DraftWatch: Bears and left tackles

The Chicago Bears' decision to release offensive lineman Chris Williams earlier this week was so anticlimactic that I hardly addressed it on the blog. Williams, the No. 14 overall pick of the 2008 draft, hadn't started a game since Nov. 13, 2011, and had been a healthy scratch in the Bears' two most recent games. It was a matter of when, not if, Williams departed the organization.

However, the move prompts a fair question as the Bears prepare to face the Detroit Lions' active defensive front Monday night at Soldier Field. Should the Bears take another swing at finding a long-term left tackle in the 2013 draft? Or are they on their way to establishing J'Marcus Webb in that role?

As we noted in our Bears bye week update, Webb has settled down after a disastrous Week 2 performance against the Green Bay Packers. Our friends at Pro Football Focus have debited him one sack in the three games since then, all Bears victories. But there is a difference between getting by and being a fundamental building block of a team.

Webb's contract doesn't expire until after the 2013 season, so the Bears don't have to make a big decision this winter if they don't want to. But by that time, new general manager Phil Emery will have had a full calendar year to evaluate Webb and decide whether this crucial position needs an upgrade.

To that end, I reached out to Scouts Inc.'s Steve Muench, who spends the fall evaluating college prospects as part of ESPN.com's year-round draft coverage. Keep in mind that it's way too early to start posting mock drafts, but the initial thought in the scouting community suggests there might not be an elite Jake Long/Joe Thomas left tackle prospect in the 2013 draft.

The Bears don't figure to have a top-10 draft pick, anyway. So I want to pass along Steve's assessment of a few prospects who could develop into the kinds of players who might be available to the Bears in the first few rounds of the draft. (How's that for a few qualifiers?)

Again, we really can't know how the Bears will assess Webb's 16-game performance. So just bookmark this post and keep it in mind as the weeks and months pass by. It's never too early to think draft, after all.

Dallas Thomas, Tennessee

Muench: He's a three-year starter and the top tackle on our board. His balance and initial quickness are above average. He appears to have strong and long arms on film.

Possible placement: Fringe first round

Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M

Muench: He doesn't always cover enough ground with kick step but he's quick and balanced enough to recover more times than not. He rarely gets beats inside and he does a nice job of recognizing/picking up pressure.

Possible placement: Fringe first round

Justin Pugh*, Syracuse

Muench: He missed the first four games with a shoulder injury and his stock has likely taken a hit because of it. Also on the lighter side right now but we identified him as the best pass-blocker at offensive tackle heading into the season.

Possible placement: Late second or early third round

Brennan Williams, North Carolina

Muench: Upside is substantial. His footwork needs to be crisper and can give up the edge at times but he has the initial quickness and length to improve.

Possible placement: Late second round

Taylor Lewan, Michigan

Muench: He's probably a better fit on the right side because he's an average athlete. I do think he’s underrated though. He's an aggressive run-blocker and he shows good technique/strength in pass protection for the most part.

Possible placement: Late second round

Oday Aboushi, Virginia

Muench: I like the way he uses his hands and he rarely loses once locked on. He slides feet well enough to keep defenders in front of him.

Possible placement: Day 2 pick