Jeffery Buoying Emery’s First Draft

Bears GM Phil Emery has been on the job two and a half years, and with a series of bold moves, has positioned the Bears as a legitimate Super Bowl contender entering the 2014 season. That’s noteworthy status given the fact Emery’s first draft class (2012) has been fruitless with the exception of rising star Alshon Jeffery.

Buried in an article about the Bears’ kick coverage units, CSN Chicago’s John Mullin notes that 2012 19th overall selection Shea McClellin, a disappointment through two NFL seasons, has been used on special teams this offseason. Unable to hold up against the run, the Bears have converted him from defensive end to linebacker, where he’s competing with John Bostic for the starting job on the strong side. Position changes and special-teams impact are things typically associated with rookies, not third-year pros, especially ones drafted as highly as McClellin. His backward career trajectory doesn’t bode well for his future in Chicago.

If McClellin can’t find a way to make an impact this season, he’ll be stamped with the bust label, which prompts a more macroscopic concern. Emery, whose background is rooted in scouting, was hired to replace Jerry Angelo, whose first-round failures still resonate with Bears fans who cringe at the memories of names such as Rex Grossman, Michael Haynes, Cedric Benson, Chris Williams and Gabe Carimi. Emery is supposed to reverse that debilitating trend, but aside from Jeffery in the second round, his 2012 draft class has failed to live up to expectations:

  • First round: McClellin – “Earned” -30.6 overall grade from Pro Football Focus in 2013, and has just 6.5 sacks in 28 career games.
  • Second round: Jeffery – Made the Pro Bowl in his second year, a breakout season in which he totaled 89 catches for 1,421 yards and 7 touchdowns, teaming with Brandon Marshall to form one of the most dominant receiving duos in the league.
  • Third round – Brandon Hardin: Arrived an injured player and departed an injured player, never playing a game for the Bears.
  • Fourth round – Evan Rodriguez: Considered a reach because of character concerns, Rodriguez was released after his rookie season (and two off-season arrests).
  • Sixth round – Isaiah Frey: Has yet to make a significant contribution and faces a training camp battle to stick as the team’s fifth cornerback.
  • Seventh round – Greg McCoy – Cut at the end of 2012 training camp.

In McClellin’s case, the Bears might have misevaluated his utility, as many draft scouts projected the Boise State pass rusher as a 3-4 rush rush linebacker. Nolan Nawrocki’s 2012 Draft Preview graded McClellin as a mid-round talent with tweener traits, strength deficiency and an inability to defend the run: “Functional, character football player who plays better than he tests and could warrant consideration as a stand-up, upfield 3-4 rush ‘backer. Versatility and dependability increase comfort level and could drive up draft status.”

Nawrocki’s assessment proved accurate, as McClellin ascended all the way to the 19th pick, where Emery pounced on him with 3-4 teams such as the Patriots (who took Chandler Jones 21st), Texans (who took Whitney Mercilus 26th) and Packers (who took Nick Perry 28th) lurking in subsequent picks. McClellin’s versatility was key to the selection, with the thinking at the time being if he doesn’t pan out as a defensive end, he could be a starter-caliber linebacker, be it as Brian Urlacher‘s long-term replacement in the middle, or on the outside. The time is now for McClellin to reward Emery’s confidence before Chicago’s all-too-familiar first-round failure worries are stirred up.

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