It's no secret the Bears could use an offensive tackle. The question is, can they find someone who can step in and play right away without moving up from No. 29.
Mel Kiper Jr. thinks so. The ESPN draft analyst said the Bears could fill their three biggest needs --- offensive tackle, defensive tackle and a center/guard --- in the first three rounds.
"I think they can," Kiper Jr. said when I asked if they could land an impact offensive tackle without moving up in the first round. "If they went with a Nate Solder or a Derrick Sherrod where they are picking, Solder being from Colorado and Sherrod from Mississippi State, they could help their offensive line there and wait until the late second round and take maybe a Marvin Austin [from North Carolina], who would fit their scheme very well. If Marvin Austin would've played this year he would've been a late first-round pick. He could be gone by then but if he's there he could be a guy who could certainly be in the mix. Allen Bailey, a kid out of Miami, if you move him inside [to defensive tackle] in their scheme he could fit what they are looking for. He wasn't productive at defensive end this year and could move inside. Then maybe in the third round take a look at a Stefen Wisniewski or one of those versatile center/guard types. That's what they need as well, like John Moffitt from Wisconsin and Rodney Hudson from Florida State. There are a lot of those center/guard combo guys they could look for at that point in the draft."
Austin was suspended for his senior season for receiving improper benefits from an agent and academic cheating.
Kiper Jr. said if he were Bears' general manager Jerry Angelo he would take an offensive tackle before filling other needs.
"You've got to keep Cutler upright," he said. "You can't have him taking as many hits as he did last year. Time was running out in terms of how many hits he could take and unfortunately it ran out in the playoff game when he got hit, got hurt and was out. Protecting Cutler is front and center."
That draft is deep enough at offensive tackle for the Bears to improve themselves at that position even if they wait until the second round, according to Kiper Jr.
"If they wait until late second Ben Ijalana would be good out of Villanova, James Carpenter out of Alabama or Marcus Gilbert out of Florida," he said. "If you want to wait until the late second you could still get an offensive tackle that could help you."
If the offensive tackle prospects they like best are gone, the Bears could take a defensive tackle at No. 29.
"If they wanted to go a different route and take the defensive lineman first, they could," Kiper Jr. said. "Stephen Paea is a penetrating nose tackle but he could be a three-technique. He's a guy that could be in that mix, but he's coming off an injury, so that could be a little high for him.
"I would go offensive tackle first, defensive tackle second and then in the third round look for the center/guard or maybe even a corner."