Holding their highest first-round pick (No. 14) since 2008 on the heels of their worst season in three years, the Chicago Bears plan to freshen up the aging defense, which declined especially in 2013 after a rash of injuries.
The Bears allowed the most points (478) and total yards (6,313) in franchise history while consistently allowing opposing running backs to rip them to shreds. The club lost defensive tackles Henry Melton and Nate Collins to season-ending injuries in 2013, along with linebacker D.J. Williams, and all are set to be free agents as are defensive tackle Jay Ratliff and defensive end Corey Wootton, who is coming off hip surgery.
So look for the Bears to try to replenish the front seven. General manager Phil Emery said the 2014 Chicago defense will be younger and more disruptive than recent incarnations of the unit. So the most cap-friendly way to do it is through the draft.
It’s still early in the evaluation process, but interior defenders the Bears could target include Florida State defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan as well as Florida’s Dominique Easley, who at this point appears to be somewhat of an injury risk.
Given the struggles of 2012 first-round pick Shea McClellin, salary and age considerations of Julius Peppers and the fact Wootton is set to become a free agent, the Bears could also look to upgrade the pass rush by adding a defensive end. Jadeveon Clowney of South Carolina is likely to be gone by the time the Bears pick, but Missouri’s Kony Ealy could be a fit.
The Bears may also want to look to upgrade the secondary. Safety Major Wright is set to become a free agent. Chris Conte is coming off his worst season as a Bear and cornerback Charles Tillman is also set to test the market. Alabama’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix could be a consideration at safety, although No. 14 might be too rich for that position. If the Bears choose to go the cornerback route, Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert or Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard could be considerations.
The Bears also need to start considering life without veteran Roberto Garza at center, given that he’s set to hit free agency. But the center position is something that can be addressed in later rounds.
Either way, take a look at Mel Kiper’s Mock Draft 1.0 to see what players he expects the Bears to target with the 14th pick.