“Effort without talent is a depressing situation,” said erstwhile Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka, “but talent without effort is a tragedy.”
The Bears have won eight NFL championships since its establishment in 1920. However, Chicago’s lone Super Bowl triumph occurred in 1985 when Ditka led “The Monsters of the Midway” over the New England Patriots by a score of 46-10. The Bears terminated Ditka after a miserable 5-11 campaign in 1992. Overall, “Iron Mike” had a 106-62 record in 11 seasons in Chicago and he helped the storied organization capture six division titles.
Following Ditka’s firing nearly a quarter-century ago, Dave Wannstedt, Dick Jauron, Lovie Smith, Marc Trestman and John Fox have coached the Bears. In total, those five men have only managed to guide Chicago to five playoff appearances. More worrisome, the team’s downtrending and hasn’t qualified for the postseason since 2010. While many factors have caused the Bears’ longstanding ineptitude, perhaps nothing has troubled George Halas’ franchise more than its lackluster drafting.
Chicago selected University of North Carolina quarterback Mitchell Trubisky with the second pick in April’s draft. Fox and Bears general manager Ryan Pace clearly believe that the 22-year-old Trubisky is a dynamic talent who will mature into a star under center and prove to be a sizeable upgrade over Jay Cutler. While the 6-foot-3, 220-pound Trubisky is a relative unknown, let’s review the top 15 draft mistakes that the Bears have made over the past 30 years since 1987.
16 KYLE FULLER
The Bears drafted Virginia Tech cornerback Kyle Fuller with the 14th pick in 2014. Shortly thereafter, the 6-foot, 190-pound Fuller signed a four-year deal valued in excess of $9 million to join the fabled franchise. Fuller thrived from the outset as a Bear and was named to the 2014 Pro Football Writers Association All-Rookie Team. Regrettably for Fuller and the Bears, the standout Hokie began struggling to stay healthy. Controversy ensued and Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio publicly questioned Fuller’s toughness.
Fuller replied, “I just listen to my body. It tells me what I can and can’t do. Right now I can’t go out there and play. That’s the line, I guess.”
In April, Bears general manager Ryan Pace announced that the team would allow the 25-year-old Fuller to become a free agent in 2018.
14 JOHN THIERRY
The Bears drafted Alcorn State University linebacker John Thierry with the 11th overall selection in 1994. Upon becoming a professional, Bears coaches announced plans to transition the 6-foot-4, 262-pound Thierry from linebacker to defensive end. Thierry embraced the move and claimed that he became used to playing multiple positions as a Brave in Lorman, Mississippi.
"At Alcorn State, I really played many positions," Thierry told the Chicago Tribune. "I played outside linebacker, I played strong and weak. I played inside linebacker. So it won't be a big transition for me. Not at all."
Thierry struggled upfront and was hindered by an array of shoulder ailments. The Bears left Thierry unprotected and he was chosen by the Cleveland Browns in the second round of the 1999 expansion draft. Thierry’s stay in Cleveland was brief and he finished his career in 2002 as an Atlanta Falcon.
13 ALONZO SPELLMAN
Alonzo Spellman was a volatile and disruptive man in Chicago. The Bears took the 6-foot-4, 287-pound Spellman out of the Ohio State University with the 22nd pick in 1992. An unrepentant scofflaw, Thierry snapped when a league doctor failed to arrive at the team’s facilities to give him a required drug screening. Thierry then drove to his publicists’ home and refused to leave the premise. While Thierry barricaded himself indoors, a SWAT team surrounded the residence. Thierry remained in a standoff with police for eight hours until Bears legend Mike Singletary persuaded him to leave.
"Mike Singletary was instrumental in getting him to come out," Lake County Undersheriff Gary Stryker said. "We didn't want to get into an altercation with him."
The Bears released Thierry immediately following the incident on March 10, 1998.
12 SHEA MCCLELLIN
The Bears took Boise State outside linebacker Shea McClellin 19th overall in 2012.
“This helped fill a need for us as a pass-rusher,” past Bears general manager Phil Emery said of McClellin. “We’re very excited about Shea in terms of his all-downs ability. This is an all-downs football player, including special teams. This is a very natural player.”
Much to Emery’s chagrin, the 6-foot-3, 250-pound McClellin, a 2011 first-team All-Mountain West Conference selection, was heinous in the Second City. Following four unproductive seasons, the Bears allowed McClellin to walk in April 2015. Afterwards, McClellin signed a three-year contract worth roughly $9 million to become a New England Patriot in March 2016. The 27-year-old McClellin was a starter in the Patriots’ Super Bowl victory over the Atlanta Falcons in February.
11 CHRIS WILLIAMS
The Bears chose Vanderbilt University offensive lineman Chris Williams with the 14th selection in 2008. The 6-foot-6, 325-pound Williams flourished as a Commodore in Nashville and was named a first-team All-SEC member in 2007. Unfortunately for the Bears’ decision makers, Williams’ collegiate success didn’t translate to the NFL and, primarily due to injuries and positional and organizational changes, he was waived in October 2012. Williams subsequently played two seasons for the St. Louis Rams from 2012 to 2013 and then one-year with the Buffalo Bills in 2014.
One league executive told the Chicago Tribune that Williams’ relatively short arms prevented him from becoming a force.
"With his (short) arm length, hand placement became critical," said an anonymous executive. "He let players get into his pads and he got pushed some."
After failing a physical in July 2015, Williams was essentially forced to retire at the age of 29.
10 RASHAAN SALAAM
The Bears selected decorated University of Colorado running back Rashaan Salaam with the 21st pick in 1995. The 6-foot-1, 225-pound Salaam won the Heisman Trophy and every noteworthy college football award for his play in 1994. Salaam looked promising at the outset and he carried the ball 296 times for 1,074 yards and 10 touchdowns as a rookie. Regrettably, the 1994 Sporting News Player of the Year was unable to overcome injuries, fumbling problems and marijuana use as a Bear.
After getting released by Chicago, Salaam became a journeyman who collected paychecks from the Cleveland Browns, Green Bay Packers, San Francisco 49ers, the Memphis Maniax of the XFL and the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts. Tragically, Salaam committed suicide at the age of 42 on December 5, 2016.
9 CURTIS ENIS
Chicago picked Penn State University running back Curtis Enis with the fifth choice in the 1998 draft. While a Nittany Lion in Happy Valley, the 6-foot, 240-pound Enis averaged 5.8 yards per rush for 3,256 yards and 36 scores. In addition to Enis’ dominance on the ground, the 1997 consensus All-American snagged 57 pigskins for 506 yards and two touchdowns. Upon turning pro, Enis immediately endured an assortment of serious afflictions. After three injury-plagued campaigns in the Windy City, Enis agreed to a one-year deal with the Cleveland Browns. Alas, a degenerative condition in Enis’ left knee forced him to retire in 2001 at the age of 24. Enis recorded 1,497 yards and four touchdowns in 36 contests running as a Bear.
8 GABE CARIMI
Gabe Carimi was a star offensive lineman for the Wisconsin Badgers’ football team. As Sports Illustrated writer Tony Pauline predicted, "Carimi is the next great offensive lineman to come from the Badger program. He's a terrific pass-protecting left tackle, with the size necessary to grow into a dominant run blocker."
Chicago picked the 6-foot-7, 315-pound Carimi with the 29th pick in 2011. Carimi, who won the Outland Trophy Award and was named the Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year in 2010, failed to meet such lofty expectations. The Bears traded the injury-riddled Carimi to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a 2014 sixth-round selection in June 2013. Following a brief stint with Tampa Bay and the Atlanta Falcons, Carimi shelved his cleats in February 2015 at the age of 25.
7 CEDRIC BENSON
The Bears selected Texas Longhorns running back Cedric Benson with the fourth overall pick in 2005. The 5-foot-11, 227-pound Benson, the organization’s highest draft choice since it took defensive tackle Dan Hampton in 1979, signed a five-year deal worth $35 million to become a Bear. Benson competed with Thomas Jones to serve as the team’s featured runner. Unfortunately for the former Longhorn, Benson suffered a series of injuries and Thomas outshined him on the gridiron. A constant troublemaker, Benson was released by the Bears after he was charged with a DUI in June 2008. Benson carried the ball 420 times for 10 touchdowns and 1,593 yards in 35 games with the Bears. During a September 2016 interview with SB Nation, the 34-year-old Benson said that "no year in Chicago was I happy."
6 KEVIN WHITE
Wide receiver Kevin White has badly disappointed Bears fans in the Windy City. The Bears chose the 6-foot-3, 215-pound White out of West Virginia with the seventh overall selection in 2015. Like others on this list, the 2014 the 2014 second-team All-American has battled a litany of injuries since relocating from Morgantown to Chicago. Hence, in two seasons with the Bears, White has failed to score and he’s only made 19 catches for 187 yards. According to Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune, in addition to health, White has struggled to grasp routine running patterns.
“The thing I heard at the start of last year and during preseason from scouts with other teams is that White was deficient as a route runner,” wrote Biggs. “That would create problems for him gaining separation in the NFL.”
With only two seasons remaining on his rookie contract, the 24-year-old White needs to start impressing Bears suits or he’ll soon be unemployed.
5 CADE MCNOWN
Former UCLA quarterback Cade McNown coveted Hollywood fame more than greatness on the gridiron. Chicago chose the 6-foot-1, 210-pound McNown with the 12th pick in the 1999 draft. McNown, a southpaw who was a 1998 consensus All-American and that year’s Johnny Unitas Award winner, swore he was virgin and straight edge coming out of Westwood. Apparently, McNown changed in Chicago and he began frequenting Hugh Hefner’s Playboy Mansion near Beverly Hills. McNown allegedly bedded Playmates Brande Roderick and Heather Kozar and essentially ditched the Bears’ playbook.
Understandably, Chicago’s hierarchy traded McNown to the Miami Dolphins in August 2001 for a sixth-round draft pick in 2002 and a conditional seventh-round pick in 2003. The hypocritical Christian never played a down in Miami and he was out of the sport altogether by the age of 25.
4 DAVID TERRELL
Chicago took University of Michigan wide receiver David Terrell with the eighth overall selection in 2001. The 6-foot-2, 216-pound Terrell was a Bear for four seasons before getting cut in March 2005. Although the underachieving Wolverine signed contracts with the New England Patriots and Denver Broncos, he never again competed in the NFL. Terrell caught 128 passes for 1,602 yards and nine touchdowns in 53 games with the Bears. Still bitter, Terrell blamed his woeful career on the Bears’ middling array of quarterbacks. In fact, to partner with former Chicago signal-caller Jay Cutler, Terrell said he “would have cut off both (his) balls. I’d give those up, no problem. You could have neutered me. I woulda been neutered with a smile.”
3 MICHAEL HAYNES
Former defensive tackle Michael Haynes was a colossal man and an even bigger disappointment. The Bears selected the 6-foot-3, 275-pound Haynes out of Penn State with the 14th pick in 2003. Haynes, the 2002 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, only lasted three seasons in the Windy City before getting clipped in March 2006. Like a standup man, Haynes later complained that he failed to produce because of Lovie Smith’s schemes and coaching decisions.
“As a result of defensive schemes, I was constantly trying to meet ever changing expectations," Haynes said. "I was drafted weighing 286 pounds as a run-stopping defensive end. But when Lovie came in, he wanted me to be a speed-rushing defensive end."
Haynes never stepped on another professional gridiron following his 24th birthday.
2 MARC COLOMBO
Marc Colombo was a human chandelier as a Chicago Bear. Chicago chose the 6-foot-8, 315-pound Colombo out of Boston College with the 22nd pick in 2002. Colombo was constantly hurt and he only performed in 19 games over four seasons as a Bear. Unsurprisingly, the Bears’ brain trust waived Colombo in September 2005.
"To get hurt so early in my career and have almost a zero percent chance of playing again,” Colombo told ESPN. “I didn't know what I was going to do.”
Fortunately, the brittle offensive tackle managed to return and he competed as a Dallas Cowboy from 2005 to 2010 before retiring as a Miami Dolphin following the 2011 campaign. The 38-year-old Colombo now owns and operates several restaurants in the Dallas area.
1 STAN THOMAS
The Bears took Texas Longhorns offensive tackle Stan Thomas with the 22nd pick in 1991. Less than a year later in February 1992, the 6-foot-5, 295-pound Thomas was shot in the right forehead and seriously wounded during a drive-by ambush.
"He's already alert and talking," said Michael Bardin, a spokesman for Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla, California. "He'll undoubtedly be playing football next season."
Although Thomas did return to the gridiron, Mike Ditka’s nemesis fought alcohol abuse and was hideous on the field. Thomas was waived in March 1993 after 16 bumbling contests as a Bear. Thomas briefly secured employment with the Houston Oilers. However, Thomas was cut by Houston and removed from the league altogether by 1995 at the age of 26.