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2018 NFL Draft: The case for and against popular Bears targets

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In a class that’s shaping up to be a very divisive one, we take a look at some of the positives and negatives for each player the Bears may consider in Round 1.

NCAA Football: Virginia Tech at East Carolina
Tremaine Edmunds has been linked to the Bears in several mock drafts.
James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

With the 2018 NFL Combine just a week away, the thirst for NFL Draft content has grown exponentially. Fans everywhere are eager to find out which players their team could be looking at when April rolls around. To combat this overwhelming demand for information, analysts everywhere tend to rely on a popular staple: mock drafts.

Every football fan enjoys reading mock drafts. Even if they don’t like the player the writer of the article mocked to their team, it’s always a great way to engage conversation and debate. This rings especially true for the Chicago Bears this year, who can use their No. 8 overall pick in a variety of different ways.

With this unpredictability comes a lot of different players being predicted to go to the team. I decided to hunt down some mock drafts on the Internet to find out which players have been commonly slated to go to the Bears, and, in doing so, break down the positives and the negatives of picking each prospect.

Quenton Nelson, OG, Notre Dame

Mocks: Matt Miller, Bleacher Report; Charles Davis, NFL.com; Bryan Perez, Bears Wire

Reasons for

Simply put, Quenton Nelson has all of the tools to be an All-Pro guard in the NFL.

There are very little flaws in his game. He has the size, strength, technique and athleticism to be a force to be reckoned with. He’s intelligent, he executes his assignments to perfection and he blocks to the whistle. You can’t ask for much more in a guard.

Plus, the Bears are a match made in heaven for Nelson on paper. This has quite a bit to do with new Bears offensive line coach Harry Hiestand, who was Nelson’s offensive line coach at Notre Dame for his entire college career. Hiestand knows firsthand just how special Nelson is, so he could end up having an influence in Chicago’s interest in the big man. Add that to the fact that Josh Sitton isn’t coming back next year, and the stars are seemingly aligned for Nelson to end up in the Windy City.

Reasons against

The issue with Nelson has nothing to do with his level of play: he’s easily one of the best prospects in this year’s class. In fact, I have him at the top of my board at the moment. Rather, it’s his positional value that have people disliking this possibility.

Truth be told, guard isn’t anywhere near the most impactful position on the football field. It isn’t even the most impactful position on the offensive line. Usually, if you take an offensive lineman in the top 10, that player is typically an offensive tackle, because it’s a very important position. There aren’t as many game-changers who play guard as there are at positions like edge rusher, wide receiver, cornerback and offensive tackle, all of which are big needs for the Bears. Nelson’s a beast, true, but they may look at a player who plays at a more impactful position.

Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech

Mocks: Luke Easterling, Draft Wire; Mel Kiper Jr., ESPN; Matt Eurich, 24/7 Sports; Dan Kadar, SB Nation

Reasons for

Looking for a reason that the Bears should target Tremaine Edmunds? I’ll give you one word: upside.

Edmunds has a lot of traits that scouts love in their prospects. He’s 6’5” and 250 pounds, which is bigger than most NFL linebackers, let alone college football linebackers. He’s a spectacular athlete who can stop the run, drop back in coverage and blitz with relative ease. Oh yeah, and he’s 19 years old. So, there’s that.

Edmunds understandably still has some room to improve, but he’s more polished than a lot of people would assume. His tackling in space, blitzing and coverage skills allow him to be used in a variety of different ways, which Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio would love.

Reasons against

The main issue with Edmunds is positioning. He best projects as a 4-3 outside linebacker at the next level, which would make him a 3-4 inside linebacker with Chicago. The problem is, that’s not really that big of a need for the Bears.

Even with Jerrell Freeman, the Bears still have Danny Trevathan and Nick Kwiatkoski at inside linebacker. That group improves if the team chooses to bring Christian Jones in free agency in March. Edmunds wouldn’t necessarily fill a need if he were to be selected.

There’s also the argument that Edmunds would be turned into an edge rusher, but there are several holes in that logic. He doesn’t have many reps off the edge on his tape to review, but the ones that exist aren’t impressive. He doesn’t have a whole lot pass-rushing moves to his arsenal, and he’s much better at rushing the passer when blitzing up the A and B gaps with a running head start than he is rushing off the edge. I summarized my thoughts in a Twitter thread recently:

Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama

Mocks: R.J. White, CBS Sports; Charley Casserly, NFL.com

Reasons for

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: the Bears don’t have good wide receivers. Groundbreaking stuff, right?

Anyone who watched any of the team’s games this year can attest to the fact that their weapons were less than ideal. Even with Cameron Meredith coming back next year, they need a ton of help at the wide receiver position. By default, Calvin Ridley, being the best wide out in this year’s draft and all, seems like a solid option. Ridley’s skill set would mesh well with Matt Nagy’s West Coast offense. He’s an athletic receiver who is good at gaining yards after the catch, and he’s arguably the best route runner in this year’s class.

Plus, the lack of top-tier talent at wide receiver in free agency could cause the price tags on middle-of-the-road players to rise. Would the Bears really want to spend top-end money on a glorified No. 2 receiver in free agency? If they don’t want to do that, then Ridley in Round 1 would be an intriuging option.

Reasons against

When you take a wide receiver in the top 10 of the draft, you’re picking someone whom you believe can develop into a game-changing No. 1 weapon. Ridley is a good talent, but he doesn’t quite have that sky-high potential. Ridley isn’t all that impressive on jump balls, and he needs to pack more muscle onto his skinny frame. Why pick a player who can be very good, but not elite with the eighth overall pick when you can do the exact same thing in Round 2?

Plus, picking a receiver that early is usually hit or miss. Players like Julio Jones, A.J. Green and Mike Evans have gone in the top 10, but there have also been players like Justin Blackmon, Tavon Austin and Kevin White picked in that range. That last one should particularly concern the Bears, who certainly wouldn’t want to repeat what happened in 2015.

To top it all off, Ridley will be 24 years old by the time the 2018 season ends. If the Bears were to draft him and pick up his fifth-year option, then he wouldn’t hit the open market until he was 28 years old. By that age, a lot of wide receivers are usually on their second deal. Needless to say, Ridley’s age could mean that the Bears wouldn’t get as many years out of him as they would a different prospect.

Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia

Mock: Jon Ledyard, NDT Scouting

Reasons for

Roquan Smith is very good. No more analysis needed.

Smith excels at doing a lot of things that linebackers are required to do. He’s a terrific athlete who’s able to catch up with even the fastest of running backs in open space. He’s an instinctive, efficient tackler who executes his assignments to perfection, he can blitz well and can hold his own in both man and zone coverage, too. Although he’s small for a linebacker (6’1” and 225 pounds), he’s surprisingly very good at shedding blocks and plugging up holes in the run game.

Smith is a talented player who can make an impact on Day 1 for an NFL team. Even better, he has the ceiling to develop into one of the best linebackers in the league. The Bears would be smart to at least consider picking the Georgia product in the first round.

Reason against

Like Edmunds, Smith plays the inside linebacker position, which isn't necessarily a big need for the Bears at the moment. That will ultimately make it more unlikely that the Bears will take him. Unlike Edmunds, though, Smith doesn’t have as much versatility to his game.

Because Edmunds is so big and fast, Virginia Tech sporadically had him rush off the edge. Smith won’t be able to do that. He’s certainly a great athlete, but, due to his size, he won’t be able to match up physically with offensive tackles.

His size honestly isn’t much of an issue, as Reuben Foster entered the 2017 draft at a similar size and succeeded at middle linebacker for the San Francisco 49ers. However, Smith’s position and lack of versatility could result in Chicago’s passing on him.

Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State

Mocks: Albert Breer, Sports Illustrated; Daniel Jeremiah, NFL.com; Bucky Brooks, NFL.com

Reasons for

The Bears don’t necessarily have a clear future at the cornerback position right now, which is definitely concerning. Kyle Fuller isn’t a lock to return to the team in free agency, and Prince Amukamara is an impending free agent, as well. Marcus Cooper is likely to be cut at some point in the coming weeks. Even Sherrick McManis, whose value comes mostly on special teams, will be a free agent in March. If the worst-case scenario happens in which Fuller leaves and the Bears fail to pick up a big-name free agent, then they will certainly target a corner early on in the draft. With that said, Denzel Ward could definitely be in consideration at the No. 8 slot.

Ward is one of the most athletic players in this entire draft, regardless of position. His hip movements are incredibly fluid, his footwork is impressive, and he’s able to match any receiver - college or professional - athletically. He’s slightly undersized at 5’10” and 191 pounds, but he makes up for it with his ability to recognize routes and smother receivers in coverage. Plus, he comes from Ohio State, which has churned out quality secondary talent in recent years, with the likes of Marshon Lattimore, Malik Hooker and Gareon Conley all having been selected in the first round in last year’s draft. Although Conley only played in two games in 2017 and Hooker only played in seven due to injuries, all three were able to make an impact when they played in their rookie seasons. Expect Ward to follow suit.

Reasons against

This pick relies entirely on the Bears doing little to nothing to address the cornerback position in free agency. If they bring back Kyle Fuller, then odds are they won’t pick Ward. Even if Fuller leaves, then Chicago is likely to dish out big bucks to someone like Trumaine Johnson, Malcolm Butler, Patrick Robinson or E.J. Gaines in free agency. That, too, would make selecting Ward unlikely.

Plus, Ward still has some work to do before he makes the jump to the NFL. Due partially to his size, he doesn’t have the strength to consistently jam bigger receivers at the line of scrimmage, which may require him to jump inside to the nickel back spot in the pros (which, keep in mind, the Bears are quite secure at, with Bryce Callahan and Cre’Von LeBlanc manning the helm). It also prevents him from shedding blocks well, which can make him prone to being ineffective against screens, flat routes, and other dump-off passes. His lack of strength doesn’t necessarily hurt him on jump balls, as he does a good job of positioning himself to make a play, but he sometimes has a bit of an issue with not turning his head to the ball when it’s up in the air, which could lead to his committing pass interference penalties in the pros. Ward is an electric athlete, but he’s still going to need to do some fine-tuning to his game if he wants to be a high-end starter in the NFL.