There were safer picks than Boise State’s Shea McClellin available with the nineteenth selection of the 2012 NFL Draft. Illinois’ Whitney Mercilus and Syracuse’s Chandler Jones both seemed logical choices to put their hands on the ground as 4-3 edge rushers in Lovie Smith’s system but Phil Emery and the folks at Halas Hall instead opted for a speed threat most had projected to OLB in a 3-4. (Ironically, or perhaps not, Mercilus and Jones ended up in the 3-4 systems of Wade Phillips and Bill Belichick respectively.) It was a move made without fan and media consensus and signaled a change in draft day philosophy at the highest levels of the Chicago Bears organization.
I don’t know if Shea is going to be a great player, worthy of first round status. I don’t know if Alshon Jeffery is going to be the go-up-and-get-it red zone threat Emery targeted when trading up in the second room. I don’t know if Brandon Hardin’s remarkable speed and athleticism will enable him to overcome the injuries that plagued his career at Oregon State. I don’t know if Evan Rodriguez will be the Aaron Hernandez/Chris Cooley type Emery believes will be a participant in the base offense – a coup for a fourth round pick. (I can’t go crazy with Isiah Frey, Greg McCoy or UFA James Brown. If they produce anything for the Bears my applause will be deafening.)
What I do know is Phil Emery placed a premium on that which he reiterated ad nauseum during his introductory press conference: playmaking ability. The Bears chose four players, in four positions of need, they believe are going to alter the course of football games. McClellin and Hardin disrupting the high-powered pass games of Green Bay and Detroit. Jeffery and Rodriguez providing General Cutler with battlefield artillery and displaying the almost miraculous, newly discovered commitment to supporting the franchise quarterback.
Also telling were the decisions NOT made. Until signing feel good (I knew that he would) free agent tackle James Brown of Troy, Emery and company ignored the pleas of the fans and media and ignored the offensive line for seven rounds. As Mel Kiper-adored Bobby Massie of Ole Miss plummeted round-after-round, Emery had every opportunity to offer an olive branch to those clamoring for the head of J’Marcus Webb. He balked. Right or wrong this team believes in their offensive line. They believe in the unit that anchored 2,014 yards rushing among three backs in 2011. They believe in the unit that allowed only five sacks over Cutler’s last five games. They believe the return of Chris Williams and Gabe Carimi from injury will mean significant improvement in 2012.
This was Emery’s draft. These were his guys and he’s staked his reputation on them. His first four draft picks for the Chicago Bears bear his stamp by their unpredictability and the all-too-common risk/reward factor. If they fail on (or off) the field the pressure next spring will be thicker and tenser than Emery’s ever experienced in his professional career. If they hit the moping and complaining that have filled the Chicagoland air over these past few days will sound like the puny cries of kitten on a crowded city street in years to come. If you draft well, and you win, you’re given years to fail. That goes for football drafting and movie directing and cocktail mixing.
Should Emery’s picks need to succeed in 2012? No. Do they? Most likely. The Jerry Angelo tenure has forced most of the Bears faithful to look at whomever is making the personnel decisions with a raised eyebrow. Too much Dan Bazuin and Michael Haynes. When camp opens in Bourbonnais this summer most media members and fans will have their eyes fixed on four individuals: McClellin, Jeffery, Hardin, Rodriguez. How they perform there and beyond will tell us whether Phil Emery is the man to bring the Lombardi Trophy back to Chicago.