The 2012 draft was the first one for Phil Emery as General Manager of the Chicago Bears. Before coming to Chicago, Emery was the Director of College Scouting for the Kansas City Chiefs and the Atlanta Falcons before that. Prior to his time in Atlanta, he was a regional scout on the Bears, so clearly he has experience being heavily involved in the draft process.
They say that first impressions are everything, and this one did not go too well for Emery from the start. Fans and analysts alike thought that Emery “reached” on first-round pick Shea McClellin, citing him as a more developmental prospect while more polished, NFL-ready players were still on the board. His rookie season seemed to back up these claims. Although he battled injuries, he still only came up with 2.5 sacks in 13 games.
The remaining rounds did not go much better.
Second-round pick Alshon Jeffery was heavily criticized for both weight and effort issues, leading to questions of whether he would be able to “get it together” and be successful in the NFL. Still, Emery traded a fifth-round pick to move up in the draft to get him. Like McClellin, Jeffery had some injury problems during his rookie season, but was able to perform quite well in spite of this. He started 6 games and had 24 catches for 367 yards and three touchdowns, silencing many of his critics.
The third round yielded yet another questionable pick in Brandon Hardin. He struggled to stay healthy in college, missing his entire senior season. A cornerback in college, he was drafted to play safety, setting him back further. He essentially had a “red-shirt” rookie season, injuring himself in the preseason on a very poorly formed tackle attempt and spending the season on injured reserve.
Evan Rodriguez was Emery’s fourth-round pick. He had some off the field issues in college, but Emery took a chance on him. He was drafted to be a flex tight end, but he too faced injuries, starting five games and appearing in only 12 with a grand total of three catches. However, after a pair of arrests this offseason, the Bears released him, not wanting to deal with his baggage. He is now a member of the Miami Dolphins, and he looks to resurrect his career in South Beach.
As previously mentioned, the Bears’ fifth-round pick was traded to move up for Jeffery, so Emery’s next pick came in the sixth round with cornerback Isaiah Frey. The team had high hopes for Frey, but he was unspectacular on special teams and spent the season on the practice squad.
Seventh-round pick Greg McCoy showed some ability in the return game, but not enough to be retained, as he was released in the preseason. He spent the some of the season on the Arizona Cardinals’ practice squad.
2012 was not a good season for the Bears’ rookies, but 2013 looks to be a much different story. All of the players are fully healthy and ready to contribute. As long as they remain healthy, they should all be able to do so.
Shea McClellin is still very raw. He is still developing his game, and the thing that he needs the most is experience. Now he has a season under his belt and he knows what to do. Heralded as a hard-worker, he has had an offseason to improve and train, and it is fair to expect him to have taken full advantage of his time.
The other factor with McClellin is looking at when his production came last season. He had all of his sacks early in the season, but week 10 he suffered a concussion and later suffered an MCL week 12. This led to a drop in production. Now that he is healthy, it is fair to expect solid production from the first-round pick.
Expected Production: four-to-six sacks, 15-25 tackles.
Jeffery has a solid 2012 to build off of, ranking as the best of the five rookie, second-round wide receivers last season. Had he been healthy all season, he would have been near the top among all rookie receivers. He had some issues with penalties, but he’s now had a full offseason to work on his game, spending a large amount of time with Brandon Marshall, which should help him immensely.
Many of Alshon’s issues are very coachable, and current wide receivers coach Mike Groh was responsible for Julio Jones’ breakout at Alabama. The Bears hope he can do the same for Jeffery.
Expected Production: 50-65 catches, 650-750 yards, five-to-seven touchdowns.
The key for Brandon Hardin is staying healthy. That is number one. When he is on the field, he will be competing for a job. He, along with Craig Steltz, Tom Zbikowski, and Anthony Walters, is in a competition for the backup safety spots, as highlighted here. It is expected that the Bears will keep him around due to his youth and potential. How much he would actually play remains to be seen.
Expected Production: Stay healthy, four-to-eight tackles.
Frey too is in a competition, this one for the backup cornerback spots. The Bears typically keep five cornerbacks, and Kelvin Hayden and Zack Bowman pretty much have the third and fourth spots locked down. That leaves Frey, Sherrick McManis, and a few undrafted free agents for the last spot. The key to this spot is special teams, and Frey showed very little last season in that spot, whereas McManis excelled.
Still, Frey shows more on defense than McManis, and he has had an entire offseason to work on his game. He is going to work his butt off to make the roster, but as of now he is the underdog. Expectations are never very high for sixth round picks, but teams still want to see them succeed.
Expected Production: Make the roster.
Of course, every team expects their young players to improve, but it doesn’t always happen. Players bust and never live up to their expectations. However, the Bears’ rookies are in a slightly different situation. Other than Frey, they were all injured last season. Players cannot produce when they are not playing, and it is tough for them to be effective if they are playing injured.
Now fully healthy the Bears’ second-year players will be able to play to their full ability and will spend more time on field. That is what all of these players need to get better – experience. With a year under their belt and a clean bill of health, the Bears’ 2012 rookies will show improvement.