When it comes to forecasting what will occur in the NFL Draft, there are few people in the business who have the name recognition and flair that ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. has.
Over the years, Kiper has become not only one of the world’s foremost experts on the Draft itself, but has also been the target of good-natured ribbing from comedians and fans alike.
On Thursday afternoon, Kiper engaged in a teleconference call with media members to discuss the Draft, which will take play in May. The Chicago Bears will have the 14th pick in the first round, and Kiper didn’t mince words when asked about what position the Bears need to target.
"I don’t think the defensive line is something you can really wait on," he said to the reporters. "There’s not a lot of depth at end or tackle. There is more depth in the secondary that you can get guys down the line, particularly at corner."
The Bears will be looking to focus on rebuilding their defense a year after undergoing a massive offensive overhaul. Free agents like Martellus Bennett and Jermon Bushrod were brought into the fold via new contracts, and rookies Kyle Long and Jordan Mills both contributed immediately as they solidified an offensive line that has been experiencing some serious issues as of late.
While doing that though, the defense broke down around the Bears, with players like Charles Tillman and Henry Melton (both free agents this offseason) experiencing season-ending injuries while others like Chris Conte and Shea McClellin proved woefully ineffective in their respective positions.
With that in mind, Kiper has the Bears picking defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan out of Florida State in both mock drafts that he has done. He also says that Louis Nix III out of Notre Dame could be another fit at defensive tackle if the Bears go that way, but Kiper also cautioned that Nix is more of a fit in a 3-4 defense, while the Bears traditionally have run a 4-3.
At any rate, defensive coordinator Mel Tucker is going to be given some wide latitude in terms of what defense he wants the team to play next season. He’ll have to work with GM Phil Emery, who will have to balance salary cap concerns with team needs, and it will be fascinating to see if they can achieve the kind of overnight success that the offensive overhaul under new head coach Marc Trestman did in 2013.