For most teams, we identify five specific draft needs. For the Bears, that approach easily could yield the following quintet of necessities: left tackle, left guard, center, right guard, and right tackle. But I won’t take the easy way out, searching for four other areas of need along with the most obvious one.
Offensive line: The Bears claim that they’re happy with their current offensive line. No amount of hypnosis could make that one stick. They need help across the board, primarily at the tackle positions. Yes, 2011 first-rounder Gabe Carimi could upgrade the unit if/when he gets healthy, but left tackle J’Marcus Webb can’t be trusted to protect Jay Cutler. The guards are acceptable, less glaring because of the problems at tackle. And they need another Olin Kreutz at center, but he may be a once-in-a-generation anchor for the offensive line.
Defensive end: Before free agency started, there were rumors that the Bears wanted to bookend Julius Peppers with Mario Williams. Though the salary cap wouldn’t have permitted two big-money pass rushers, the Bears could try to grab one at a far lower rate of pay in the first round of the draft. With Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford, the only way to truly beat them could be to, well, beat them. In the non-bounty way.
Receiver: Getting Brandon Marshall for a pair of third-round picks gives the depth chart a long-overdue lift, but they shouldn’t stop there. Devin Hester never will become what they thought he’d be when they paid him like a gamebreaking receiver, and Johnny Knox likely won’t play much, if at all, in 2012 after suffering a serious back injury last season.
Tight end: Former offensive coordinator Mike Martz didn’t like to use tight ends, and so now the Bears need to beef up what has become a position of demand in the pass-happy NFL. Unfortunately, the draft is weak at that position, which means that the Bears may have to search for a free agent, or scour other teams’ trash heaps.
Cornerback: With or without help in the pass rush, the Bears need to be ready to defend against Rodgers and Stafford by covering their receivers. And so they can never have enough competent cornerbacks.
The Bears were on track for another playoff appearance in 2011, until injuries to quarterback Jay Cutler and running back Matt Forte knocked the team out of contention. If they can find a way to make Forte happy, they could make another run at the postseason — and possibly give the Packers some real competition for the NFC North crown. If they don’t, new G.M. Phil Emery could make a run at coach Lovie Smith’s job.