The NFL Draft sure is a wonderful thing, isn’t it?
With the 2017 season having reached its crescendo, analysts, bloggers and fans alike have started really digging into draft conversation to try and identify which players could make an impact at the next level.
The Chicago Bears have a handful of needs that they’ll need to fill in the offseason, but they have a lot of chances to fill them. They have six draft picks, and figure to have quite a bit of cap space once roster cuts are made. A lot can change from now until draft day, but, for now, let’s take a look at a few scenarios that the Bears could end up with in the first two rounds of the draft.
The “Trubisky-Aid” Scenario
Draft Texas offensive tackle Connor Williams in the first round
Draft Texas A&M wide receiver Christian Kirk in the second round
I know this comparison has been done to death over the past few months, but the Bears should try to emulate what the Los Angeles Rams and Philadelphia Eagles did last offseason. Rookie quarterbacks stand a much better chance of improving in Year 2 if they are surrounded by better talent. The Rams, in particular, turned a poor receiver group and a poor offensive line into much better units in 2017. Chicago can do that with this scenario.
Connor Williams won’t be as good as Rams left tackle Andrew Whitworth right away, but he has the potential to be a very good offensive lineman in the NFL. At 6’6” and 320 pounds, he has the frame to physically match up with even the biggest of edge rushers. He has a high motor and blocks to the whistle, and he’s a powerful blocker. His 2016 tape highlighted his athleticism, and he proved to have the footwork to keep up with speedy edge rushers. Williams advances to the second level well, and he does a good job of maintaining a balanced frame.
He suffered a knee injury three games into the 2017 season which caused him to miss a chunk of the season. He returned for the last two games of the year, and he wasn’t as dominant as he was the year before. His athleticism wasn’t as eye-opening, and he had is struggles with having an efficient enough kick slide to cut off the angles of edge rushers. Although Williams still looked solid, it was clear that he wasn’t playing at 100 percent.
The NFL Combine will be an important platform for him to prove that he has fully recovered from his injury. If he does well, then he would be a very good option at No. 8 for the Bears.
Now that the Bears have their offensive tackle, they’re going to need to find someone for Trubisky throw to. Enter Texas A&M’s Christian Kirk.
Out of all of the top-tier wide receivers in this year’s class, Kirk is probably the best scheme fit of the group. He’s a fantastic athlete whose athleticism is apparent through his route running, elusiveness in space and his straight-line speed. His body movements are extremely fluid when he goes through his cuts, and he has very good body control. Kirk is able to gain yards after the catch very well, and he even has value on special teams as a kick returner. At 5’11” and 200 pounds, he has a pro-ready frame to absorb contact and break tackles. He was also consistently productive at Texas A&M: in his three seasons there, he didn’t have less than 65 receptions, 850 receiving yards or seven touchdowns in any year.
Kirk would be a fantastic fit in Matt Nagy’s West Coast offense. There’s an outside chance that he will come off the board in Round 1, but he would arguably be the best possible pick for them in Round 2 if he were to be available.
The “Beef” Scenario
Draft Notre Dame offensive guard Quenton Nelson in the first round
Draft Stanford defensive lineman Harrison Phillips in the second round
Some say that football is won in the trenches. If that’s the case, then the Bears would be doing a lot of winning if this scenario were to take place.
Quenton Nelson may just be the best interior offensive line prospect to enter the NFL in the past decade. I’m not exaggerating that: there are very few flaws in his game. He’s a mammoth of a man and 6’5” and 325 pounds, and he’s a strong bulldozer who mercilessly plows over just about anyone in his way. At the same time, though, he’s also an athletic and intelligent blocker. He takes good angles to his defenders, and he’s good at bouncing off of one defender and getting to another one. Nelson is a force to be reckoned with on pull blocks, as he charges at defenders with frightening speed, strength and technique. He maintains good balance while blocking, and he has quick feet.
I’m not a big fan of cutting Josh Sitton, as I feel that it would not be smart to do so without having a replacement in mind (and no, moving Cody Whitehair to guard and starting Hroniss Grasu at center is not a good option). With that said, though, Nelson could be that replacement. Although guard isn’t a big need for them, it would be tough for the Bears to pass on the top prospect on my board.
Now that we've found a potential perennial All-Pro for the Bears’ offensive line, it’s time to address the other side of the ball. Mitch Unrein will be a free agent in March, Jonathan Bullard hasn’t lived up to the hype, and Roy Robertson-Harris still has some work to do. Needless to say, the Bears are in a bit of a tough situation at the defensive end spot opposite Akiem Hicks. Harrison Phillips out of Stanford would be a very good addition to that group.
Phillips lined up primarily as a nose tackle in college, but, considering the fact that he’s 6’4” and 295 pounds, he’s a much better fit as a 3-tech defensive lineman in the pros from a size standpoint. He has very good acceleration off the snap, and he’s good at tracking down quarterbacks in space. He has an advanced knowledge of hand moves, which is likely aided by his wrestling background: he was a three-time state champion in the sport in high school. Phillips is a strong player who excels at eating up holes in the run game, as well as making life hell for quarterbacks in the passing game. The stats pretty much speak for themselves in that regard: in the past two seasons, he has had 27 tackles for a loss and 14.5 sacks. In fact, he ended up with 98 total tackles this year. As a nose tackle.
Phillips is a big, nasty, dancing bear of a prospect. He would help bring that grizzled, blue-collar identity back to Chicago’s defense.
The “Upside” Scenario
Draft Virginia Tech linebacker Tremaine Edmunds in the first round
Draft UCLA left tackle Kolton Miller in the second round
The draft is an opportunity to find players who can develop into difference makers for your team. That’s often why teams take chances on players with high upside, regardless of how polished they are. Although these two don’t necessarily have a low floor, they have potential to turn into something special.
Simply put, Tremaine Edmunds is a physical specimen. He’s an off-ball linebacker who stands in at 6’5” and weighs 250 pounds. He has an impressive, muscular frame that resembles a seasoned NFL veteran more than it does a 19-year-old.
Oh, yeah, he’s also just 19 years old.
Edmunds is a fantastic athlete for his size. He moves very well in space, and he has the speed to track down just about any running back. He’s a great tackler who can also blitz up the A and B gaps and drop back in coverage well. The Virginia Tech linebacker has solid ball skills, and he has fluid hips, to boot. He has the ability to be plugged in at many different positions due to his size and athleticism. His production over the past two seasons is also impressive: he ended up with 202 tackles, 30.5 tackles for a loss, 10 sacks, an interception and three forced fumbles.
Some people will want to move Edmunds to the edge rusher position, and, on the surface, it’s easy to see why. He has the size, speed and strength to do so, after all. However, he rushed the passer off the edge a bit in college, and he wasn’t overly impressive in doing so. He still hesitates every so often in space, which is where he thrives, so he won’t nearly be as confident to play at full speed at a brand-new position. Edmunds’ 5.5 sacks this year were often benefitted by getting a running head start before initiating with an offensive lineman. With less room to accelerate, he isn’t as explosive.
That’s not to say that he wouldn’t do well at the position. He’s still very young, and he would have some time to develop. However, he has the potential to be a Pro Bowl off-ball linebacker, and the Bears shouldn’t let that go to waste.
UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen is one of the top prospects in this year’s draft, and is arguably the most pro-ready signal-caller in the group. Part of the success that he has had can be attributed to the performance of his blindside protector, Kolton Miller.
At 6’8” and 310 pounds, Miller is a big dude. In spite of his gargantuan frame, he’s one of the most athletic offensive tackles in this year’s draft. He has an impressive kick slide, and he is great at countering defenders’ hand moves. He does a great job of keeping a squared and balanced frame, and his technique is also impressive. Miller could afford to add some more upper-body strength, but he’s already pretty strong as it is.
Miller might take a little bit of time to adjust to the NFL. However, once he does, he can develop into a long-term asset on the offensive line.
The “Unpopular” Scenario
Draft Alabama wide receiver Calvin Ridley in the first round
Draft LSU edge rusher Arden Key in the second round
I know, I know. A wide receiver in the first round. Yuck. I know most of you don’t want this to happen for the Bears when the draft rolls around. In fact, I’d say that this isn’t necessarily my first choice, either. But, as long as the position remains a big enough need, it’s always going to be a constant rumor. You can say that you don’t want it to happen, but that doesn’t mean it has absolutely no chance of happening.
Calvin Ridley is a very good wide receiver who has potential to be a very productive player for years to come. He’s a twitch athlete, a very good route runner and a guy who can pick up yards after the catch. Just about everything about his route running is impressive, from his hip fluidity to his footwork to his body control. He’s a little bit thin, but he could have a pro-ready body by adding about 10 pounds to his 6’1”, 188-pound frame. His production doesn’t necessarily stand out, either, but he had a player throwing him the ball for most of the season who will likely not be a quarterback at the next level.
Ridley doesn’t have a super high ceiling, which is part of why a lot of people have soured on him at No. 8. However, he’s a very good receiver who could step in and make an immediate impact for the Bears if selected.
At this time last year, one would have assumed that Arden Key would be an early contender to become the first overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. One disappointing season later, though, and he finds himself in danger of falling to Day 2.
Key’s 2017 tape is not quite as impressive as his 2016 tape. Part of that may have to do with the weight gain he underwent during the offseason. Key weighed in at 238 pounds last season, but he opened up the 2017 season at 270 pounds. While he did need to gain weight, the fact that he gained so much weight so quickly affected his game. His heralded athleticism wasn’t as apparent on tape, and he was mostly a non-factor in the beginning of the season. While he did pick up his play near the end of the year, his weight is still an issue that will be monitored as we get closer to the draft. Key also left the LSU program last offseason for reasons unknown. Although he did eventually return to the team, his unexplained absence will certainly be a talking point when he interviews with NFL teams.
Despite all of these concerns, Key still has a very high ceiling. He is a flexible athlete who does a great job of bending off the edge. He also does a great job of changing directions, which is often a struggle for draft prospects at his position. Even if he ever over pursuits, he still has the ability to recover and catch up to the ball carrier. Key has very good explosion off the snap, and he also has very good situational awareness. Despite only having half of a sack in the first four games of his season, he finished up the last four games with 3.5 sacks. That late burst of production is definitely encouraging.
Key could end up being picked in the first round, but that might not be a great move. If the Bears were to draft him, then they should have a free-agent signing on the team who would be able to start for a year or two. However, he has the potential to be a dominant force off the edge in the future.
The “Safety First” Scenario
Draft Alabama defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick in the first round
Trade back, draft Washington wide receiver Dante Pettis in the second round
Speed kills in Matt Nagy’s offense. It also kills in every secondary in the NFL. That’s what the Bears would be finding here.
Alabama’s Minkah Fitzpatrick is on par with Jamal Adams last year as a prospect. Both were/are the No. 2 prospect on my board, and both share a lot of the same traits. The same traits, mind you, that got Adams selected sixth overall by the New York Jets last year.
Fitzpatrick has a good, pro-ready size at 6’1” and 202 pounds. He’s one of, if not the best, hitters among defensive backs in this year’s class. He has phenomenal closing speed, is a form tackler and is good at getting in the right place at the right time. Fitzpatrick isn’t afraid to lower the boom on ball carriers. He’s more than just a big hitter, though; he’s also a refined cover back. He has fluid hips, good ball skills and has the athleticism to match up with just about any wide out he faces.
The big difference between Fitzpatrick and Adams, though, is the former’s versatility. Much like Jalen Ramsey in 2016, Fitzpatrick played both cornerback and safety in college and excelled at both spots. Although he’s arguably a better safety, he has the ability to turn into a top-tier cornerback.
In the three drafts that Ryan Pace has overseen as the general manager of the Bears, he has traded back in the second round in two of them. He’s actually traded back three times, as he traded back twice in 2016 before selecting Cody Whitehair. If that trend were to continue, then Washington wide receiver Dante Pettis would be a great target for him.
Pettis is pretty much exactly what the Bears need at the wide receiver position. He’s a very good athlete who is a polished route runner and dangerous in open space. He has reliable hands, and he’s surprisingly good at catching jump balls for someone who’s 6’1” and 188 pounds. Pettis even has value as a special teams player, as he has a whopping nine punt return touchdowns to his name in his four-year college career.
Chicago doesn’t have a third-round pick, but they do have two fourth-round picks. They could find a way to package one of those fourth-rounders, as well as this pick, to trade down in Round 2 and acquire a third-round pick. If they were to do that, then they would have the ability to acquire another potential difference maker on Day 2 of the draft.
The “Trade Back” Scenario
Trade back, draft Boston College edge rusher Harold Landry in the first round
Draft Louisville cornerback Jaire Alexander in the second round
Draft Memphis wide receiver Anthony Miller in the second round
Before we dive into this scenario, let me get something straight.
I do not see the Bears trading up in the first round this year. Even if they really like Bradley Chubb - who would be a great addition to their roster - their lack of a third-round pick really hurts their options in trading up. They can’t afford to lose even more picks, whether that be this year or next year. That’s why I don’t have a trade up scenario on this list.
There will be plenty of quarterback-needy teams looking to trade up in this year’s draft. From just the 11th to the 20th pick, there are four team who are in need of an immediate starter or a long-term replacement. There are even six playoff teams who could look to find a new quarterback early. Even if three quarterbacks go off the board before the Bears pick, then there would still be two more quarterbacks worth looking at early on. Needless to say, the Bears would have their fair share of options were they to aim to trade down.
Let’s just say they decide to trade down to the 15th pick, where the Arizona Cardinals currently sit. A trade would likely consist of two major pieces ending up with Chicago in return: Arizona’s first-round pick, and their second-round pick (No. 47).
At this point, you have to consider which talent would likely still be available. UTSA edge rusher Marcus Davenport may be off the board at this point, but even if he’s available, one could argue that he wouldn’t be a great pick for a team aiming for a major turnaround right away, since he’s more of a project. Calvin Ridley could possibly be on the board, but, again, they could get better value at wide receiver on Day 2 and improve another position. Another very good pick the Bears could make here is Notre Dame offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey, but that would rely on Bobby Massie getting cut this offseason.
Instead, the Bears opt to take Boston College edge rusher Harold Landry in this trade down. Landry had a down year compared to his 16.5-sack campaign in 2016, but he’s still a very good player who can be a dominant force off the edge for years to come.
Landry is a very good athlete with explosive first-step acceleration. He can bend off the edge as well as anyone in this class, and he has the balance to get under offensive tackles and still go at full speed. He uses his hands efficiently to shed blocks, and he managed to improve as a run defender in 2017. Plus, at 6’3” and 250 pounds, he has an impressive, lengthy frame. Landry could still afford to add a little bit more upper-body strength, and he sometimes hesitates when he doesn’t know his assignment on plays. However, he has the physical tools to be coached up easily and turned into a double-digit sack machine.
If the reports of Kyle Fuller not returning to the Bears next year are true, then they’ll need to add a cornerback early on. Even if he does come back, it wouldn’t be surprising to see them find a starter alongside him through the draft. There are a handful of very good cornerbacks in this class, and Louisville’s Jaire Alexander is among the best.
Alexander has solid size at 5’11” and 192 pounds. He’s able to blend physicality and finesse very well when he drops back in coverage. He’s physical at the point of attack, which helps throw wide receivers off balance, and he has the hip fluidity and speed to keep up with them once they hit the open field. Alexander’s ability to track down balls rivals that of a wide receiver. He’s a true ball hawk who has great ball skills, as made evident by his seven interceptions through three seasons. He missed some time with a right knee injury in 2017, which caused a bit of a downfall in production from his five-interception 2016 season. If it weren’t for his injury, he would likely be a first-round pick. That injury, though, will give a team like the Bears the opportunity to mold him into a quality starter.
With another second-round pick in this hypothetical scenario, the Bears are able to find one of the best wide receivers in the 2018 NFL Draft class. There aren’t many wide outs who would fit Matt Nagy’s offense quite like Memphis star Anthony Miller.
Miller has solid size at 5’11” and 190 pounds. He won’t be that big-bodied jump ball catcher, but the Bears wouldn’t need him to be. Instead, they’d use him for what he does best: getting free and picking up yards after the catch. He’s a fantastic athlete who is a fluid route runner, elusive in space and tough to tackle. Once Miller hits the open field with the ball in his hands, he’s a threat to make a big play almost every time. He has been torching the AAC for the past two seasons, as he has 191 receptions, 2,896 receiving yards and 32 touchdowns in that span.
Miller has the potential to be a dangerous weapon in the NFL. He has experience as an outside receiver and as a slot receiver, so Chicago would be able to line him up just about anywhere. Pairing him with Mitchell Trubisky could mean trouble for the rest of the NFC North.