If you have the right information, managing the NFL Draft isn’t that hard. Properly evaluating college players’ talent and futures, now that’s really hard.
Here’s the way it actually works for the teams that get it right.
A defending Super Bowl champion or perennial playoff team can approach the draft by choosing the small handful of pieces they most need to get better and be annual contenders.
As for the other 25, 26 or 27 teams that long to join that small club of the NFL’s top teams, they have to draft the best player available regardless of position with practically every pick.
And that brings us to the rebuilding Chicago Bears.
The draft can’t be about what they need the most. There is no position on their roster at which they don’t need to get better, and they will never succeed by drafting players who aren’t the best players available but might be improvements at positions where they feel they need more help than others.
Here’s an example of the Bears’ current dilemma: Peter Skoronski is one of the top 15 to top 20 prospects in the upcoming draft. He’s started the past three seasons at left tackle for Northwestern – a position of need for the Bears, according to many – and in keeping with a quality of obvious value to GM Ryan Poles, he grew up in Park Ridge as a Bears fan.
The problem, however, is he is not going to be the best prospect regardless of position available at No. 9. He is most likely going to be a guard in the NFL, not a tackle, and ninth is awfully rich for a guard.
Now, if the Bears were to trade down again in the first round and add more high picks, a possibility many agree with and like, let’s say perhaps to 15th, then Skoronski could possibly be the best pick available. But he won’t be at No. 9.
So let’s assume the Bears either prefer to stay at No. 9 or are stuck there. What are their best options likely to be?
As I wrote a week or two ago, I believe the best prospect available at No. 9 is going to be Texas running back Bijan Robinson, and I would love to see the Bears take him even though many disagree.
The next positions to keep an eye on for the Bears just might be cornerback, edge rusher, offensive tackle and wide receiver. They are among the deepest positions at the top of the first round. There could be several players worthy of the ninth pick, and any one would make the Bears a better team.
Corners Devon Witherspoon from Illinois, Christian Gonzales from Oregon or Joey Porter from Penn St. could all be available at No. 9, although Witherspoon will likely be gone and the ninth pick could be a bit rich for Porter. Witherspoon, at 6-2, 195, and Gonzales, at 6-2, 200, have tremendous size and were easily the two best corners in college football last season. Gonzales has been climbing up draft boards since the combine, and if he is there Witherspoon, like the running back Robinson, just feels too rich to pass at No. 9.
Edge rusher is loaded in the first round. Will Anderson of Alabama, Tree Wilson of Texas Tech and Nolan Smith of Georgia are all top-10 picks, and it is the Bears’ greatest need. The problem is all three could go in the top eight, and Anderson will go top-five.
My problem with an offensive tackle for the Bears is left tackle Braxton Jones was a steal in the fifth round last year, made the all-rookie team, and I disagree he may be better off on the right side. But the one tackle that could be too good to pass at No. 9 is 6-6, 325-pound Paris Johnson out of Ohio St.
Wide receiver is a stretch on most top-10 lists, but there are two players scouts I respect have that high – Quentin Johnson from Texas Christian and Jordan Addison out of USC. Johnson has tremendous size, Addison unique speed, and both are big-play specialists who could end up going to multiple Pro Bowls.
Other than the two receivers, every one of these kids is near unanimously valued as a top-10 pick, and that is how the Bears have to spend it if they keep pick No. 9.