In the draft, some positions are safer plays than others.
A team sitting in a good position like Tampa Bay or Green Bay can afford to take a shot on a high-ceiling player at a position offering less security.
Teams stuck in the 8-8 range like the Bears are better off looking for a safe play.
This is especially the case if either the coach and/or general manager could be putting their job on the line in the 2021 season. Bears board chairman George McCaskey never said this was the case in the postseason press conference, but team CEO Ted Phillips said they needed a playoff victory and McCaskey said he needed to see progress.
A boom-or-bust player at a high-risk position is not going to be much help if he goes bust or doesn't hit the desired level of effectiveness as a rookie.
Essentially, there are safe plays in each draft and a team like the Bears needs to take as many of those as they can. A better team can get a bit reckless.
Just before the last draft, in writing for TheRiotReport.com, Vincent Richardson detailed a study of the NFL Draft from 2011-2017 looking at various positions and to ascertain which offer best success rates in the first round. He called success being in the NFL Starting after five years and also gave out statistics on those who make it to seven years.
The article was appropriately titled "More Than 50% Of First Round Picks Are Busts And Other Terrifying Draft Statistics."
The Bears would do well to remember these statistics.
The surest play in the first round is to draft a tackle. Offensive tackles hit at a 71% rate. Fortunately for the Bears, they are looking for a tackle.
The two worst rates? Wide receivers and defensive backs, including safeties and cornerbacks. It's largely cornerbacks because not many safeties get selected in Round 1. Wide receivers have a 34% rate of being a five-year NFL starter and the cornerbacks 32%.
It's not even close when comparing those to with other positions. The next lowest rate is 52 percent for defensive tackles.
When people talk about quarterbacks being a hit-or-miss proposition in Round 1, they aren't kidding. The rate is 55% success for quarterbacks, which actually isn't bad compared to most positions.
When you use seven years as a standard instead of five years, the quarterbacks predictably rate better than all other positions. This is because they have longer lifespans in the league if they've been successful enough to last five years. Physical play and attrition gets to offensive linemen after seven years, but the tackles still remain the second-best bet at 46%. For quarterbacks it stays at 55%. It's only 16% for defensive backs and 27% for wide receivers.
To further scare off wide receiver enthusiasts, Michael Miklius of football.pitcherlist.com looked last spring at first-round picks' success from 2017 back to the realignment after 2001 and points out only 30% of first-round wide receivers ever have as many as two 1,000-yard seasons and only 32% of the receivers taken in the top 10 have that many.
Like with the other article, these numbers are from 2017 and earlier but it's unlikely the three drafts since then did much to change the marks. Only tight end might be different, but that's understandable because T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant are both successes as Round 1 tight ends, and from 2011-2017 there were no tight ends taken in Round 1 who succeeded--five years or seven years. It's a high-risk position and this should make everyone closely scrutize Kyle Pitts of Florida.
The Bears need a cornerback. They would like a quarterback and also a faster receiver.
Offensive tackle is a critical need, as well, and it's fairly obvious what the safest play for them would be in Round 1.
They need to draft a tackle.
Quarterback would also be a position to consider for Round 1, but it's also pointed out in the first study that picks 16-20 normally only succeed at only a 46% rate regardless of position.
The quarterback supply in Round 1 could be exhausted by the 20th pick for the Bears. So, unless they're planning to dump a bunch of their future on Atlanta in the form draft picks by moving up to try for either Justin Fields or Trey Lance, they better be looking at tackle.
Here would be their safest plays according to NFL Draft Bible's rankings, unless they want to dump the same type of draft capital and move up to select consensus top tackle Penei Sewell of Oregon.
Rashawn Slater, Northwestern
NFL Draft Bible considers him a right tackle, although he has played both sides. He is their highest-rated right tackle and a first-rounder. He also is very well known to the Bears, who drove the short ways to Evanston from Lake Forest for his pro day. He has questionable size for a left tackle at 6-foot-3, but is 305 and has possibly the best technique as a pass blocker among the first-rounders other than Sewell. He opted out last year, but didn't allow a sack in 2019 and only one quarterback hit and five hurries. He has played both left and right tackle.
Christian Darrisaw, Virginia Tech
His popularity seems to be rising and it's possible the Bears would need to move up a few spots to keep him from being plucked by another tackle-starved team trading up, like the Indianapolis Colts. Darrisaw made a huge step up in 2020 according to NFL Draft Bible. He had been less consistent the previous season. His arm length and ability to stay square are of great benefit as a pass blocker. "He exhibits outstanding patience to stay balanced and firm in pass protection," NFL Draft Bible wrote in its assessment. One other huge asset was what they called a "nasty" streak.
Samuel Cosmi, Texas
At 6-7, 310, he has the height and reach of a left tackle and probably could add pounds if he's wanted at right tackle. Scouting criticism of him includes some technical blocking problems, such as he's leaning too much on technique and footwork at times and not on strength. But this is natural considering his build and need to bulk up some. His strength is he isn't merely projected as someone who can play both tackle spots. He's already done it. He had 14 games at right tackle and 21 at left and has succeeded at both.
Alijah Vera-Tucker, USC
He's the lowest of the tackles by NFL Draft Bible rankings in Round 1, but many others have classified him as a guard because of a shorter reach than some of the tackles. He has the size to be a tackle at 6-4, 315. If he's a guard, he wouldn't be worth the pick for the Bears in Round 1 because they're overloaded at this position. There are some legitimate tackle prospects in Round 2 but the success rate drops by Round 2 in most drafts regardless of position. Projected second-rounders like North Dakota State's Dillon Randunz, Northern Iowa's Spencer Brown and Michigan's Jalen Mayfield are well known to the Bears through visits. The Bears had a trip to USC for a pro day for a couple of reasons and Vera-Tucker was one.
Teven Jenkins, Oklahoma State
Another right tackle who NFL Draft Bible didn't rank him a Round 1 player but he is rated as a first-round pick at numerous other websites and by other scouts. The NFL Draft Bible scouting report on Jenkins described him as a perfect right tackle, because he's "a mauler" and he is a quiet, weight-room dominator. Besides that, he's an outstanding fundamental pass blocker as he gave up only seven hurries last season and never more than one in a game. He has the height to be a left tackle, though, at 6-foot-6. But he is 325 pounds, which is more in line with right tackle size.