In the final installment of our ESPNChicago.com series counting down Bears steals and busts uncovered during the tenure of general manager Jerry Angelo, we bring you No. 1:
Steal: LB Lance Briggs, Arizona, third round (68th overall in 2003)
When analysts revisit the 2003 draft, Briggs’ name almost always surfaces as one of the most significant steals of that year’s class.
Projected as a fourth-rounder by some scouts, Briggs went to the Bears with the fourth pick of the third round, becoming a starter and one of the team’s most impactful defenders in just the fourth game of his rookie season.
Briggs is one of just four linebackers in franchise history to be named to six consecutive Pro Bowls, and he’s posted 100 tackles or more in seven straight years, giving him the fourth-most consecutive 100-plus tackle seasons in Chicago history since 1971 (when tackles became a statistic).
According to STATS LLC, Briggs ranks second in the league from 2004-2010 behind Baltimore’s Terrell Suggs in stuffs (tackles of ball carriers for negative yards) with 51 for 114.5 yards in losses. In 2010 alone, Briggs contributed two sacks, and two interceptions in addition to forcing two fumbles and recovering another to go with 121 stops. Since his rookie season, Briggs is one of five linebackers to pick off 10 or more passes, in addition to forcing 10 or more fumbles.
What’s worse for offensive personnel and coordinators is that Briggs -- despite being 30 -- shows no signs of diminishing play. He’s started 121 of 124 career games, missing only one in 2010 because of an injury.
Bust: RB Cedric Benson, Texas, first round (fourth overall in 2005)
Angelo summed it up succinctly in 2008 when addressing Benson’s second arrest in five weeks, which ultimately led to the running back's demise in Chicago.
“Disappointment is too much an often-used word when we’re talking about Cedric,” Angelo said.
Based on Benson’s college credentials, surely the Bears didn’t expect that to be the case in 2005 when it made him -- despite two arrests in college -- the team’s highest draft pick since 1979 (Dan Hampton). A four-year starter at Texas, Benson rushed for 5,540 yards (sixth-best in NCAA Division I history at the time) and won the Doak Walker Award, given annually to the best running back in the nation.
Benson got off to an inauspicious start by holding out for 36 days, which caused him to miss time and an opportunity to earn the starting job as a rookie. Eventually, the Bears traded featured back Thomas Jones, who started during Benson’s first two seasons, in favor of the Texas product.
In three disappointing years full of interesting side stories, Benson rushed for 1,593 yards before the club released him because of the arrests (despite him having two more years remaining on his contract), and drafted Matt Forte. Benson experienced somewhat of a resurgence in Cincinnati (back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in 2009 and 2010), but he’s averaged just 3.7 yards per carry over his career.