It’s not often you see a team like the Bears completely mitigate a primary need in one free agency, but that’s exactly what general manager Ryan Pace accomplished with the additions of Allen Robinson and company. Chicago is no longer starved for playmakers: meaning the organization can turn it’s eyes towards it’s defensive and trenches needs in the draft. Now it’s about playing the game of the draft in rolling the dice.
Due to poor fortune in the NFL’s strength of schedule tiebreaker, the Bears could be sitting in a precarious draft slot at No. 8 overall in late April. The Bears are in that unwanted spot of the top-10 where they can miss out on players of needs at primary positions while also having to reach on potential projects. Nothing creativity and in-depth scouting can’t fix, but an issue that may present itself.
The trade for Mitchell Trubisky last year also leaves the Bears without a third-round pick. Depending on how Pace feels about a prospect in the second round, there’s the possibility he might execute a trade down for the third straight April. Or, he could stand pat and load up while using his two fourth rounders to trade back in later should there be a player the Bears are a solid fit for.
Whatever situation presents itself, Chicago is not in a place where they can waste the potential of this incoming draft class. Given the construction of the roster, one more solid influx of talent can put the Bears back on the map of contention. It’s been awhile since that could be said.
In my first mock exercise of this spring, I loaded up the Bears defensively with the ideal of making them a complete and balanced team immediately. Mitchell Trubisky is the leader and franchise changer under center, but the defense is the identity.
First round, No. 8 overall: Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech
The logic behind Chicago taking Edmunds with the first pick is simple. While his current instincts aren’t comparable, he’s an athletic freak of which we haven’t seen as a coverage linebacker in ability since Brian Urlacher. He can play sideline to sideline like a classic traditional inside linebacker. And, on occasion, he can line up off the edge and disrupt the passer when you ask him to.
Edmunds’ main concerns in the NFL are more about finding a place for him to play, instead of the fact whether he’ll be able to play whatsoever. At 19-years-old and 6-foot-5, 250 pounds his ceiling is so malleable to where any defensive coordinator that doesn’t line him up over all their front, is wasting him. He can excel anywhere, provided you let him find the time necessary for refinement. If your coaching staff can’t find a way to utilize a gifted young man such as Edmunds, then what’s the point of your presence? These types of players don’t come around often.
Never mind that Pace typically pursues guys of Edmunds’ raw mold. They just haven’t been nearly as young as him in the first round.
The most apt professional comparison Edmunds has received is Anthony Barr, due to that jack-of-all-trades talent. The only difference is that Edmunds produced at a higher level in Virginia Tech and possesses even more athletic ability coming out than the Vikings Pro Bowler did.
I’m of the opinion that Edmunds can be one of the NFL’s top defensive playmakers within a few seasons. A franchise talent. An All-Pro. It’s going to take patience for him to fully unlock that All-Pro ceiling, but it’ll be worth it. By the time his second contract comes around at that level of play, he’ll still be in his early 20’s. A tantalizing foundational player ideal.
In the mean time, Edmunds will steadily grow and shine well enough for a Bears contending defense on the cusp.
Second round, No. 39 overall: Josh Sweat, Edge, Florida State
Fun fact: After a productive 2018 NFL Scouting Combine and Pro Day at Florida State, Sweat graded out as one of the greatest all-time edge athletes pro football has ever seen. Yes, in the 30-plus years of efficient athletic testing, Sweat sits near the top of anyone ever evaluated at his position. This is man with the dripping measurables of whom just so happens to play at the Bears’ primary remaining need on the defensive edge. How convenient.
If the Bears defense is going to be worth it’s salt, it can’t operate almost entirely with Leonard Floyd as the lone reliable outside linebacker. The team needs depth behind their 2016 first-round pick, and they need a partner opposite the lanky 25-year-old. They can’t keep filling in with injured or aging band-aids. No one better fits the bill of a long-term fix than the pure pass rusher in Sweat.
At first glance, Sweat’s numbers at Florida State are a bit underwhelming. Take a look at the wider context of an overmatched defensive coordinator asking his best players to completely break the unnecessary mold, and the reason is clear: Sweat was thoroughly misused in college.
This is a problem that Sweat shouldn’t have with the Bears and Fangio where he’ll get to pin his ears back against offensive tackles with regularity. Not many have his same burst or ability to cross a lineman’s face. And the NFL is about to find that out with more consistent opportunity.
Fourth round, No. 105 overall: Quenton Meeks, CB, Stanford
The Bears under Pace and Fangio prefer corners with length, excellent toughness, and press ability. At 6-foot-1 and 209 pounds, the disciplined Meeks is the man Chicago should be eyeing on the boundary. Kyle Fuller is the Bears’ long term No. 1 cornerback. But that doesn’t mean they won’t eye someone to eventually take over for the veteran Prince Amukamara.
What Meeks does better than many defensive backs in the 2018 Draft class is use his size to his advantage. He’s one of the very best in run support as a willing and punishing tackler, evidenced by his 61 tackles in 2017. Which isn’t to say he lumbers around in his movements because his backpedals and trailing technique are exactly what defenses continually seek. He’s fluid in coverage with nary a wasted movement. Factor in seven picks in three seasons at Stanford, and he possesses the desired ball skills to tilt the field too.
Meeks’ weaknesses lie in the fact that he isn’t the fastest cornerback with solid makeup speed. In a scheme with the Bears where safeties such as Eddie Jackson offer ample support, this won’t be an issue. If not for Amumakara’s presence, Meeks could even be a plug-and-play player. Until then, the proficient corner gets to time to acclimate himself to a professional atmosphere at Halas Hall.
Fourth round, No. 115 overall: Alex Cappa, OT, Humboldt State
If the Bears’ offense is going to become a powerhouse, the Bobby Massie Experience has to come to an end soon. That farewell isn’t likened to arrive in 2018 given the dearth of quality immediate impact starters at tackle in the draft. But there are prospects of which can be starters down the line with needed seasoning.
One of those offensive lineman is Cappa: a 6-foot-7, 305 pound four-year starter who played against small school competition in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference during his collegiate career. The raw big man has some of the best feet in this class, fluid hips and power necessary to be a monster road grader, and diligently works hard when asked to move in space.
Where Cappa will run into trouble in the NFL is that he’s never faced high level competition. It’s a huge jump in play. Power rushers have been also known to exploit his less-than-positive technique in pass protection, as he’s more of a finesse pass protector. There are questions of whether he’d able to hold up on his natural left side, which is a fortunate turn of events with the Bears already possessing Charles Leno. Jr. In Chicago, he’ll be the book end on the right side. He also has a tendency to revert to power blocking and athleticism instead of relying on his hands, feet, and hips: a major no-no against keen defensive edge rushers with experience.
These issues that Cappa currently are not death knells to his career. A season on the sideline, in the weight room, and with offensive line guru Harry Hiestand should do him some good. By the time he’s ready to step on the field, the Bears will have themselves quite the power tackle.
Fifth round, No. 145 overall: J’Mon Moore, WR, Missouri
The acquisitions of Robinson and friends does not eliminate the Bears’ need for a receiver altogether. It takes away the possibility of drafting one in the first round or early Day 2. They could use a developmental fourth or fifth wide receiver as an insurance policy, that could also become a major contributor in time.
That’s where the 6-foot-3, 204 pound Moore comes in. One of college football’s top possession wideouts in his last two years at Missouri, Moore can work every area of the field as a safety valve. His soft hands and see-ball get-ball mentality serve him amply on big play opportunities downfield. An example of someone that can stretch the field with game speed that his 4.60 40-yard dash does not attest to. And however you get the ball into Moore’s hands, he’s always a threat to break it loose for extra yardage with a powerful lower body.
In the NFL, Moore will have to touch up his route tree, as the Tigers didn’t ask him to be a technical wizard. His routes in general require better set-up and leverage. For all of the athletic ability, he does have a tendency to be taken out of a game mentally by a cornerback if he allows himself to. No alarming red flags, but red flags are present.
Overall, within a few seasons, these concerns go by the wayside as long as Moore dedicates himself to his craft. A craft that can turn him into a core Bears offensive player.
Sixth round, No. 181 overall: Darius Phillips, CB, Western Michigan
At his 5-foot-9 and 193 pound size, Phillips is a nickel corner in the NFL. With teams using nickel packages more and more as their base defense to combat pace and spacing from offenses, this position presents more value by the year. Consider Phillips’ incredible versatility, compete level, as well as quickness, and he’s a slam dunk selection for the Bears this late in the draft.
As a three-year starter at Western Michigan, Phillips lent a helping hand everywhere his coaches asked him to. 127 career tackles, 13 tackles for loss, and two sacks showcases a corner willing to get his nose dirty. 12 career interceptions means the former wideout in Phillips has the ballhawk ability to outmuscle and generate turnovers regardless of the size of the man he’s covering. Off those 12 picks, he scored five touchdowns. This is not a one-dimensional nickel corner: Phillips is a game changer.
In a pure luxury sense that could have players such as Tarik Cohen focus more offensively, Phillips was also college football’s best returner. In four years, he scored six touchdowns on kickoff and punt returns. He averaged 24.6 yards on kickoffs and 10.2 on punt returns. Any time the ball touched his hands, he was a threat to make opposing special teams coordinators regret giving him a chance.
The addition of Phillips does not kill two birds with one stone for the Bears: it kills three or four.
Seventh round, No. 224 overall: Chase Edmonds, RB, Fordham
Pace’s Bears have drafted at least one running back in each of this three years: Jeremy Langford (2015), Jordan Howard (2016), and Cohen (2017). That trend continues with the diminutive but twitchy tailback in Edmonds.
Through four seasons at the small school in Fordham, Edmonds almost produced 7,000 yards of offense by himself as a runner and receiver. The only reason he didn’t reach that mark was injuries that slowed him in 2017. His strengths lie in using a compact 5-foot-9, 205 pound frame optimally. Edmonds can power through tackles and cut on a dime. He’s a downhill runner with excellent vision that should flourish in a zone blocking scheme. Let him get to the outside off of blown up plays, and he’ll turn nothing into something.
The long story short about Edmonds is that he’s a talented runner and player, but not someone to be relied on as a workhorse. In Chicago’s offense, he’d be in a back-by-committee early on anyway, so that isn’t a problem. Another explosive weapon joins the Bears’ backfield to further diversify an imaginative offense.
Robert Zeglinski is the Bears beat writer for The Rock River Times, an editor for Windy City Gridiron and Inside The Pylon, and is a contributor to Pro Football Weekly and The Athletic Chicago. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.