Was Kyle Long the best player on the board when Phil Emery and the Chicago Bears selected him Thursday night 20th overall in 2013 NFL Draft? Only time will tell. The truth is that it doesn’t matter what the players Emery left on the board at No. 20 go on to do from here on out.
All that matters is what Kyle Long and the Bears go on to do.
Emery inherited a team that had either ignored or been unsuccessful—depending on how you look at it—at rebuilding an offensive line that served to make one of the most blockbuster trades in recent NFL memory mute for four years. I’m talking, of course, about the acquisition of Jay Cutler, who’s been sacked 148 times (37 per season) since arriving in Chicago in 2009, and to the tune of at least two concussions to boot.
For years, fans have clamored that “it all starts up front” and that that the offensive line is the “number one priority.” So why last night did I hear some of those same fans calling Phil Emery clueless? Your leader up at Halas Hall has taken pains, it would seem, to rebuild the Bears’ front in a single offseason, signing Jermon Bushrod and Matt Slauson, and now drafting Kyle Long.
The question of whether or not Kyle Long was the best player left on the board is still a valid one, but choosing the best player available regardless of position may be more of a luxury than Emery can afford given the team he inherited and his modern approach to re-building while trying to remain competitive.
I think perhaps the best question to ask is whether or not the Bears could have expected to grab Long in the second round. Personally, I think the answer is no. Raw high-grade athletes like Long go quick past the first round, and given the recent run on offensive linemen and the move toward stronger pass protection, I think it’s likely he would have been gone.
There is no doubt that the Bears expect Long to be a starter this season. As for where that might be, Emery said it would be guard but that he won’t make the decision on left or right.
“I’m going to leave that up to Aaron [Kromer], but he’s going to be a guard. In terms of how that mixes with all the personal we have at that position … he started at a left guard, so I think he’s going to feel most comfortable there, but athletically when you watch him move and the things he’s done at workouts, there’s no reason he can’t go on the right side—right tackle, right guard, left guard, left tackle.”
Regardless, the Bears now have two new guards heading into 2013, and that was certainly an underrated position of need, as the Bears saw a large amount of their QB pressures in 2012 coming from the interior of the line. While the position of left tackle needed to be settled, and Emery has seemingly done that, it was not the end-all be-all in terms of fixing the pass protection issue by any means.
And protection, combined with his athleticism, is where Emery felt Long jumped off the page.
“Pass protection is very good,” Emery said. “He’s a very good anchor. It’s very important for us to have a front, center, guards, that can hold the pocket stable, and we see that in Kyle. He’s going to move us forward in that area.”
Emery went on to call Long a dynamic athlete and an extremely rare find for someone on his frame.
“Just to give you an idea,” Emery said, “we do a lot of research on the athletic end of it. Jim Arthur, one of our assistant strength coaches does a tremendous job of correlating information and pulling all the history of that position together, where they were as athletes started with Rusty (Jones), Bill Polian, it’s called our athletic index score, or A-Score. This guy is the highest, this guy is number one offensive guard in the last 12 draft classes and that’s as far back as we go. He rates as rare. In our scale, nine is rare. He rates as rare.”
Phil Emery is perhaps establishing himself as somewhat of a maverick among NFL GMs and will certainly live and die at his post based on his long-term Draft record. But Bears fans ought to at least be able to understand the sense of urgency to finally repair a long breached unit.
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