Bears eyeing seven first rounders

GM Phil Emery

Chicago GM Phil Emery said today he has narrowed down his first-round search to seven prospects in the upcoming NFL Draft. Bear Report has a good idea who those seven players are.

Chicago Bears GM Phil Emery today held a press conference to discuss the 2012 NFL Draft, his first with the organization.

He talked about the first round, where premium players are found, players that can often put a team over the top. Front offices spend the most time evaluating first-round players and, according to Emery, preparing for the 19th overall selection is tougher than other spots in the first.

"That mid level is probably the toughest level because there are so many things that can happen in front of you," Emery said. "The further you get away from those top 10 picks, the more you have a feel for the players that will be available from say 25 to 35, that are going to fall in that range, and you can get it down to maybe three.

"In that middle range, so much can happen. It seems that middle range is where the trades happen in front of you. Guys come up with picks that nobody thought of, and they have a need or they traded down to a need, or they have a player they were really driven to, boom, they pop in there at the 15th pick when you didn't think that was going to happen. So there's a lot of variability in that mid-range area."

The first round begins this Thursday at 7 p.m. With just three days to go, Emery has narrowed down his first-round search to a small group with which he's comfortable. "I would say right now, we're working on a core of about seven players," he said.

With the acquisition of Brandon Marshall, the need for a top-flight wideout is lessened. Additionally, there is a lack of first-round talent at offensive line in this year's class. For those reasons, it's likely almost all of the seven players on Emery's radar are defensive lineman, as the Bears have made it clear that improving the pass rush is a top priority.

Here then are the seven players I believe the Bears are targeting with the 19th overall pick.

**As a preface, if Notre Dame WR Michael Floyd falls to the Bears, they will run to the podium to take him. Pairing Floyd with Marshall would instantly create an elite passing attack in Chicago. Yet the chances of Floyd falling are slim to none.**


DE Quinton Coples
Kevin Jairaj/US Presswire

DE Quinton Coples, North Carolina (6-6, 284)
Coples is arguably the premiere pass rusher in this class. He has the skill set to be a double-digit sack producer for many years to come. Yet concerns about motivation and maturity have many teams scared off. The former consensus Top 10 pick is now projected to fall, possibly to the Bears. If he's on the board, Emery will draft Coples.

DT Michael Brockers, LSU (6-5, 322)
My sources tell me that Brockers is at the top of Chicago's draft list. He's a 4-3 defensive tackle that would be an ideal fit at 3-technique for the Bears. He has a unique blend of size, strength and quickness. Lovie Smith has said the 3-technique is the most important position in his defense. Brockers would be a force at that spot, both as a pass rusher and run stopper.

DT Fletcher Cox, Mississippi State (6-4, 298)
Cox is a bit smaller than Brockers but has better quickness. He's more of the typical undersized 3-technique Smith has historically preferred. He would likely provide more pressure than Brockers, although he wouldn't be as stout against the run. Cox is climbing up draft boards and some have him projected to go in the Top 10, yet he still could easily fall to Chicago.

DE Whitney Mercilus, Illinois (6-4, 261)
The Bears worked out Mercilus individually in Champaign, brought him to Halas Hall for a visit and showed up at his pro day. Smith had lunch with Mercilus that afternoon. There is obviously a ton of interest in Mercilus as a pure pass rushing defensive end. He struggles mightily against the run but he led the nation in sacks last season (16) and should be able to contribute on passing downs right away.

CB Stephon Gilmore, South Carolina (6-0, 190)
Gilmore has ideal size and speed (4.40 40-yard dash at the combine). He could play either corner or safety at the next level. He's tough in man coverage, using his length well, while also showing good awareness in zone sets. Like Cox, Gilmore is soaring up draft boards and is being selected in the Top 15 in some mock drafts. The Bears need a big cornerback to pair with Charles Tillman. Gilmore has the skill set to be that player.

WR Stephen Hill, Georgia Tech (6-4, 215)
Hill is a big-bodied wideout that ran a 4.36 40-yard dash at the combine. His blend of size and speed is extremely rare. Smith visited Hill's pro day and had dinner with the prospect. Hill's route running and overall game need work but he'll be a deep threat from Day 1 and has the potential to develop into an elite receiver.

DE/OLB Shea McClellin, Boise State (6-3, 260)
McClellin played defensive end, outside linebacker and inside linebacker in college. Many believe he's a better fit at OLB in a 3-4, yet he could be a situational pass rusher in 4-3. He has quick feet, active hands and a full arsenal of pass rush moves, yet he'll struggle against the run in the NFL. McClellin doesn't appear to be a great fit for Chicago but I'm told the Bears are interested. If the other six players on this list are gone, Emery may fall back on McClellin.

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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of Bear Report magazine and BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.

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