defensive tackles and at least that many DE-OLB pass rushers.
For many teams like the Bears, this year the "best player available" might mean the "best lineman available."
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