The NFC North is a wide open division this year, with the Lions, Vikings and Packers all in the thick of the division race, but the Chicago Bears find themselves out of the picture. Years of bad drafting and poor personnel decisions have caught up with the Bears, who find themselves near the basement of the NFL, with no end to their misery in sight. They're still stuck on a bad contract with Jay Cutler, their defense doesn't strike fear into anybody and Alshon Jeffery remains their only offensive weapon and he's now suspended for PED use.
The Bears had a formidable team 10 years ago, as they rode a dominant defense all the way to Super Bowl XLI, despite Rex Grossman entrenched as their starting quarterback. Unfortunately, they could not overcome Peyton Manning's Colts in the big game. The Bears also made a surprising run to the NFC Championship in the 2010 season, but since that loss to Green Bay, this team has been on a downward spiral.
Looking back at their recent draft picks, the Bears had a chance to build themselves a dynasty and truly could have built a defense close to the level of their legendary '85 team. As always, this list is done with hindsight, the only way any average fan can effectively make draft selections.
Still, we'll be exploring the Bears' past 15 first round draft picks and scope out where they could have done better. Some of these misses will truly hurt Bears fans.
Some minor notes/rules for this list:
- Leonard Floyd is exempt from this list, having not even completed his rookie season yet.
- The years 2006, 2009 and 2010 will not be included, as the Bears traded those first round picks away. We'll be going through every first round pick from 1999 to 2015.
Here we go, time to build a fantasy version of the Monsters of the Midway:
15 1999 - Joey Porter
Original Pick: Cade McNown
We begin by taking out an awful quarterback pick by the Bears. The 1999 draft was a notoriously bad one for QBs, with the exception of Donovan McNabb. McNown lastedj just two seasons with Chicago, with doubts about his arm strength proving to be legitmate concerns. He started just 15 games in his career, throwing for 16 touchdowns and 19 interceptions.
Joey Porter went to the Steelers as a third round pick and with him, the Steelers began building the foundation of their defense that would eventually lead them to Super Bowl XL. Porter recorded 98 sacks and 26 forced fumbles in his career and was a leader everywhere he went. He's still a leader to this day, now being a linebackers coach with the Steelers.
14 2000 - Brian Urlacher
Original Pick: Brian Urlacher
Well, here's one pick the Bears got right. Brian Urlacher was the Bears' leader throughout the 2000s and it was his leadership by example that helped the Bears have their dominant 2006 season that almost resulted in a Super Bowl victory. Urlacher was a tackling machine in his career, setting the Bears' franchise record with 1,353 tackles. He was so popular that his jersey sales rivaled that of Michael Vick and Brett Favre in the early 2000s. Urlacher let his play on the field do the talking and made the Pro Bowl eight times, winning Defensive Player of the Year in 2005.
We've started off this list with a bang, drafting a formidable one-two punch at linebacker with Urlacher and Porter.
13 2001 - Reggie Wayne
Original Pick: David Terrell
The Bears needed a wide receiver in 2001, but like several other teams in the first round, picked the wrong one. While Koren Robinson, David Terrell, Rod Gardner, Freddie Mitchell and Santana Moss went before him, the crown jewel of wide receivers in 2001 was Reggie Wayne. Wayne slipped all the way to 30th overall to an Indianapolis Colts team that already had Marvin Harrison as a no.1 wideout.
Now granted, given the Bears' QB situation at this time, it's unlikely that Wayne would have found the same success in Chicago as he did in Indy, but once we draft the Bears' eventual franchise quarterback on this list, you'll see why we have Wayne here. Wayne retired in the 2015 offseason, finishing his career with 1,070 catches, 14,345 receiving yards and 82 touchdowns.
12 2002 - Andre Gurode
Original Pick: Marc Colombo
Hey, you need to take linemen too in the first round. The Bears were looking for a solution at tackle in 2002 and took Marc Colombo out of Boston College 29th overall. Colombo's time in Chicago got off to a rough start, suffering a dislocated patella and femoral nerve damge, ending his rookie season prematurely. The injury also caused him to miss the 2003 season. He wasn't activated from the PUP list until November 2004 and was waived by the team early in the 2005 season.
Eventually Colombo built a decent career for himself in Dallas, but couldn't do so in Chicago.
The Bears instead could have taken the Cowboys' pick from that year, Andre Gurode, who went 37th overall. The center made five straight Pro Bowls between 2006 and 2010 before a knee injury derailed his career. Still, this would have been a good anchor the Bears' o-line.
11 2003 - Troy Polamalu (14th overall)
Original Pick: Michael Haynes
This truly could have been the pick that could have cemented the Bears' defense of the mid 2000s as one of the greatest of all time. Michael Haynes was the first of two first-round picks by the Bears in '03. Haynes had a very forgettable career in Chicago adn was cut in 2006.
Troy Polamalu would go to the Steelers just two picks later and would have a Hall of Fame (to be) career, making eight Pro Bowls, winning the 2010 Defensive Player of the Year and just being a nightmare for opposing offenses. Like Urlacher, Polamalu was a quiet leader and very softspoken. He let his play on the field do the talking, as well as his flowing locks.
Could you imagine a defense with Urlacher and Polamalu?
10 2003 - Robert Mathis (22nd overall)
Original Pick: Rex Grossman
We'll double dip on defense for 2003, but it's so worth it. As we know, the Bears used their second first rounder that year on Rex Grossman, who would provide them with years of inconsistent, erratic quarterback play. His play always seemed to hold the Bears back from being a contender year after year.
There were plenty of late gems in 2003, including Jason Witten, Anquan Boldin, Assante Samuel and Robert Mathis. Mathis went in the fifth round at 138th overall and in Indy, he would form a formidable pass rushing duo with Dwight Freeney. He's now far from the player he once was, but Mathis has 120 career sacks and 50 forced fumbles in his career. Somehow he keeps going at 35 and is one of the few remaining active players from the '03 draft.
9 2004 - Vince Wilfork
Original Pick: Tommie Harris
Yes, we've gone defense heavy so far, but things just got heavier... Okay, bad joke. Anyway, the Bears selected DT Tommie Harris with the 14th pick in 2004 out of Oklahoma and by all means, it was a good pick. He was a key contributor for several years and made three straight Pro Bowls between 2005 and 2007. But come on, how do you not put Vince Wilfork in this spot?
Chicago would have fallen in love with Wilfork as his massive frame would have reminded Bears fans of the super popular William 'The Refridgerator' Perry. Besides running for a touchdown in the Super Bowl, Wilfork's achievements have far surpassed what Perry did, as he has stuffed the run his whole career, constantly taking double teams, making his linemates better. He's well past his prime now, but he's definitelty going to Canton when all is said and done.
So there you go, in the span of five years, we have Joey Porter, Brian Urlacher, Troy Polamalu, Robert Mathis and Vince Wilfork to form the Bears' defensive corps. Man, no one hindsight drafts better than me.
8 2005 - Aaron Rodgers
Original Pick: Cedric Benson
The defense is set, Reggie Wayne is patiently waiting for his quarterback and here he comes. The Bears held the fourth overall pick in the 2005 draft and selected Cedric Benson, who was unable to beat out Thomas Jones for the starting running back job. Benson's tenure in Chicago was full of drama and inconsistency and he was eventually released in 2009.
Meanwhile, the Bears passed on the same quarterback who has since given them nightmares over the years in Aaron Rodgers. First the 49ers made the mistake of taking Alex Smith over Aaron Rodgers, then the Bears passed on A-Rod, thinking they had their guy in Rex Grossman. Needless to say, this misfire stings Bears fans the most, as Rodgers reminds them year after year of what they could have had.
- We now skip to 2007, with the Bears having traded down from their 26th spot in 2006.
7 2007 - Greg Olsen
Original Pick: Greg Olsen
The Bears actually got this pick right, and if we were to do it all over again, we'd keep Greg Olsen from the 2007 draft class. We just wouldn't trade him just as he was set to enter his prime.
The Bears got themselves quite the steal at the 31st overall pick, and Olsen showed a lot of promise in his early seaosns in Chicago. For some reason, the Bears traded him prior to the 2011 season for a third round pick to Carolina, where Olsen has become Cam Newton's most reliable target.
Olsen's coming off a career year, with 77 catches for 1,104 yards and seven touchdowns in Carolina's 15-1 season last year. That's not a bad security blanket for Chicago, right?
6 2008 - Jordy Nelson
Original Pick: Chris Williams
It's never a bad idea to try to get some quality offensive linemen in the first round. Chris Williams was the Bears' 2008 first round pick, and he played four seasons in Chicago, failing to live up to his draft stock.
We know today that Rodgers and Jordy Nelson have amazing chemistry from their constant success in Green Bay (this season notwithstanding) so in a re-draft, it makes perfect sense to pair Rodgers and Nelson, this time in Bears uniforms. The two have formed one of the best QB/WR duos in the NFL, with their best season coming in 2011, when Nelson recorded 68 catches for 1,263 yards and 15 touchdowns, while Rodgers had the highest single-season passer rating in NFL history at 122.5.
- The Bears had no 1st round picks 2009 and 2010, as a result of the Jay Cutler trade. We move on to 2011.
5 2011 - Richard Sherman
Original Pick: Gabe Carimi
In an effort to protect Jay Cutler, the Bears went o-line in 2011 after not having any first round picks in 2009 and 2010 as a result of trading for Cutler. They took Gabe Carimi who was meant to be a tackle, but disappointing play eventually prompted the Bears to move him to guard, before trading him to Tampa Bay after just two seasons.
Richard Sherman meanwhile, has grown to be one of the best corners in the NFL and a key piece of the Legion of Boom in Seattle. Given that our previous picks in Porter, Mathis, Urlacher, Polamalu and Wilfork would be aging players by 2011, this pick makes sense in building for the defense of the future.
With this defense, and Rodgers and company on offense, we're probably talking about a Bears Super Bowl in the early 2010s.
4 2012 - Chandler Jones
Original Pick: Shea McClellin
The Bears were looking for a pass rusher in 2012 and took Shea McClellin, whose time in Chicago was ravaged by injuries. In his rookie season, he suffered a concussion and a sprained MCL. In 3024 he suffered a hamstring injury and it was clear by this point that he wasn't a long-term solution.
Chandler Jones went just a couple of picks later to the New England Patriots and Jones has since proven to be one of the more talented pass rushers in the NFL. He was traded to the Arizona Cardinals this past offseason but already has 44 career sacks and he posssesses tremendous athleticism. His best days may still be ahead of him.
Other solid picks from this draft could have been Harrison Smith, David DeCastro and Bobby Wagner.
3 2013 - Kyle Long
Original Pick: Kyle Long
Long has been placed on injured reserve this season, after suffering a torn labrum earlier this season. That shouldn't erase what he's done so far, as he's been a bright spot in an otherwise ineffective Bears offense. Sure, it's not the sexiest pick to stay with a guard, but all Long has done is proven to be one of the better young guards in the NFL. You always hear of teams having to be built well at the line of scrimmage and while Le'Veon Bell is tempting to put here in Chiacgo, we'll stick with the o-lineman considering Bell's troubles with staying healthy and avoiding suspension.
If the Bears have a new quarterback and new direction going into next season, Long should be able to bounce back from his injury riddled 2016 campaign.
2 2014 - Kyle Fuller
Original Pick: Kyle Fuller
We're now getting into the picks where it's simply too early to do a do-over. While Kyle Fuller is another young Bear who's on injured reserve, he proved himself in his rookie year, making the PFWA All-Rookie Team. He became the first player in the NFL over the past 20 years to record three interceptions and force two fumbles in their first three games.
Zack Martin, C.J. Mosley and Jason Verrett are all 2014 draftees who have made the Pro Bowl, so you could make a case that any of them would have been the better pick, but the body of work in their careers is just too short to change this pick just yet.
Plus, if we're in our fantasy Bears world, Fuller woud be well insolated in our formidable Bears defense.
1 2015 - Todd Gurley
Original Pick: Kevin White
Given that Kevin White has only managed to play four games since being drafted seventh overall in 2015, it's a little easier to say the Bears may be regretting this pick. There was a time when many were debating whether Amari Cooper or Kevin White would be the better NFL receiver. While Cooper has helped the Raiders to a huge turnaround, White has been unable to prove himself due to his injury woes. He has fractured his fibula in back-to-back seasons.
Todd Gurley was an electrifying rookie in 2015, after the Rams picked him 10th overall and since we've yet to take a running back in our hindsight drafting, Gurley is a good place to start. Gurley's had trouble building off his 1,106 yard, 10 touchdown rookie season this year, but the promise is still there. His regression could be attributed to the fact that the Rams have an anemic offense around him. But with our fantasy lineup of Rodgers, Nelson and Olsen, Gurley would do just fine in this scenario.
There you go Bears fans. Here's what your team could have looked like with perfect drafting (an impossible endeavor). I hope reading this didn't cause too much pain.