Chicago Bears: History With Each of the Top 5 Picks

Apr 28, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; A general view of a large Chicago Bears helmet display in Draft Town in Grant Park before the 2016 NFL Draft. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

The Chicago Bears are on pace to collect their first top 5 pick in the NFL draft in what will be 12 years. That’s a long time.

Historically the franchise has held a pick in that area 18 times since the draft became a reality in 1936. As with most picks there have been highs and lows but the track record the Bears have with each pick from #1 to #5 is actually quite fascinating. Chicago currently holds the rights to the #3 selection but with six games left to go in the 2016 regular season, that is almost guaranteed to change. At 2-8 their playoff hopes are dashed. Now it’s a matter of figuring out where they’ll be picking.

Could it possible be first overall? Here is what they’ve done there in the past.

#1 Pick

  • Tom Harmon (HB, Michigan, 1941)
  • Bob Fenimore (HB, Oklahoma State, 1947)

It’s incredible to think about. The Bears are one of the old franchises in NFL history and yet they’ve held the first pick in the draft just two times. That’s a span of 80 years. The fact those two times occurred just six years apart from each other and that both picks were running backs makes it even more unusual. Turns out Chicago hasn’t had much luck with the pick either. Neither Harmon nor Fenimore amounted to much as individual talents, though both helped the team win championships during that decade.

#2 Pick

  • Sid Luckman (QB, Columbia, 1939)
  • Bob Williams (QB, Notre Dame, 1951)

Odds are the highest pick the Bears can get in 2017 will be the #2 choice. The Cleveland Browns are 0-11 and look like they might win one game if they’re lucky. So Chicago is battling San Francisco and Jacksonville for that second spot. Like the #1 pick they’ve only held it twice in franchise history. Also in similar fashion both picks were at the same position. Fittingly it’s the one most experts agree the team must focus on this coming April.

Quarterback has haunted the dreams of Bears fans for years. Part of why they’ve struggle at it so much is because they don’t take them high in the draft. Sid Luckman represents the highest drafted player at that position in franchise history. Is it any coincidence he remains the teams’ only Hall of Famer? Bob Williams was didn’t live up to the same hype, playing just three seasons in Chicago before leaving the game. If they do end up drafting this high, it likely will be as good an opportunity to land a quarterback as they’ll get.

#3 Pick

  • Norm Standlee (FB, Stanford, 1941)
  • Bobby Layne (QB, Texas, 1948)
  • Chuck Hunsinger (HB, Florida, 1950)
  • Dick Butkus (LB, Illinois, 1965)
  • Lionel Antoine (OT, Southern Illinois, 1972)

Another pick the Bears haven’t held in a long time. This one may have the most unusual history. Standlee, Hunsinger and Antoine were rather unremarkable players during their brief careers. It was the other two names on the list that are fascinating. Most remember Bobby Layne as a Hall of Fame quarterback who won three championships in Detroit. They forget that it was actually the Bears who drafted him. After one season he requested a trade and in a moment of poor judgment George Halas agreed, sending him to New York.

Luckily Papa Bear made up for it. Towards the end of his head coaching career, Halas pulled off a coup when he made a trade to acquire the #3 pick from Pittsburgh in 1965. With it he selected one of the best linebackers in NFL history. Dick Butkus became the standard by which all other middle linebackers and indeed defensive players are measuring. His superb talent and trademark intensity made him the fear and envy of an entire generation.

#4 Pick

  • Johnny Lujack (QB, Notre Dame, 1946)
  • Gale Sayers (RB, Kansas, 1965)
  • Waymond Bryant (LB, Tennessee State, 1974)
  • Walter Payton (RB, Jackson State, 1975)
  • Dan Hampton (DT, Arkansas, 1979)
  • Cedric Benson (RB, Texas, 2005)

Of the top five picks in the NFL draft, historically the Chicago Bears have enjoyed the most success with the #4 selection. It’s not even close too. Three of their franchise Hall of Fame players came via that choice. Gale Sayers and Walter Payton, the two most iconic running backs in Chicago history both arrived as 4th picks. They are joined by Hall of Fame defensive lineman Dan Hampton who was a lynch pin in the famed “46” defense that paved the way to a Super Bowl title in 1985.

Unfortunately the last time the Bears held this pick may have ended up being one of the most regretable draft moves in team history. At the time many applauded the idea of taking standout running back Cedric Benson. This despite serious off-the-field concerns. He of course ended up being a pretty big bust. What makes it worse though is the fact the team passed on a young quarterback out of Cal to take him that year. His name was Aaron Rodgers.

#5 Pick

  • Mike Dikta (TE, Pitt, 1961)
  • Jim McMahon (QB, BYU, 1982)
  • Curtis Enis (RB, Penn State, 1998)

This selection has also been fairly kind to the Bears in the past. Of course Mike Dikta is the name that stands above the rest. A Hall of Fame tight end who actually made the position relevant in the sport back in the 1960s. At that time nobody was using it as a pass catching weapons. They were just extra blockers. Then he went off for over 1,000 yards as a rookie and everything changed. Ditka helped Chicago win the championship in 1963, then returned years later after retirement to become their head coach.

Ironically it was that #5 overall pick who had a hand in selecting the other successful #5 pick. Jim McMahon is easily the best drafted quarterback of the Super Bowl era in Chicago. Though he never lived up to his full potential he did reach a Pro Bowl and led the Bears to their only championship in the past 31 years. As for Curtis Enis. He came in with plenty of potential at running back but could never shake health issues that plagued him.

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