Jerry Angelo's Best Draft Picks
Lance Briggs Chicago Bears
Honorable Mention 2: Henry Melton-DL-Texas-Round 4 2009: This one will depend on whether Melton's flashes of brilliance continue or regress. Melton was a former running back that was converted to defensive end in college. Drafted as an end, Melton was switched to three-technique tackle in 2010 and began to blossom. The replacement for Tommie Harris in Lovie Smith's most important defensive position, Melton opened the 2011 season as the starter and registered two sacks against the Atlanta Falcons. Then his play went up and down through the season, in which he finished with seven sacks. Time will tell if Melton never realizes his potential or becomes a star.
Honorable Mention 1: Mark Anderson-DE-Alabama-Round 5 2006: Anderson merited Defensive Rookie of the Year honors in 2006 when he finished with 11 sacks as the third defensive end. Thrust into a starting role the following season, Anderson was overmatched and did little until being released by the Bears early in the 2010 season. He bounced around for several seasons before again making an impact in 2011 with the New England Patriots, again in a rotational role. He is now a Buffalo Bill, having signed a lucrative contract as the starter in 2012. Now Buffalo will find out if Anderson is capable of excelling in a starter's role. Glad this determination will not be made on Chicago's dime. Anderson would have made this list if he had more than one year of success with the Bears.
11. J'Marcus Webb-LT-West Texas A&M-Round 7 2010: As of this writing prior to the 2012 season, Webb is a very mediocre starting left tackle. But finding even a mediocre starting left tackle in the draft's final round is still pretty good. The Bears heavily scouted Webb as a potential sleeper late in the draft, and seeing that Webb has started almost 30 games in two seasons, regardless of overall talent, this was a pretty good pick.
10. Earl Bennett-WR-Vanderbilt-Round 3 2008: Bennett's rookie season was spent as a virtual redshirt when he failed to catch a single pass. In 2009 following the arrival of Jay Cutler, he started 15 games and caught 54 passes for 717 yards and two touchdowns. The emergence of Johnny Knox in 2010 moved Bennett to a subordinate role, but this was when Bennett emerged as a heady (if not flashy) playmaker. Despite only starting three games, he virtually matched is 2009 numbers with 46 receptions for 561 yards and three touchdowns. In 2011 Bennett missed much of the season with an injury, but earned himself a nice contract extension. Bennett is by no means a number one receiver in the NFL, but he remains a solid receiver the Bears should be able to count on for several years if his contract doesn't make him expendable.
9. Tommie Harris-DT-Oklahoma-Round 1 2004: In Lovie Smith's first season, the Bears desperately needed a prototypical three-technique defensive tackle since they were switching from Greg Blache's one-gap system. It seems as if the Bears had some luck when top talent Harris slipped to the Bears' 14th overall selection. Harris was a stud from the beginning, making the Pro Bowl from 2005-2007. But following a massive torn hamstring injury in 2006, he was never the same. It was later revealed that Harris may have dropped to the Bears in the draft because he had been taken off many teams' draft boards entirely due to evaluators' concerns about his propensity for injury. Following pedestrian seasons from 2008-2010, Harris was released. In just his eighth season, Harris doesn't look to have anything left in his tank.
8. Nathan Vasher-CB-Texas-Round 4 2004: and Chris Harris (S-Louisana Lafayette-Round 6 2005): Had to go with a combo here. Vasher and Harris were both defensive backs with talent that slipped to Angelo in later rounds of the draft. Both had shining moments (a Pro Bowl for Vasher in 2005, second-team All Pro for Harris in 2010), then both totally flamed out. Vasher started 35 games in his first three seasons and compiled eight interceptions in 2005. Then he was injured in 2007, missing 12 games, and was never the same. The Bears gave him a final shot at starting in 2009 but he was a disappointment prior to his release from a large contract. Harris was an above-average safety but not great at coverage. Solid in his first two seasons, he was traded to Carolina to make room for the failed Adam Archuleta experiment in 2007. Then prior to the 2010 season the Bears traded linebacker Jamar Williams to bring Harris back. I'd have to check but I'd be surprised if the Bears have ever traded a player than traded again to bring him back. Regardless, after a strong 2010 season Harris entered the team's dog house the following year and was cut during the season.
7. Johnny Knox-WR-Abilene Christian-Round 5 2009: Knox was selected with a throw-in fifth round pick that came back to the Bears from Denver in the Jay Cutler trade. Knox seemed to be on the bubble prior to final cuts that season, then had a monster final preseason game. In his rookie year he made the Pro Bowl as a kick returner and became nationally known while a ballboy chased him all the way down the field during his kickoff return for a touchdown. Despite being small and not very physical, he has been the Bears' most prolific receiver since he joined the team. The only unfortunate part of making that statement is that with the Bears, that isn't saying much.
6. Alex Brown-DE-Florida-Round 4 2002: At face value when this pick was made, this probably looked like what would become a standard Jerry Angelo draft pick (a reach and a failure). Brown was considered by evaluators to have plenty of talent and potential, but he was thought to have been a lazy player in Florida who took plays off. The Bears had failed to find a consistent defensive end in the draft going all the way back to Trace Armstrong in 1989, so I figured this had every liklihood to follow the same path. But Brown responded by becoming an early starter, and consistently throughout his eight-year Bears career became just a notch below a Pro Bowl player. He ended up starting 107 of 127 total games in Chicago and notched 45.5 sacks. Remarkably for a lineman, Brown even snagged five interceptions. Great pick, great guy, glad to have his name on the Bears History rolls.
5. Kyle Orton-QB-Purdue-Round 4 2005: Since the early 1990's, the Green Bay Packers have consistently drafted late-round quarterbacks that have become starters around the NFL (Ty Detmer, Mark Brunell, Aaron Brooks, Matt Hasselbeck, and soon Matt Flynn). Jerry Angelo? Like his attention to the offensive line, there always was little to the backup quarterback position. He signed an aged Chris Chandler to back up rickety Jim Miller in 2002, and saw his actions implode on him in 2004 when Rex Grossman suffered a season-ending injury. Angelo's backup plan that season was Jonathan Quinn, who was a disaster only to be rivaled by the Caleb Hanie debacle in 2011. So in 2005 Angelo selected Orton to be the eventual longterm backup to Grossman. Little did he know that another injury to Grossman would make the rookie his game one starter. (This only happened after Angelo's first choice, the sucky Chad Hutchinson, embarassed the team in a preseason game). Orton was a marginal starter in 2005 but coupled with the Bears' best defense since 1985, the Bears made the playoffs. Orton then was the forgotten man from 2005-2007, but again became a slightly above average NFL starter in 2008. In fact it has been said that were it not for the Bears being able to offer Orton as a part of the Jay Cutler trade, Cutler may be in Washington or somewhere else right now. Chicago made a strong push to bring Orton back in 2011 following his release by Denver, but couldn't make the waiver claim happen.
4. Matt Forte-RB-Tulane-Round 2 2008: As of 2008, the Bears had busted out in drafting running backs going all the way back to the late 1980's. The selection of Neal Anderson (first round 1986) was a home run even though his career fizzled after his sixth season. Brad Muster (first round, 1988) was a nice compliment to Anderson, but he didn't stay healthy and was done after just five seasons. Rashaan Salaam (first, 1995) was a bust. Curtis Enis (fifth overall, 1998) may have been the worst of the whole bunch. Anthony Thomas (2nd, 2001) made Rookie of the Year and was dependable, but wasn't flashy and did nothing after leaving Chicago on a four-year career. Then the Bears swung a home run by signing Thomas Jones in free agency in 2004, then astonishingly selected Cedric Benson with the fourth overall pick in the draft in 2005. Benson was drafted despite many red flags, and due to his high selection he was retained and Jones traded prior to the 2007 season. Benson's performance was underwhelming in 2007 as the load back, so Angelo selected Forte in 2008 as insurance. When Benson got himself arrested twice in the 2008 offseason, the Bears found themselves with Forte as their rookie starter as Benson was cut. Forte responded by rushing for 1,200 + yards, caught 63 passes and scored 12 total touchdowns as a rookie. Following a down sophomore season, he bounced back in 2010 with 1000+ rushing yards, 9 touchdowns and 51 receptions. 2011 was his best year of them all until he badly sprained a knee ligament. At the time Forte led the league in yards from scrimmage. Prior to the injury in the twelfth game of the 2011 season, Forte had started every game of his career (60 straight). That was nothing short of Walter Payton-esque. As of this writing, Forte is designated the Bears' franchise player, but threatens to hold out for a franchise running back contract. Absolutely one of Angelo's best picks.
3. Charles "Peanut" Tillman-CB-Louisana Lafayette-Round 2 2003: Several corners were rated higher in the 2003 draft than Tillman. Five corners were selected before him: Terence Newman, Marcus Trufant, Andre Woolfolk, Sammy Davis and Nnamdi Asomugha. Who else would anyone take over Tillman in their tenth pro year other than Asomugha? Probably nobody. Tillman became a starter during his rookie year and despite suffering numerous, continual and degrading injuries, he has only missed 14 games in nine NFL seasons. The thing about Tillman is his play has never declined to this point. "Peanut" may not have the speed or big-play ability that some other corners have. But he is physical, reliable, durable, and leads the NFL in forced fumbles since 2003. In the author's opinion, there has been an overall dearth of talent at the cornerback position in the Bears' storied history. Indeed I told the Sun-Times in 2011 that in my opinion, Tillman is the best Bears cornerback since 1977. This man will definitely find himself in the BearsHistory.com Chicago Bears Ring of Honor when his playing days are over. Let's hope that doesn't happen for a few more years.
2. Devin Hester-KR-Miami-Round 2 2006: Hester probably slipped in the 2006 draft because he never found a position at Miami. He played some at cornerback, some at receiver, but excelled at neither position. But he was a dynamic kick returner, bringing back six kicks in college for touchdowns. Since the Bears were already a playoff team in 2005, Angelo probably felt he had the flexibiliy to take Hester on his dynamic special teams ability alone, even if he never excelled at a regular position. And did Angelo's gamble ever pay off. As a rookie, Hester returned three punts and two kickoffs for touchdowns. His punt return for a TD at Arizona on Monday Night Football won the game for the Bears. Again on MNF later in the season at St. Louis, he returned two kickoffs for touchdowns in the same game. During the 2007 season, Hester returned four punts and two kickoffs for touchdowns. He was moved from cornerback to receiver by the Bears in 2007, but still has not distinguished himself. In 2008 he signed a big-money contract extension basing his pay on his receiving stats, then suffered through two seasons without a return touchdown. But he roared back in 2010 and 2011, scoring three touchdowns on returns in each season. Hester is now the NFL's all-time leading kick returner in terms of total touchdowns. Hester should be a shoo-in for the Pro Football Hall of Fame for his return skills. Jerry Angelo might have taken heat for overall poor drafting, but he hit a home run for the ages with this gambling pick.
1. Lance Briggs-LB-Arizona-Round 3 2003: What makes the Briggs pick even more fortuitous is that Briggs was drafted for Greg Blache's defensive system one year before Lovie Smith's arrival. Smith's base cover two defense relied heavily on a dynamic tackler to man the weak side "will" linebacker, and although Briggs became a solid starter as the strong side linebacker during his rookie year, he excelled as the will linebacker when Smith arrived. By Briggs' third year he was an NFL All Pro, and following the 2011 season he had been selected as a Pro Bowl talent by his peers for seven consecutive seasons. Regimes prior to Angelo's (Dave Wannstedt/Mike McCaskey, Mark Hatley) failed to draft Pro Bowl players at any position by and large, so by snagging a perennial Pro Bowl player in the third round, Briggs became Angelo's best draft pick in his ten years as General Manager of the Chicago Bears.







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