LAKE FOREST – A couple of weeks ago, Bears general manager Phil Emery made the decision about which player he wanted to select with the team’s first-round draft pick.
With only five picks total, Emery knew he didn’t have enough assets to trade up for his prized prospect. If another team picked his guy before No. 20, Emery decided, the Bears could trade down and select some other player while gaining a mid-round pick.
As it turned out, no other team took Emery’s guy.
As it turned out, that guy was Kyle Long, an offensive lineman from Oregon.
Man, Emery can keep a secret.
It’s too soon to know whether Long will be the next Jimbo Covert, the next Chris Williams or something in between. That will be determined in the years ahead, not in the minutes after his name flashed across a projection screen at Halas Hall.
But what is certain is the selection of Long surprised almost everyone not named Emery.
That included Long, by the way, who started all of five games at left guard during his one and only season at Oregon.
“I didn’t expect to go this high in the draft,” Long said on a conference call.
Before Thursday night, I’m willing to bet that more people around here had heard of a college girlfriend who didn’t exist (Lennay Kekua) than this college offensive lineman who did. If Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o was the most scrutinized prospect in the draft, then Long might have been the most random.
Many high-end prospects remained available to the Bears at No. 20, including Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert, Georgia linebacker Alec Ogletree, Washington cornerback Desmond Trufant, Florida defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd and, oh yeah, that guy named Te’o.
For the past couple of seasons, I have followed the detailed prospect rankings of CBS Sports as the draft has unfolded. When Long’s name was announced, I had to click on Page 2 and then again on Page 3 before I found Long listed at No. 56 overall.
The Bears needed help on the offensive line, but this pick was curious. Long’s bloodlines are impressive – his dad is NFL great Howie Long and his brother is St. Louis Rams defensive end Chris Long – but Long is sushi-raw when it comes to the offensive line.
Long (6-6, 313 pounds) transferred to the Ducks before the 2012 season after spending two years at some place called Saddleback Community College in Mission Viejo, Calif. He played defensive end there in 2010 before switching to the offensive line during his second season.
Before that, Long thought he would play baseball. He was a star left-handed pitcher and first baseman in high school, and the White Sox drafted him in the 23rd round in 2008, but he turned down their offer and instead accepted a baseball scholarship from Florida State.
Long wound up failing out. Later on, he would add a DUI arrest to his resume.
While at Oregon, Emery said, Long turned the corner. Emery has scouted football forever, and he thought that Long was the best offensive lineman on the field at the Senior Bowl.
“He is one of those guys that you want to be in the room with,” Emery said. “He is very much a leader.”
Surprise moves are nothing new to Emery, who has thrown so many curveballs in the past couple of seasons that he’s starting to look like Sandy Koufax. His bold moves have included trading for Brandon Marshall, selecting Shea McClellin in the first round in 2012 and hopping the border to hire Marc Trestman from the Canadian Football League.
Now it’s Long, who has started five of 11 games beyond community college.
“I really feel like my best ball is ahead of me,” Long said.
Gosh, I sure hope so.
• Shaw Media sports columnist Tom Musick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @tcmusick.