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Bears reaching for greatness

Was 20th pick too soon to take Long? Not if he turns out to be as good as they expect

Dan Pompei

On the NFL

6:37 PM CDT, April 28, 2013

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If the Bears had been picking 32nd instead of 20th, no one would have said boo about them selecting Kyle Long. But they were picking 20th, and they caught a lot of people by surprise.

Based on my pre-draft research, I thought Long would be a second-round pick, and I was surprised, very surprised, when the Bears took Long at 20.

But the more I've learned about Long post-draft, the more I get it.

The only thing not to like about Long is the limited body of work. Even with so little playing time, he still is nowhere near as raw as defensive end Ziggy Ansah, who was chosen by the Lions 15 picks earlier.

By comparison, Long already is a master of this craft. Former Bears offensive line coach Tony Wise, who worked with Long pre-draft, said he does not think Long is behind where he needs to be from a technique standpoint. He does acknowledge a lack of experience.

If there was a first-round trend this year, it was taking players with more potential and athleticism than production.

In addition to Long and Ansah, others who were part of the trend included Dion Jordan (5 sacks last year), Barkevious Mingo (41/2 sacks last year), Sheldon Richardson (13 career starts) and Cordarrelle Patterson (at Tennessee for four months).

Long really should not be termed a developmental prospect when he played so well in the Senior Bowl. Bears general manager Phil Emery thought he was the best offensive lineman in an all-star game that also featured No. 1 overall pick Eric Fisher and fellow first-rounders Lane Johnson, D.J. Fluker and Justin Pugh.

There clearly were a handful of teams that had developed mad respect for Long and were threats to take him in the first round, even if some of us didn't start to figure it out until late Thursday night.

Long visited 13 teams in the pre-draft interview process. Some undoubtedly were tire kickers. Some had checkbooks in hand.

A couple of days before the draft, I heard the Cowboys were a threat to take Long in the first round, perhaps if they moved down from the 18th pick. I later heard from league sources outside of Halas Hall that the Colts (24th pick) and Rams (22nd pick) were very interested in drafting him. Some suspected the Packers (26th pick) also were in the Long market.

And then there were the Bengals, picking directly after the Bears. They signed free-agent right tackle Andre Smith on Friday night, but Thursday night they needed a starter on their offensive line.

"Kyle is off the board within three to five picks if he's not here, no question," said his father Howie Long, who was very plugged into the process. "I've heard people say, 'Well, they should have traded down and got him in the second round.' He wouldn't have been there."

And really, does it matter if anyone else valued Long as much as the Bears? If Long is who Emery thinks he is, the Bears could have picked him in the top 10 and Long would have been a solid choice.

Long has top-10 talent.

"I never have coached a guy that athletic, that big with that much power," said Wise, who spent 18 of his 37 years as a coach in the NFL. "I haven't had anyone like him with that size and change of direction."

Wise, citing foot quickness, change of direction and height, said he would line up Long at left tackle. That would enhance Long's value.

For now, he will be a guard, but there is a chance he may eventually be a tackle. The only reason for him not to be a left tackle is arm length — Long's arms measured 33 3/8 inches at the combine. The ideal for a left tackle is 34 inches or longer.

If the Bears were intent on taking an offensive lineman, Long clearly was the best who remained.

They could have picked tight end Tyler Eifert ahead of Long, but they just committed $20.4 million over four years to Martellus Bennett. How much value could they have gotten from a second tight end, especially if they couldn't keep Jay Cutler off his back?

Selecting first-round slider Sharrif Floyd would have been a hard move to argue with, but again, the Bears needed Long more. Floyd, who had been called "poor man's Henry Melton" by one front-office man, probably would have been a third defensive tackle on the Bears.

Cornerback Desmond Trufant would have been an excellent choice. But he probably does not have as much potential for greatness as Long.

And really, that is what this pick was about.

dpompei@tribune.com

Twitter @danpompei