Few people could have predicted the Chicago Bears' NFC Championship game appearance and NFC North title. After all, the Bears were coming off another disappointing season where they went 7-9, missed the playoffs for a third consecutive year, and underwent a coaching staff overhaul after replacing their offensive coordinator, quarterbacks coach, tight ends coach and offensive line coach.
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In any case, the 2011 season has to be viewed as a success, and the Bears need little improvement through the draft, right? Actually, the Bears could still use some improvement, and a lot of their NFC North title and NFC Championship game appearance can be chalked up to favorable scheduling. In 2011, the Bears faced four backup or third string quarterbacks, and they also got the Seattle Seahawks in the Divisional round.
Keeping all of this in mind, we're going to take a look at where the Bears need the most help going into the 2011 draft. And regardless of what you think of QB Jay Cutler and the NFC title game, quarterback is not one of the positions that we're going to discuss!
Left Tackle - While people openly questioned Jay Cutler's toughness for not playing the second half of the NFC Championship game, the Bears' line was the real culprit here. Cutler was sacked a league-high 52 times, which is 12 more sacks than anybody else suffered. The biggest upgrade that the Bears need in regards to protecting Cutler is at left tackle where Frank Omiyale just didn't get the job done. He allowed double-digit sacks, and was moved around the line due to ineffectiveness. Assuming that USC's Tyron Smith or Mississippi's Derek Sherrod aren't around by the time that the Bears pick in the first round, they could go for Colorado's Nate Solder or Wisconsin's Gabe Carimi. If any of these four players fall down to the Bears in the first round, they need to pick one and upgrade their eyesore at left tackle.
Right Tackle - 7th round draft pick J'Marcus Webb was equally as bad as Omiyale after giving up 9 sacks during the 2011 season. So keeping up with the theme of improving the offensive line, the Bears also need help at right tackle. TCU's Marcus Cannon or Pittsburgh's Jason Pinkston would be make a nice second round pick for the Bears if they're available. Cannon is not only huge at 6'5", 350 pounds, but he is also an incredible athlete who won't get beaten off the ball as much as Webb did. Pinkston is very agile for a tackle, and has the wide body that coaches love at tackle; of course, his footwork could always use some work.
Running Back - It can't be stressed enough how much help the Bears need on offense. And adding a power runner would really do this team justice since Matt Forte hasn't exactly flourished in that role, and Chester Taylor is a third-down back specialist. Kansas State's Daniel Thomas or Clemson's Jamie Harper are both strong running backs that are capable of handling the power rushing duties. Harper is a great power runner at 5'11", 235 pounds, plus he has good receiving skills, which is a must in a Mike Martz-run offense. Thomas needs to work on not fumbling the ball, but other than that, he would fit well in the Bears backfield rotation in goal line situations.
Wide Receiver - While Devin Hester and Johnny Knox are solid playmakers with speed, they lack one thing: size. In fact, there were times where Cutler interceptions could be attributed to these two being manhandled coming off the line of scrimmage. Case in point, the Bears need a big, physical receiver who they can go to in tough third down situations. The chic pick here is LSU's Terrence Toliver, who has good size at 6'4", 211 pounds, and a good ability to adjust to errant-thrown passes. He should be around in the third round if the Bears address their receiver needs this early.
Defensive Tackle - Tommie Harris may have had a solid playoff game against the Seahawks, but he didn't have the kind of season that you expect from $10 million a year. In addition to this, Anthony Adams may leave as a free agent. All of this leads to the Bears needing defensive tackle help, which could come from Richmond's Martin Parker or Stanford's Sione Fua. Parker had a good game for the East in the East-West Shrine game, and he was named Defensive Player of the Game. Fua is an excellent run stopper who works well against double teams, and could help the Bears maintain their excellent run D. Of course, these two are middle round selections, so if the Bears lose Adams and they can't get Harris for cheap, their defensive tackle needs could shoot to the second or third round.
Of course, everything goes back to the offense here where the Bears need to complete the other half of their potential championship team. The schedule only gets tougher next year, so hopefully the Bears' draft answers their needs.