A Butkus Award winner. A dynamic big man in the middle. A receiver with compete level and quickness off the charts. Pass rushers with upside needing polish.
These are some of the descriptors of players the Bears selected in the 2018 NFL Draft over the past few days. Bears general manager Ryan Pace went from getting the face of his defense to taking care of immediate offensive needs, as he set Chicago up quite well to compete and soon.
The Bears had seven draft picks over the past three days. Seven new names to potentially changed the franchise for the better, both on and off the field. There are still undrafted free agents to check upon, but they aren’t the primary headliners.
Here’s the Bears’ entire 2018 class complete with nuanced thoughts from us at Windy City Gridiron.
First round, No. 8 overall: Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia
The Bears began draft weekend with a bang by immediately picking a player to build around in Smith. A selection that most of the football world approved of. He should be Chicago’s defensive lynchpin for a long time and help take the defense to an elite level. He’ll make an organization rich in tradition at linebacker very proud. More importantly, he’ll make defensive coordinator Vic Fangio - who apparently can smile - proud.
My sentiments on the selection of the stud linebacker:
At the moment, nothing deters me from believing Smith becomes the face of the Bears’ defense and quickly. Chicago made the smart, efficient pick and should be applauded for it. Smith is a player you can build around and you’ll take that at No. 8 overall ten times out of ten.
Second round, No. 39 overall: James Daniels, OG/C, Iowa
Everyone knew the Bears needed to find a young building block for the middle of their offensive front, they just didn’t know who would it be. It ended up being the incredibly athletic Daniels who should be a Day 1 starter for the Bears. Somewhere, Mitchell Trubisky was smiling at this pick. But definitely not as much as the emotional Daniels upon hearing about the selection.
What it's all about.— ESPN (@espn) April 28, 2018
James Daniels couldn't contain his emotions after being drafted by the Bears. pic.twitter.com/Kmc2WpPYap
Here’s our writer Andrew Link’s thoughts on the Bears beefing up their line:
Let’s not discount the fact that offensive line coach Harry Hiestand has been in college for the last several years and has knowledge on offensive linemen, especially those close in proximity. If Hiestand pounded the table for Daniels, then I am going to say that this is probably a good football player.
Second round, No. 51 overall: Anthony Miller, WR, Memphis
Midway through the second round of the draft, Pace decided to flex his muscles. He traded a 2019 second rounder and No. 105 overall this year to nab one of the top receivers on the Bears’ board in Miller. Chicago had a gap opposite Allen Robinson with the departure of Cameron Meredith. They got the perfect replacement in Miller, in a trade with the Patriots that made complete sense. This was someone Pace identified and of whom he wouldn’t let slip through his grasps. A common theme of his tenure in Chicago.
I analyzed the move from the Bears’ perspective:
Miller is another player that is going to make an immediate impact for the Bears’ offense. He’s the ideal complement to the size and jump ball ability of Allen Robinson. He’s quick, athletic, a natural route runner, and has one of the most fantastic compete levels I’ve seen from a prospect at any position. Independently, he’s a good player and I’m sure the Halas Hall brass pounded the table for this addition. You can’t fault how he factors in in the slightest.
Fourth round, No. 115 overall: Joel Iyiegbuniwe, LB, Western Kentucky
At this point in the draft, one can theoretically forgive Pace and the Bears if they go with a relative head scratcher of a move. They’re the people that get paid the big bucks for this, after all. Still, without the benefit of more information, going with another inside linebacker in Iyiegbuniwe with other pressing needs is strange. Only time will tell as to whether this is another fourth round Pace gem, or a bust.
My grade for the pick of Iyiegbuniwe reflected this concern:
The Bears are preparing for life without Trevathan with the selection of Iyiegbuniwe. They want to lock in their inside linebacking duo with Roquan Smith. More time will have to be given to properly evaluate Iyiegbuniwe, given the fact that he came from lesser competition. But that’s a fine roster construction.
Fifth round, No. 145 overall: Bilal Nichols, DT, Delaware
By the end of the 2017 season, Akiem Hicks was playing 95 percent of the snaps on the Bears’ defensive line. Even an All-Pro player can’t stand up to that kind of work and punishment. Enter Nichols, who is raw, but can certainly factor in as both a tackle and end for Chicago’s defense. The competition with Jonathan Bullard and Roy Robertson-Harris becomes that much more interesting.
Our Jacob Infante appreciates that upside and projection with Nichols:
Nichols won’t fix their pass rush, but he is an athletic and powerful lineman with a lot of potential. He has good acceleration off the snap, and plays with a high motor. He ran a 4.95 40-yard dash, which, although it isn’t the most important statistic for a defensive lineman, shows how athletic he is. His hands are active and he has a nice array of block-shedding moves. Nichols can redirect blocks against the run very well, and he excels at eating up space against the run. He’s 6-foot-4 and 306 pounds, so he has good size to play at the five-tech in the NFL.
Sixth round, No. 181 overall: Kylie Fitts, Edge, Utah
They took their time to do so, but six rounds in, the Bears finally took a shot on someone that could be a starter opposite Leonard Floyd. Chicago needed an edge rusher and in terms of pure athleticism, raw ability, and technique, Fitts is one of the best in the 2018 draft. Health is the only thing that holds him back from shining. What the Bears didn’t wait on, was taking a shot at a star NFC quarterback.
My perspective sees a steal of the draft type player for the Bears:
Provided the plan goes swimmingly (sometimes it does!), Chicago is working with a primary edge rotation of Floyd, Lynch, Fitts, Sam Acho, and maybe even Nick Kwiatkoski. If not, not many sixth rounders are hits for NFL teams anyway. You can’t blame the Bears for taking a flier and attempting to work this edge project. This is why coaches like Fangio are paid so handsomely.
It’s time for Fangio to finish up his Bears’ defense and put on the final pristine touches. With good health, Fitts plays a huge part in that construction.
Seventh round, No. 224 overall: Javon Wims, WR, Georgia
At this point in the draft, taking projects with raw ability is the goal. A receiver with size and a nose for the ball in the red zone, Wims fits that mandate. If he can make the Bears’ roster, the Georgia reunion with Floyd and Smith continues.
Jacob thinks this investment in Wims is worth it for Chicago:
When you watch Wims on tape, you see a player who is pretty raw, but you also see a receiver with great body control who can go up and make great catches on 50/50 balls. He would be a good fit as a vertical threat at the next level. He is my No. 207 overall prospect, as well as my No. 24 wide receiver. While he wasn’t the best player available on my board, he is a solid value pick here with a lot of upside.
2018 Bears’ Draft class grade: A
Your new class of Bears from 2018, are ideally the last pieces of a contending team in the NFC. Pace filled in positions of need, and took worthy chances on players that can help the team in due time. Now we know the power of friendship with Smith and Floyd, competition with Miller, and realizing dreams with Daniels.
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.