When the Bears let recovering Packer Josh Sitton go early in the 2018 off-season, offensive line immediately became a high profile need for Chicago. While there were some intriguing free agency targets at the time, most have been signed to (surprisingly large) contracts. Luckily for the Bears, there is a bevy of quality trench talent to be found in this year’s draft, most of them playing in the interior.
In this discussion, we group “interior” offensive linemen together even though center and guard involve different skill sets, and certainly not all interior lineman can play both. For the Bears, however, Cody Whitehair’s versatility to play either guard or center at a high level allows them the flexibility to take the best player at either position. General manager Ryan Pace himself has said this about Whitehair. No doubt many have opinions on whether Whitehair should be a center or guard, but I think most will be satisfied if the Bears choose one and stick with it. This draft could ultimately determine Whitehair’s position going forward.
1) Interior offensive line is considered one of the Bears’ biggest roster needs. Assuming Notre Dame’s Quenton Nelson isn’t the first round pick, what prospects do you hope the Bears target in the later rounds?
Patti Curl: There are a number of interior offensive linemen who could be picked anywhere from the middle of the first round to the middle of the second. This includes center Iowa James Daniels, Ohio State center Billy Price, and UTEP guard Will Hernandez. There is also a possibility of Georgia’s Isaiah Wynn falling out of the first round. I think the Bears should consider any of these players who falls to No. 39 overall. If the Bears decide to trade back on their second rounder, which seems likely considering the lack of a third round selection and Pace’s history, Nevada guard Austin Corbett and Arkansas center Frank Ragnow would then be in consideration.
In the fourth round, the Bears might see Humboldt State’s Alex Cappa as a guard due to his arm length. He’s someone who could outplay his draft position. Virginia Tech’s Wyatt Teller is another interesting prospect. He played well in 2016 and seemed to take the season off (although he remained on the field) in 2017. If the Bears feel like they have a good understanding of how to motivate Teller, he’s a Day 3 steal.
Robert Zeglinski: While it’s unfortunate for Price financially, I’m hoping that his torn pectoral muscle suffered at this year’s Scouting Combine has him fall to the Bears at No. 39. If he gets to that pick and Chicago doesn’t trade down, he’s my personal ideal for what would be available. Wynn is my favorite non-Nelson interior offensive lineman in the draft because of his athleticism and scheme fit in a zone blocking scheme, but there shouldn’t be expectation of him falling out of the first round. In that respect, the freaky athletic Price would then be a guy that can start immediately as recovery from his injury isn’t expected to linger into July’s training camp.
Against high quality Big Ten competition, Price was one of college football’s best offensive linemen the last two seasons. His core strength, pad level off the ball, and lateral quickness are something to behold in such a powerful man. He has the look of a guy who can be a multi-year starter and two contract player. In the end, he’s someone that pushes Whitehair to guard too, setting the Bears up advantageously.
Jacob Infante: I like Corbett. He’s not a late-round pick—he’s likely a late Day 2 selection—but he deserves a lot more attention than he has been getting. A left tackle in college, Corbett is an athletic prospect who has quick feet, is a solid lateral mover, and is dangerous on pull and cut blocks. He keeps a squared frame while blocking and has a ruthless edge when he’s locked up with a defender. He could stand to add a bit more upper-body strength, and he hasn’t played guard before, so there may be a bit of a learning curve for him. If he falls to the fourth round, though, he would be a fantastic target for the Bears if the guard position wasn’t addressed already.
Erik Duerrwaechter: If Nelson is not available by the time the Bears are on the clock, then I would look for Hernandez as an alternative later in the draft. Price is another option. Both Hernandez and Price are fundamentally solid players in their respective rights. With that said, if Nelson is there at No. 8 overall, get him. He’s that good.
Andrew Link: It depends on when the Bears are going to target offensive in this draft. If they do it in the second round, then you have players like Daniels and UCLA’s Scott Quessenberry. Later on in the draft, guys such as Michigan State’s Brian Allen, Appalachian State’s Colby Gossett, and Teller would make sense.
2) Word on the tweet is that this is a bad draft for offensive tackles. Even so, are there any tackles you think are worth considering for the Bears?
Patti Curl: If the Bears want to draft a tackle early, they should look closely at the 6-foot-6 330 pound, Chuks Okorafor. The mauler from Western Michigan is large but raw, especially with his hands. He’s been on my radar since I heard Draft-Twitter superstar Kyle Crabbs refer to him as a “raw Ronnie Stanley.” I wonder who would be a good person to develop a Stanley-type into a successful NFL starter. Perhaps Stanley’s college coach, new Bears’ offensive line coach Harry Hiestand?
While we’re on the subject of connections to the Bears’ coaching staff, Oregon tackle Tyrell Crosby is an appealing option in the second round as a player who could start immediately at guard and hopefully develop into a great right tackle. He’s large and strong (6-foot-5 325 pounds) but scouts complain that his upper body is too soft (adorable) and that his hips are too tight (whatever that means). His concern at tackle right now is his limited initial quickness and footwork to protect the edge from speed rushers. That’s something that can develop while he’s busy mauling in the run game as a guard.
Robert Zeglinski: If the Bears wanted to make an extreme reach with their first round pick at No. 8, I wouldn’t mind selecting Notre Dame’s Mike McGlinchey. He’s not a “wow” prospect but I do think he’s always been the top available tackle in this class. Positional value pushes him up the draft board. I’m of the belief he could start right away and take over for Bobby Massie. If the Bears are going to take advantage of Mitchell Trubisky at his cheapest, it would behoove them to find their long term right tackle as soon as possible. You can’t rely on stop gaps forever. Find a tackle that wouldn’t be a liability when you can. If that means McGlinchey, and planning for the future this year, that’s a move made without hesitation.
Seeing as how I still want Chicago to address tackle either way, Cappa is the hope later on. Yes, it’s difficult to evaluate the 6-foot-7, 305 pound monster seeing as how his entire tape is him throwing around completely mismatched defenders like rag dolls. Which yes, reflects on less than ideal competition. But he has technique and power that translates. Any developmental concerns he has, such as reverting to his natural athleticism when pressed, can be fixed by sitting for a year. That keeps Massie on the roster for another season, but then has the Bears’ right tackle of the future ready for 2019.
Jacob Infante: I actually disagree with this statement. There aren’t any “can’t-miss” prospects at the position, but there are a handful of players with high upside who can be had in later rounds. I’ve come to like Joseph Noteboom from TCU and Geron Christian from Louisville. Both are athletic and lengthy prospects who have quick feet, an effective kick slide, and can counter defensive linemen’s hand techniques. As is the case with most athletic offensive tackle projects, both prospects are raw.
Noteboom can struggle with being thrown off balance and doesn’t have a lot of lower body strength, while Christian is going to need to bulk up to improve his punch and avoid getting bulldozed by defensive linemen in the NFL. However, both have the athletic tools and have a bit of polish to their game that makes me think they can be starters if coached correctly.
Erik Duerrwaechter: McGlinchey would be the one tackle I’d like to see the Bears choose, at least early in the draft. Like Nelson, he would re-unite with his former position coach in Hiestand. And he has potential in becoming a decent tackle. Otherwise, none of the other prospects impress me.
Andrew Link: I don’t think there are any offensive tackle prospects that provide value in the first or second round unfortunately. Notebooom, North Carolina A&T’s Brandon Parker, and Army’s Brett Toth are guys in the latter rounds to consider. I would look at those as potential starters in 2019, when Massie is entering the final year of his contract.
3) If the Bears don’t address the offensive line in this draft, how worried would you be about the unit entering the 2018 season?
Patti Curl: I think the Bears could put up a decent starting group with Bobby Massie, Eric Kush, Cody Whitehair, Kyle Long, and Charles Leno Jr. but they’ll experience a rough drop-off if any one of them gets injured. Ideally, the Bears get a starter and backup tackle that’s better than Bradley Sowell before the season starts. They need better depth at both positions. It’s possible Jordan Morgan or Hroniss Grasu can show something they haven’t yet. But Grasu hasn’t had the strength needed to play at the NFL level, and Morgan has failed to “like” any of the funny replies I have made to his tweets. This current depth chart scares me more than any other position group on the team.
Robert Zeglinski: I actually think the Bears can punt interior offensive line if they saw fit. As mentioned, I want them to find their right tackle of the future in this year’s draft. That’s a higher priority. Whether he’s ready to start now or in 2019, it doesn’t matter: get him in your building and begin that refinement process. That’s too important a position to continually neglect and rely on an adequate starter at best in Massie.
The other parts of this sentiment is that I believe Chicago is more or less set on the interior. Kush is a solid back-up and should be treated as such. Meanwhile, Morgan was the player everyone knew that needed a year of seasoning to start and now we’re about to learn a lot about him. That is survivable for a season.
Could the Bears use someone to jump into the competition and take a stranglehold of one of the starting spots? Probably.
Is it as pressing of a need as the defensive edge (which I would like to see addressed in the first two rounds)? No.
Not taking premium talent there would mean three years where the defensive edge was largely ignored with young talent aside from Leonard Floyd. Two years later, there is nothing reliable behind Chicago’s 2016 first round pick. That’s an obvious problem for the defense’s most crucial position if it’s ever going to become elite. That takes precedence. Seeing as how there’s some depth, the Bears’ interior offensive line can wait. It’s good enough for 2018.
Jacob Infante - I wouldn’t be incredibly concerned, since I feel that they have three reliable starters up front. I wouldn’t be excited to see Kush or Morgan lining up at guard, and starting Grasu at center isn’t a fantastic option, either. Obviously, the ideal situation is to hope that Nelson drops to No. 8, but that’s unlikely. Finding an interior offensive lineman, whether it be a center or a guard, should be a priority in the draft for the Bears.
Erik Duerrwaechter: I would be slightly worried. We don’t know what the Bears have in post-injury Kush or the developmental Morgan. That left guard spot would remain a glaring weakness, and that’ll make life harder for Leno at left tackle, as well as Whitehair at center. They could also stand to add competition at right tackle with Massie being an okay, not spectacular player. Kyle Long’s health is an obvious factor too.
Andrew Link: Moderately. I think the Bears need someone in the pipeline at tackle. On the interior it boils down to two questions for me. 1. How healthy is Long and what type of play can we expect of him moving forward? 2. Has a “redshirt” year for Morgan or a finally healthy off-season for Grasu been enough for one of them to take the reins at guard or center, respectively?
Long appears to be on track for the season opener based on recent comments. So that is hopefully good news. As for the other two players, I liked the Morgan pick. I think there is potential for a solid or better starter there. I also am higher on Grasu than well, everyone. The thing that we seem to forget sometimes is that he was prematurely thrust into the starting role as a rookie, then tore his ACL in training camp of his second year. That ACL tear prevents you from building lower body strength, which is his weakness. Head into last year where again, he was thrust into action because of injury and broke his hand. This season, he should be able to finally focus on gaining strength for the first time since the year he tore his ACL.
By all accounts, Grasu was one of the big surprises in camp in 2016. I think he has it in him to improve once again.
WCG Contributors: Jeff Berckes; Patti Curl; Eric Christopher Duerrwaechter; Kev H; Sam Householder; Jacob Infante; Andrew Link; Ken Mitchell; Steven Schweickert; Jack Silverstein; EJ Snyder; Lester Wiltfong, Jr.; Robert Zeglinski; Like us on Facebook.