Every year, countless mocks from both professionally paid writers and professional arm-chair writers are published in a never ending game to predict what various teams will do in the yearly edition of the NFL draft. In particular regards to the Bears, we once again have seen the beloved joining us fans on the couch when the playoffs began, as this season marked the fifth consecutive year where their off-season began the Monday after Week 17 concluded. However, unlike the seasons before, a true sense of optimism has developed with the young corps of players brought in from the latest draft class.
Ryan Pace, who is currently the youngest GM in the NFL, made his drafting debut by landing a class where all but one of his picks saw significant playing time -- Kevin White missed the year due to a lower leg injury -- including four rookies who would start at least two games during the regular season. Those rookies were: Eddie Goldman (12 starts), Hroniss Grasu (8 starts), Jeremy Langford (2 starts), and Adrian Amos (16 starts). Tayo Fabuluje, their final pick of the 2015 NFL draft, made a handful of appearances during the second half of the season. Needless to say, every one of Pace's draft picks from his first draft that were able to play contributed in some fashion, and the expectation is that trend will continue well into the future with each year's subsequent draft.
At his end-of-the-year press conference, Ryan Pace offered a relatively brief summery into what is ultimately seen as their biggest need: playmakers. Where the Bears were virtually in a winnable position in all but three games this season, they simply weren't able to close out their opponents in the final phase of the game due to a shortage of said playmakers. More importantly, they need playmakers on all levels of their defense, which showed promise under year one while still being filled with holes. Playmakers appear in all forms and positions, from within the trenches, to the outer perimeter of the secondary. Knowing full well that Ryan Pace will draft BPA, this and all mock drafts I publish will fit that mold in terms of who I personally see as the BPA. Without further adieu, and in Darth Goodell's voice, "With the eleventh overall pick of the 2016 NFL Draft, the Chicago Bears select:"
1st Round, 11th overall - Reggie Ragland, LB, Alabama. There has been a great deal of debate surrounding his grade, as I've seen him being discussed anywhere from being as high as a top ten pick, to as low as the late twenties (25-29). Ultimately, his final grade will depend on his performance at the combine, yet that's also something I don't see someone like Ryan Pace putting much stock into. Instead, it'll come down to how Pace grades the film on Ragland, someone they've already met with individually at least once during the scouting process. When watching film on Reggie Ragland, I can see some similarities between him and Patrick Willis, who once was the 11th overall pick for the 49ers himself. Their similarities come not just in terms of size -- both are listed as 6'1", with Ragland being a bit heavier -- but in how they hit with authority. Where Ragland is not as good or fast as Willis was in pass coverage, he's a decent pass rusher that would thrive in Fangio's system. What I really like, is Ragland's often underrated ability to sniff out plays, where this gif provides a great example:
As I mentioned in the caption, Reggie Ragland follows the QB's eyes, while understanding that he has help over the top in case a player drags behind him. What makes this play more impressive, is he was originally tasked to blitz from the A-gap, but he read the play beautifully and made an exceptional play on the ball when he knew that he wasn't going to reach the QB in time. He also showed some versatility at the Senior Bowl, where he was lined up as an OLB in an effort to showcase his pass rushing skills. Overall, I see him as the best overall "pure" ILB in this year's draft, one that will fit perfectly as a Mike in Fangio's version of a 3-4 based front.
2nd round, 40th overall - Eli Apple, CB, Ohio State. Urban Meyer has been known for producing exceptional NFL talent, and Apple hasn't fallen far from the tree in that regard. With that pun fully intended, he offers a unique blend of size, coverage ability, and football IQ to become a future stud in the NFL. What I like the most about his game, is that Apple provides Ryan Pace with the type of playmaker he seeks to add into a building effort on defense. His INT totals won't jump off the page, but as this gif will show you, he is a player who has shown the traits of being a quality player for years to come.
What holds him back from being an undisputed first round pick, is not only the sheer amount of talent already at the top of the CB position, but he had a knack for getting Pass Interference called due to somewhat undisciplined hand placement. With quality coaching, I'm sure he'll turn into a fine addition for anyone looking to add long-term stability on defense, and he'd pair quite nicely with Kyle Fuller as lengthy defenders who can make plays on the ball.
3rd round, 73rd overall - Spencer Drango, OL, Baylor. Here is another player that the Bears have met with individually during the scouting process, and he offers a potential solution for what was a real problem within the Bears' interior O-Line. He spent all four seasons of his collegiate career as a LT, and was a runner up for the Outland Trophy, but his best fit in the NFL would be as a Guard due to the sheer difficulty in transitioning from a spread offense to a pro-style system. Even though he could succeed as a LT at the next level, being a Guard -- especially a RG -- would be his best position, as he has both the road grading and solid pass protection base abilities to dominate from the interior at the next level. He is rather comparable to Kyle Long in terms of length and power, although not nearly as quick off the snap. Also, he needs to refine his footwork a bit, something that would be made easier if he is selected as a Guard. If provided the right opportunity, I can see him becoming a fixture to any O-Line.
4th round - Keanu Neal, FS, Florida. This is a player I'm fairly familiar with, and one that I find to be a mid-round gem for any team to pick up at this point in the draft. He plays with aggressiveness, and is not afraid to make the big hit. Sometimes, he plays a little too aggressive, which will be a problem if he doesn't shore that up in the next level. He'll certainly add depth on the roster, and should become a real contributor on special teams with his hard hitting ability.
5th round - Malcolm Mitchell, WR, Georgia. When Mitchell was healthy, he drew comparisons to another former Bulldog in A.J. Green in terms of explosiveness and catching ability/radius. However, health has been the single biggest issue for him, with his most significant injury being that he tore the ACL in his left knee during the 2013 season. With that said, he rebounded quite nicely in 2015 with 865 yards and 5 TDs on 56 receptions, which averaged at 14.6 yards per reception. Definitely a medical risk, but the potential payoff could be huge in a receiving corps that could use more big-play ability.
6th round - Dan Vitale, FB, Northwestern. Vitale happens to be a local product and a potential fan favorite, having grown up in Wheaton, IL., and later enrolled with the Northwestern Wildcats. Now, the Bears didn't feature a true FB last season, but they did line up in the "I" on several occasions towards the end of the season, most notably against the Buccaneers (I was there for that game). Moreover, Vitale showed a great deal of versatility, literally lining up in three different positions as the team's "Super Back" who'd wind up as the team's leading receiving in most statistical categories. Darrell Loggains did utilize a FB while calling plays for the Titans as their OC, and a player like Vitale could reinvigorate the FB position back into relevance in the NFL. How fitting that he could be such player for the Bears? Oh, and the Bears also met with him at the Senior Bowl.
6th round - Jake McGee, TE, Florida. Another Florida Gator? Why not!? All kidding aside, he would be a decent player to add into the TE corps in Chicago as an "H-Back" or "Joker" type. Natural route runner, decent hands, and he's incredibly tough to knock off their route, often swatting DBs off of him or running through them when they tried to press him in coverage. He's not someone you'd want as your lead blocker, on any play, but he does just enough to get the job done. He also had a freak injury in 2014 which resulted in both a broken fibula and tibia in the same leg. Ouch.
6th round - Adam Gotsis, DL, Georgia Tech. I am sure many of you were expecting a D-Lineman much earlier than here, but Gotsis offers an incredibly gifted athlete who's growing into the D-Line positions. Incredibly raw prospect from a technical perspective, but he's large at 6'4", 285+ pounds, and he anchors well against the run and has deceptive athleticism to get after the QB, which would make him an ideal player to develop at the 5 tech position.
7th round - Keenan Reynalds, RB*, Navy. Go Navy! The four-year QB* finished his career with 4,559 rushing yards and setting a Division-1 record 88 total touchdowns for his collegiate career. Needless to say he showed a real nose for the end zone while playing in the option offense, and has decent size to become an NFL RB. Notice the asterisks I typed by both QB and RB, they're basically the same thing at the Naval Academy; they rarely throw the football nowadays.
There you have it, my first mock draft of the off-season, and one that will surely be completely different from the next one. This particular mock involves the scenario where the Bears lock up a premier DE in free agency, thus why there wasn't a D-Lineman selected until the sixth round, on top of the virtue of BPA. Many things will change between now and free agency, so all we can do now is sit back, relax, and enjoy the show. Bear Down!