On the NFL
6:43 PM CST, February 23, 2013
INDIANAPOLIS — Choosing a guard in the NFL draft's first round usually isn't any team's top priority. And it's probably not for the Bears this year.
Guards, after all, tend to be looked at as the least valuable members of starting lineups. Some will tell you it often costs more to feed them than they are worth.
The prevailing logic is no one needs to use a first-round pick on one because they are readily available all over.
But there is a scenario that might play out in which it makes perfect sense for the Bears.
There are two guards in this draft considered elite — Chance Warmack of Alabama and Jonathan Cooper of North Carolina. This is a rare draft in that regard.
NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock has ranked them among the four best players available overall and said Warmack was the best player he has seen on tape.
Warmack is a powerful blocker who can drive defenders into the bleachers. He plays with outstanding leverage and can be an anchor against a bull rush. And he has surprising foot quickness for his size, though some scouts were disappointed that Warmack measured "small" at the combine at 6 feet 2, 317 pounds.
Cooper has superior athleticism for a man 6-2, 311. His body control, change of direction and ability to adjust is rare. Linebackers and defensive backs can't get away from him. And he can win the short area fights too.
"He is a freak athlete," one front office man said. "He has tremendous potential, Hall of Fame potential."
So why should either of these players be available for the Bears, who pick 20th in the first round? Because they are guards, and guards can drop like 300-pound cliff divers on draft day.
In the last 30 years, only five guards have been chosen in the top 10 — Mike Munchak (eighth, Oilers, 1982), Bruce Matthews (ninth, Oilers, 1983), John Rienstra (ninth, Steelers, 1986), Chris Naeole (10th, Saints, 1997) and Leonard Davis (second, Cardinals, 2001).
Over that period, there were 16 times guards were bypassed completely in the first 20.
Two guards have been chosen in the top 20 only twice in 30 years — in 2001 (Davis and Steve Hutchinson, 17th, Seahawks) and in 1982 (Munchak and Sean Farrell, 17th, Bucs).
Since the draft began in 1936, the Bears settled on a guard in the first round just once — when they picked the ultimately undistinguished Roger Davis in 1960.
But if Cooper or Warmack fell, how could the Bears ignore them?
This is a team that needs to protect the quarterback better. Guards are part of pass protection. Sacks come up the middle, too.
Of the 44 sacks the Bears allowed last year, 37 percent were given up by guards, according to STATS.
And a dominant guard can lift an entire offensive line, if not a standard-size SUV.
The Bears' guard situation is unsettled somewhat.
Lance Louis, the team's best, could become an unrestricted free agent. General manager Phil Emery has indicated he will try to re-sign him in the coming weeks.
But even if Louis returns that still leaves a question opposite him. Chris Spencer is scheduled to be a free agent. James Brown and Edwin Williams were late season fill-ins who probably are projected best as backups.
The wild card in the scenario is Gabe Carimi. If Carimi plays his natural right tackle, the Bears need to acquire another guard while retaining Louis.
But Emery raised the possibility last week that Carimi could stay at guard, where he played as an emergency fill-in last year after losing his starting tackle job.
"He has some (position) flexibility," Emery said. "Gabe had some rough moments during the year, he had some good moments, had some really good run-blocking moments. There are areas that he has to improve as a pass blocker."
Of course, even if Carimi moves to guard, the Bears still shouldn't reject Warmack or Cooper.
Emery's philosophy is to draft players who can help the Bears win quickly. He does not want to pass up superior prospects for inferior ones who fill needs.
So Cooper or Warmack make perfect sense — if the Bears should be so lucky.
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