The waiting game finally ended for the Bears Sunday morning, and by the end of the day they had a large and unique class of athletes.
After more than six hours of the 2009 NFL Draft, they finally got to make their first pick: San Jose State defensive tackle Jarron Gilbert, the 68th-overall selection. It wasn't until 31 picks later that the Bears made an effort to shore up their most glaring weakness, at wide receiver, by taking Oklahoma's Juaquin Iglesias.
Seven more picks followed, including a defensive end who converted from running back, a fourth-round pick who says he was the best cornerback in the draft, two wide receivers, one of whom was among the fastest players at the Scouting Combine, and a 300-pound tight end.
Gilbert converted last season from end to tackle and responded with the best season of his college career. He led the nation in tackles for loss with 22 and also had 9.5 sacks. He was named the Western Athletic Conference's co-Defensive Player of the Year.
"He can play end," Bears general manager Jerry Angelo said. "I really like him inside. He's an under tackle for us."
That's the same position that three-time Pro Bowl pick Tommie Harris plays, but the Bears prefer a rotation along the defensive line, using several players on a regular basis, so Gilbert should be able to contribute soon.
"Inside, I feel like I'm really quick," he said, "and outside over a tight end, I feel really strong playing that position."
The 6-5, 288-pound Gilbert really came on strong during his senior season and continued to build momentum with an impressive performance at the East-West Shrine Game and outstanding test results at the combine, including a position-best 40-yard dash time of 4.82 seconds.
The knocks on Gilbert are that he faced a lower level of competition in the WAC, but Angelo said he can contribute right now.
"He's ready to go," Angelo said. "We were really happy in terms of the jump that we saw him take as a senior. He took a quantum step in his senior season. It was irrelevant what his competition was. They played Cal-Davis, they played Nebraska, and then he goes down to the East-West game and you kept seeing the same things."
The Bears waited until the second-to-last pick of the third round to get Iglesias.
He has good size (6-1, 210) and soft hands and was a full-time starter for the Sooners the past three seasons. Iglesias showed improvement every year, catching 74 passes for 1,150 yards as a senior. He lacks great speed (4.53 in the 40) but shows quickness as a route runner and after the catch.
"He's been the go-to receiver at Oklahoma the last two years," Bears director of college scouting Greg Gabriel said. "He's going to fit in good here."
Iglesias lacks a little speed, but not so for fifth-rounder Johnny Knox, who ran a 4.34 40 at the combine. And in two years at Division-II Abilene Christian he caught 118 passes for 2,227 yards and 30 touchdowns.
At the top of the fourth round, the Bears took Texas defensive end Henry Melton 104th overall with a pick they got dealing their second-round pick to the Seahawks on Saturday.
Melton is a project who may take some time to develop. He was a running back in his first two seasons with the Longhorns and scored 10 touchdowns for the 2005 national champions as a true freshman. The 6-3, 260-pounder didn't start until his senior season and is still very raw as a defensive end but has outstanding athleticism for the position. And he doesn't lack for confidence.
"It's a great selection," he said of the Bears' decision to draft him. "They got a great player."
Melton wasn't invited to the combine but after his pro day said, "They got to see the awesome athleticism they didn't know I had."
Vanderbilt cornerback D.J. Moore, who came out after his junior season and is a fraction under 5-9, makes Melton appear as if he suffers from low self-esteem.
"I didn't believe I was going to get too much better than what I was," he said of his decision to leave school early. "I felt I was the best cornerback in the draft."
Seventh-round pick Lance Louis showed the Bears he had the athleticism for tight end when he ran a 4.75 40 at 300 pounds.
"I've never seen a guy that big run that fast," Angelo said. "He's got some special traits."