I recently wrote about the biggest draft day blunders by the Chicago Bears so I thought I would take the time to note the best draft day gambles. The players that are drafted in the late rounds that don’t get any attention until they suddenly start making a difference on the field. They garnered little more than a passing mention on draft day but a few years later they turn out to be a real find. I didn’t give them a rank because I found it too hard to weigh the contributions of the player against the position of the pick. So here are the best bear draft day finds of the last 20 years.
Raymont Harris Pick: 114
Harris was never a superstar but for a kid drafted in the 4th round he turned out to be a solid contributor. He was a fan favorite and worked his butt off for the team but was never given respect by an organization that preferred to draft big name running backs that couldn’t perform. Harris was the consummate player and never said a word. He just showed and was ready to kick ass when his team called on him. Commentators like John Madden coined the phrase “all-back” as a result of watching Raymont Harris. He would run the ball on play, lead block as a fullback the next play, and go over the middle and catch a pass the next play. He did anything and everything the team asked of him. Over 54 games he gained 2,509 yards and 16 touchdowns, while throwing his body in front of tacklers for the likes of Rashaan Salaam and Curtis Enis. He was respected and feared among the players in the league for his punishing style of running. He would wear down the opposing defense throughout the game and punish them in the fourth quarter to take over the game. He’s everything that Cedric Benson wishes he could be, but never will. He was a true class act and should have been treated with more respect by the Bears.
Chris Villarrial Pick: 152
The Bears were hoping to get a decent offensive guard in the 5th round of the draft in 1996. They ended up with a 10-year starter on the offensive line that helped anchor 155 games. Anytime you can pick up a key member of your team in a late round and have that player contribute for a decade, you have just done your organization a huge favor.
Marcus Robinson Pick: 108
Taken in the 4th round of 1997, Marcus didn’t develop right away, but when he did he was amazing. He with the Bears for five seasons, accumulating 187 catches, 2,695 yards, and 20 touchdowns before leaving. His breakout season was his second with the Bears when he caught 84 passes for 1,400 yards and 9 touchdowns. He was a great find and good team player that was always greatful for his success. He returned to Chicago this summer to retire with the team where he had the most success and happiness in his career. He played a season in Baltimore and three in Minnesota but never experience the explosive success he had in Chicago.
Patrick Mannelly Pick: 189
Never heard of Patrick Mannelly? That’s because most fans don’t pay much attention to the long-snapper. You heard me right. Mannelly was drafted in the 6th round of 1998 and is still the starting long-snapper for the team. He has played in 157 NFL games and has never started and pretty much doesn’t have any NFL statistic to associate with his name. However, he has hung around with the Bears and collected a professional football player paycheck for 10 years because he can snap the ball to the kicker and punter. You really want to teach your kids the secret to success in the NFL without the risk of injury? Teach them to long-snap.
Jerry Azumah Pick: 147
Jerry’s career was cut short by injuries but despite being drafted in the 5th round and 10th player drafted by the Bears in 1999, he contributed. The athletic corner back started for three years and was named to one Pro Bowl and 10 career interceptions. He played seven seasons and later in his career he really started to shine as a major player in the defense. He finished 2002 with 82 tackles, 2003 with 82 tackles and 4 interceptions, and in 2004 he played 12 games and finished with 51 tackles and 4 interceptions. After that he was plagued by chronic injuries that forced him to retire from the game.
Rosevelt Colvin Pick: 111
Colvin was taken ahead of Azumah in the 1999 draft in the 5th round and had much of the same success. He was paired with a young Brian Urlacher at linebacker and the pair would become a fierce duo for offenses to manage. He only stayed with the Bears four seasons and didn’t do much his first two seasons, but once given the starting game he flourished. He finished 2001 with 69 tackles and 10.5 sacks and 2002 with 64 tackles and 10.5 sacks. Starting quarterbacks learned to keep an eye on Colvin or suffer the consequences. He left for New England and played a key role in their great linebacker unit and is now headed to the Houston Texans.
Michael Green Pick: 254
Mr. Irrelevant of 2000 taken in the 7th round turned out to be anything but for the Bears. The cornerback ended up playing strong safety for the Bears and was named the starter in his third season. He finished 2002 with 100 tackles and remained the starter for three seasons. It’s quick amazing to think a kid taken so late in the draft could end up playing such a major role on a great defensive unit. However, he is another example of how injuries can cut a player short and he was out of the league by 2007. But for a few years he was able to climb from the basement of obscurity in football to a top safety in the league.
Alex Brown Pick: 104
Taken in the 4th round of 2002, Brown has been relied upon as a developing star at defensive end. Coaches didn’t have a lot of confidence in him originally but he has a very strong work ethic and has become an outstanding student of stopping the run. He was replaced last season by Mark Anderson but Anderson had trouble stopping the run and Brown was quickly put back to work. The Bears recognized their need for the big run stopper and signed him to a long-term deal this past year. He’s been a starter for five seasons, and even though he prides himself on getting after running backs, he has accumulated 31.5 career sacks along with his 283 career tackles.
Bobby Wade Pick: 139
Taken in the 5th round of 2003, Wade had a tough time in Chicago. He had trouble getting involved on the offense and coaches decided to try his talent on punt and kick returns. The result was disasterous as Wade constantly battled fumble issues and coughed up several punts in key game situations, often letting the ball bounce off his chest and right between his hands. Fans started to boo when he ran out for a punt and probably made matters worse for Wade as his fumble troubles got worse. Coaches got frustrated and Wade was allowed to go to leave to Tennessee and now Minnesota where he is enjoying some success.
Justin Gage Pick: 143
Taken four picks after Wade, their careers have mirrored one another. In four seasons with the Bears he never broke out but now with Tennessee he enjoyed a career year last year and established himself as a real threat. Too bad neither player found their stride before leaving Chicago for a new destination.
Nathan Vasher Pick: 110
Taken in the fourth round, “The Interceptor” has developed into a starting cornerback was locked up last season with a long term contract. In four seasons with the Bears he has 130 career tackles and 17 career interceptions. He has earned a reputation as a shut down corner and when he spent most of the last season injured the defense appeared to play differently without him. He offers a security for the other players on defense that he can hold is own and create plays and turnovers. That kind of confidence from your teammates cannot be easily replaced and he will play a big role in the defense being able to dominate this season.
Chris Harris Pick: 181
The Bears made a huge mistake with 6th round pick Harris when they traded him in his third season to Carolina for a draft pick. The Bears assumed they had extra talent at safety, the position Harris played, after signing Adam Archuleta last off season. Archuleta is no longer with the Bears after a disappointing season and Harris had a career year in Carolina. He finished last season with 97 tackles and 8 forced fumbles and only has more potential to grow. The Bears may be sorry they let this talented late round safety go for so little.
(recent picks that could go either way)
Mark Anderson – Taken with the 159th pick in the 5th round he had a break out rookie year with 12 sacks, but last year he only had 5 sacks and looked like he still had a lot to learn. When he started last season he looked worse and appears to be better just coming in on third downs. It remains to be seen if he will return to form his third season or continue to decline.
Trumaine McBride – Taken in the 7th round with the 221 pick in last year’s draft, he was heavily relied upon last season in an injury plagued defense. He ended up a starter and playing in all 16 games at cornerback last season, starting in 9 and accumulating 35 tackles. It may not be amazing numbers but for a rookie thrown in the mix taken in a round where he should have been on the practice squad, that’s a pretty good find. Coaches are keeping on eye on how he is able to develop as a player as a result of his vast playing experience last season. He may be able to build upon that experience and become a key player on the defense.