The NFL Draft hasn’t been a gracious host to the Bears in recent memory. Since 1993, the Bears have selected in the top 10 in eight of 25 years. Three of those drafts have come in the last three seasons. Pending the still budding futures of Kevin White (not looking good), Leonard Floyd (promising but on hold), and Mitchell Trubisky (the ideal face of the franchise), most of the other high selections didn’t pan out, leaving the Bears grasping at straws. In fact, the other five with the No. 9 overall pick of the 2000 NFL Draft Brian Urlacher included, have a combined eight Pro Bowls, four First-Team All-Pro appearances, and one Defensive Player of the Year award.
Needless to say the Bears of the modern era, especially with judgment awaiting their recent high selections, have a lot of embarrassing ground to make up.
That’s especially in consideration of the No. 8 overall pick of the 2018 NFL Draft. Whoever Chicago picks can’t become a hot button topic of sports radio. He has to be a star. A guy that garners two contracts with the team, at minimum. There can be no questioning of this decision when looking back in hindsight. He has to be a core player.
Seeing as how the Bears sit in an interesting spot near the bottom of the top 10, there’s potential for general manager Ryan Pace to pull some trademark unexpected hijinks. For one, if four quarterbacks legitimately do go before the Bears are on the clock, that means more talent Chicago could use at other positions would be available. But that also means teams picking before the Bears, such as the No. 6 overall Colts, would have the first crack.
Where the Bears slot in at No. 8 can be equated to a text line you’re given at a restaurant to let you know a table is ready when a fine establishment is at full capacity. The problem is, for as hungry you are, you don’t know where you’ll be seated once a table is free. There’s always the possibility that you’re placed next to the bathroom or kitchen beside heavy foot traffic. Or in an area by the window that has too much of an uncomfortable sun glare. The Bears in the 2018 Draft are a diner looking for a satisfying meal to cap what has been a mostly terrific off-season of acquisitions so far.
Fortunately, the Bears have options at their top draft slot. Not every prospect is a sure thing (what prospect is?). But some are safer than others, who may have a higher ceiling while posing greater risk in the future. Here’s the pros and cons of the eight-man clique for Chicago to consider at No. 8 in two weeks.
- Quenton Nelson, OG, Notre Dame
Pros: Nelson is the best player and most pro-ready prospect in this year’s draft.
Let me be clear so I don’t have to repeat myself.
Nelson is the best player and most pro-ready prospect in this year’s draft.
Okay, now that we have that out of the way, while there’s reasonable skepticism as to how much a guard can improve a team, Nelson might be the exception to the rule. He’s a behemoth of a man that has highlight tape comparable to skill positions. He’s a technically sound beast with years of polish. He was built to be an All-Pro football player, and he has the potential to do that almost immediately as a professional. He transcends schemes. He transcends eras. He fits in every conceivable way imaginable. Plus, he’d be reunited with his college offensive line coach in Harry Hiestand.
If Nelson fell to the Bears, the draft war room in Lake Forest would be doing cart wheels en masse.
Cons: The only knock against Nelson has nothing to do with his body of work. The question that arises with him will always be positional value. For example: is it warranted to take a guard in the top 10 as opposed to reaching on a pass rusher? Recent top guards selected this high, such as Jonathan Cooper and Chance Warmack in 2013, have turned into journeymen. Nelson is of a different mold than those two, but the question remains. Though, with the NFL gravitating towards terrorizing interior pass rushers like the Rams’ Aaron Donald, perhaps players of Nelson’s ilk can become more valued in time.
- Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech
Pros: In direct contrast to Nelson, Edmunds is the most malleable prospect in this year’s draft.
Once again, as a reminder, Edmunds is the most malleable prospect in this year’s draft.
As has been repeated endlessly, Edmunds will only be 19-years-old on draft night. He’s one of the most terrific athletes in the class and as elite of a coverage prospect to ever come out as a linebacker. He’s a marvel of versatility that could be crafted in any way the Bears see fit given how young he is, and how much he has yet to learn. For a defense seeking more players creating matchup issues, Edmunds is perfect for that mindset because of his all-encompassing gifts. At his peak, he could be another All-Pro.
Cons: Where’s Edmunds’ raw status plays into his favor, it’s also a detriment. The way he plays can be classified as a bull in a china shop, because he’s still learning how to be a football player on the fly. Everything isn’t under control. He’s often processing how to read and react without thinking, even though much of that is instinct.
To boot, Edmunds is a projection at any position the Bears would play him. He’s a great inside linebacker with room to grow. He sparingly rushed off the edge, and could be a contributor there given time, but that’s a stretch to say right now.
Overall, if you’re a defensive coach and can’t find a place for someone of Edmunds’ abilities to play, then why are you employed? A coach’s job is to put his players in a position to succeed and to develop. While it would be a lot of work with Edmunds that may not pan out, the pay off is worth it.
Bradley Chubb, Edge, North Carolina State
Pros: It’s an overall weak edge class with not a lot of top-end players, but that shouldn’t be a detractor against Chubb. Regardless of a lack of competing peers, this is the type of player that’s a universal top 10 selection.
That’s because Chubb has everything an NFL teams seeks in an edge pass rusher.
Is he powerful and does he use his hands well? Yes.
Is he experienced, and has he played well against high level competition? Yes and yes.
Is this a guy you can plug and play at arguably football’s second most important position? Unequivocally yes.
Chubb has drawn comparisons to the oft-injured Pernell McPhee, which is valid. Two violent players with a chip on their shoulder, and two guys who fit the Bears like a glove when healthy. A healthy McPhee clone is a worth a top 10 selection. It might even be worth a top five pick in a league starved for great pass rushers. The only difference is that Chubb enters the NFL with a clean bill of health, prepared to be consistently available unlike McPhee never was in Chicago. At the Bears’ most immediate team need on the edge, that’s a tantalizing thought.
Instead of the en masse cartwheels for Nelson, the Bears’ draft war room would be doing choreographed fist pumps together if they were able to nab Chubb.
Cons: Chubb didn’t test relatively well at this year’s Scouting Combine, including an underwhelming three-cone drill (an accurate predictor of NFL success). This paints the picture of a guy that might already be close to his ceiling and who doesn’t have much room to grow. Of a player that isn’t a terrific athlete, that has limitations, but is nonetheless a good player in most settings.
This is the part where you don’t over think prospects like Chubb. He’s an elite pass rusher with top notch production and traits. To toss him aside because of slightly disappointing workout in shorts is laughable.
Reach for the sky
- Minkah Fitzpatrick, S, Alabama
Pros: Versatility, versatility, and more versatility.
On defense, coaches in the NFL are seeking defensive backs to fill a variety of needs. They desire guys who can tackle, cover, and line up anywhere on the field.
Enter the slot blitzing, deep safety, outside cornerback in Fitzpatrick. Over the past few seasons, he’s been one of the premier players in college football. He’s a defensive back tailor made for the NFL that fits in any game plan. There are whispers that Fitzpatrick could fall out of the top 10 after being projected there for most of the draft season. That’d make him a reach for the Bears from a wide glance, but a playmaker from a measured perspective.
Current Chicago starter Adrian Amos can’t do the things Fitzpatrick does. He’s a good player, but a good player with limitations. If you have the chance to acquire an upgrade and another playmaker on the back end that the Bears lack aside from Eddie Jackson, you do it with Fitzpatrick.
Cons: Seeing as where the Bears sit, risk should be considered more. There aren’t many solid options for them at No. 8 overall, so potentially doing something crazy for a position of need is viable.
Fitzpatrick doesn’t play at a position of need. In fact, while it would be nice to have another playmaker in the secondary, it’s far down the totem pole for the Bears. Plus, for every ability, his ceiling isn’t as freakish as other defensive backs. What you see now in Fitzpatrick is what you’re likely going to get.
- Derwin James, S, Florida State
Pros: Without a hint of hyperbole, James was once compared to the late, great Sean Taylor. Taylor was perhaps the most transcendent and complete football player ever, who just happened to play safety. To compare James to a player of that stature was high praise, but warranted to a degree.
At 6-foot-3, 212 pounds, James can be an explosive linebacker in the box. He can cover receivers on a dime. He can rush off the edge. He’s the prototype for the modern secondary player. He does this as one of the best athletes to ever test at his position.
The consensus is that James is a mid-teens to early 20’s selection in the first round. If the Bears wanted to get crazy and take an athletic superstar (in comparison to Fitzpatrick) at safety in the top 10, there shouldn’t be issues with James.
Cons: For one knock, James missed almost the entirety of his sophomore college season due to injury, which threw off his development. This is a player with room to grow but risks due to that inexperience.
For the other, and more glaringly, it’s the occasional low motor. James doesn’t always finish plays. He doesn’t always maximize his athleticism, which is a shame, because that athleticism in tandem with superb effort would’ve made him one of the greatest defensive players in college football of all time.
James is going to have to land with a hard-nosed coach in the NFL that can motivate him, and put a chip on his shoulder. James might have that intrinsic motivation anyway, depending on where he’s drafted. Vic Fangio, your table is ready.
- Marcus Davenport, Edge, UTSA
Pros: A popular pick to the Bears early in the 2018 Draft cycle, conversation on Davenport significantly cooled following an underwhelming performance (to some) at the Senior Bowl, and occasional lapses of non-dominant play on his game tape.
What selecting Davenport for any team that needs a pass rusher means in two notes:
1. It’s a tremendous reach in a weak edge class and trying to find a creative spark in a raw player out of a small school.
2. He’s a projection to be a face of the NFL type pass rusher. A DeMarcus Ware, who he is often compared to, that goes on to a Hall of Fame level career.
Given the athletic profile, build, and flashes, both of those points concerning Davenport add up. Poking holes in him, especially when he fits the typical Pace profile of raw first round selections, makes little sense.
Cons: Davenport is high on many team’s boards because of that raw projection, not because of the player he is. He’s going to be picked high because he plays a premium position, not necessarily as an endorsement of his abilities. Everything about him screams hope. Hoping he develops into a stud. And hoping he can contribute if he doesn’t.
- Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame
Pros: McGlinchey was the best tackle prospect last spring, in the summer, during the college season, and in this entire draft process. Even as opinions have fluctuated on him, that has never changed. Which makes it a fascinating thought to be reminded that Notre Dame, and Hiestand by extension, had the pleasure of possessing the best side of an offensive line in college football with McGlinchey and Nelson next to each other.
What McGlinchey does well individually is never panic. He’s a tackle with refined technique, excellent mobility, and patience. Simplistic cues but important evaluations of book end offensive linemen. In an NFL that’s looking for an offensive front revival, he stands out because he’s solid. He’s not a generational talent, but he’s good at one of the sport’s most important positions. That’s enough for some teams.
If the Bears were to take McGlinchey, he’d be a long term starter pending some developmental issues on the right side for years. It would also mean that Hiestand has ample confidence in his ability as a tackle to take him as high as No. 8.
Cons: Justifying reaching on a non-special tackle is not palatable with better players at other positions sitting there. Taking McGlinchey so high would be as much of a positional value move as it gets for the Bears, ignoring best player available altogether.
If they do make that move, they’d better hope he pan out long term, and start on Day 1. You don’t take a tackle like McGlinchey in a reach situation unless you planned on starting him right away. Given some refinements in his drive kick and power that he needs, that’s a lofty thought. Nothing a guru offensive line coach can’t fix in the long run.
The lone wolf out
- Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
Pros: Go to “Build-A-Running-Back Workshop”, and the most detailed running back would be Barkley. If he were made in a store or lab, he’d be seen as the special runner made for the 2018 NFL. List his build and skill set and it’s easy to see.
6-foot and 234 pounds, but can run with power and 4.40 40-yard dash speed.
A multifaceted human highlight reel that is a threat to take the ball to the house on any touch. He can do it on the ground, or as a natural playmaking receiver out of the backfield.
Barkley provides everything a diverse professional offense wants in spades. In Matt Nagy’s offense, he would be a workhorse star from the get-go.
Cons: Running backs are almost valued as much as kickers in pro football, in terms of contracts. Good running backs can be found on Day 3 of the draft every year, especially in a deep 2018 class that has multiple potential starters or complements in every round. These facts illustrate a moral of the story that says running backs aren’t worth first rounders anymore, let alone top 10 selections. Talent in an individual guy such as Barkley doesn’t matter, because he’s ultimately easily replaceable, and the position isn’t the preferred focal point of an offense.
Yes, NFL teams want versatile running backs, but that doesn’t mean they value these runners’ place with the team more than the quarterback, offensive line, or receivers. Every other notion suggests quite the opposite actually.
Under the Bears’ magnifying glass, taking Barkley (or any running back), would mean jettisoning Jordan Howard. A trade of Howard could be wise long term, but turning around and taking his replacement as high as No. 8 doesn’t add up. Find his replacement later, at a better value and more efficient fit for the offense, that doesn’t need as many touches as Barkley.
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.