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Bears mailbag: Trading up, draft philosophies, and Bears’ Avengers

The last month of the 2018 Draft season is set to be rowdy. Opening up this week’s mailbag on trade scenarios and current Bears as superheroes.

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Chicago Tribune

We’ve reached that point in the year where the fatigue of debates have begun to wear on the collective football community. Where anything but one player at a draft slot is now a failure because every other target has been overanalyzed. Depending on who you talk to, draft season is too extended for this reason. Most of the film has already been watched. The articles and analysis have been published. At this point, many arguments can feel circular as NFL organizations begin to jostle for draft positioning and former coaches begin to smear prospects.

Fortunately, for the Bears’ and everyone else’s sake, the Browns will finally be on the clock in a little over three weeks. Until then, the conversations will continue. And while it can be droning, there is some final polish to be done on many prospect reports. The stretch run is crunch time for the draft: 2018 is no different.

Let’s open this week’s Bears mailbag and kick off these final festivities.

Where do you think Bears place most value on Days 1-2 of the draft? Are we getting the best player available or chasing needs to get the team over the hump of losing records? - GiveHowardTheBall

Operating off general manager Ryan Pace’s three-year history of classes, I’d argue that the Bears attempt to attack both early on in the draft. No draft board is linear. Each round has a unique distinction.

Going off purely first rounders: all filled a need and were athletic freaks as the arguable best players available. For example, with Kevin White in 2015, I don’t remember anyone lamenting that selection. The general consensus was that White was poised to be an immediate contributor to help replace the departing Brandon Marshall at receiver. Upside was the selling point for a playmaker.

In 2016 with Leonard Floyd, the Bears wanted their franchise edge pass rusher. While they did trade up to avoid losing him, many had the lanky and twitchy Floyd ranked as the second or even top pass rusher on their boards prior to the pick. Being selected at No. 9 overall was in line with that thought process.

Finally, the infamous trade up for Mitchell Trubisky overshadows that in many minds, the Bears drafted the top quarterback in the 2017 Draft. Independently, they had acquired a raw but underrated athlete and filled the most important position for their franchise. A player with a high ceiling and potential provided they brought him along properly.

It’s normally in the second and third rounds where Pace prefers to take established as well as polished players in the trenches like Eddie Goldman (2015) and Cody Whitehair (2016). Adam Shaheen (2017) is the rare exception to that, but so was the 2017 Draft in comparison to what the Bears have recently done.

Essentially, the Bears under Pace play for need and a high ceiling in the first, then aim for a quality immediate starter after. With much of the competing roster in place this year, I’d be shocked if they deviated away from that.

It’s strange that trading up from No. 8 hasn’t been considered more this year. The more common scenario that’s always brought up is trading down, which can be difficult because you have to find a dancing partner that likes your pick.

At any rate, while the arguments against trading up for the Bears have merit, such as not having a third rounder due to the Trubisky trade, it’s not as if Pace has operated with logic in the past.

The idea of trading up for any team is rooted in the fact that a general manager sees an opportunity to draft a player he thought wasn’t going to fall to his slot. So he pounces at the fortuitous bounce. Or, that the executive is afraid that a player he’s enamored with isn’t going to get to his team’s slot after original projections. In this case, the GM is essentially saying “mine!” like a child.

In each of the past two years, Pace has operated with the latter because he thought that the New York Giants were going to snag Floyd at No. 10 in 2016, and that someone was going to take Trubisky out of his grasp at No. 2 overall in 2017. Pace was endlessly criticized for making the move for Trubisky, which is curious, because he drafted the more important player that defines his tenure, and for a few mid-rounders.

Floyd was simply someone Pace did not want to miss out on.

When a general manager loves a player he’s done his homework on, the way Pace loved and studied Floyd and Trubisky: they’re not open to losing the potential impact they see. That’s how you get into situations with Aaron Donald, where former Bears general manager Phil Emery just missed on the generational talent at No. 14, and instead settled for Kyle Fuller (no offense). The former personnel lead is lamented for this four years later.

Another argument is that there isn’t anyone worth trading up for in the 2018 Draft. You could hear that same argument for most of the previous draft classes, though. It takes bold conviction to make a deal for a guy you want, something Pace clearly doesn’t lack. That makes someone like Bradley Chubb, in play for the Bears near No. 8 overall depending on a run at quarterbacks near the top. Don’t be surprised if Pace again pushes his chips in should the cards fall in his favor.

Obviously we’re set with Trey Burton as our “move” tight end, and Shaheen will continue to develop in a slightly different role. But keeping Dion Sims and re-signing Daniel Brown has me confused. Does this mean Ben Braunecker is gone? He seems to have more value for us on special teams than a fourth string pass catcher. Is it possible we hold onto five tight ends. What is our plan at tight end? - Bearlieveit

The Bears kept Sims because they don’t have full confidence in Shaheen yet, which baffles me too, but makes sense. It’s why Matt Nagy played up Burton at last week’s owner’s meetings in Orlando as more of a pass catcher. The offense through the air will run through the new free agent tight end, while Shaheen is given time to develop. As Shaheen continues to grow up, Sims is the third blocking tight end that fills in when necessary. For as much as people believe Sims is actually a poor blocker from outside the Bears’ bubble (yours truly included), they have confidence he can contribute in this facet as their future at the position progresses.

The way I’d classify the Bears’ top three tight ends right now is Burton (1A) and Shaheen (1B) since they play different positions as the “U” and “Y”, while Sims is the No. 2 that comes in on heavy packages that receives some of Shaheen’s in-line snaps. It can be easily forgotten, but Shaheen was a raw product coming out of a small Division II school in Ashland. The Bears aren’t giving up on him as much as filling this crucial gap in the offense while he acclimates to his role. His time will come.

As far as carrying five tight ends, I sincerely doubt it. That is roster balance Chicago can’t afford with the receivers they’ve brought in. Carrying four active tight ends like in 2017 was a lot for that matter. I expect Braunecker to ultimately make the 2018 roster as he’s the younger player that contributes on special teams while Brown is a cut out of training camp.

It is considered good business to draft a quarterback every single year, regardless of the status of your depth chart. That’s a stance I agree with as 1. It creates an insurance policy your team is familiar with. And 2. You can eventually flip that backup young quarterback to a league that is continually hungry for the position should you have your entrenched franchise No. 1 ready for the long term.

The Patriots have done this for years in taking Jimmy Garoppolo, Ryan Mallett, and Matt Cassel while having a future First-ballot Hall of Famer under center in Tom Brady. The Eagles did this when they had Donovan McNabb: taking A.J. Feely in 2001 and Kevin Kolb in 2009 as prime examples. Be set on contention and helping your current starter thrive, but always be prepared for the future on the backburner just in case.

For the purpose of the modern Trubisky Bears, I wouldn’t be too concerned about what Chase Daniel offers as a backup. While he isn’t a seasoned starter or backup at 31, if he were to step in he would have to manage the game within the confines of the Bears’ Nagy offense. Managing the game, meaning handing the ball off, making easy reads, and putting your defense in a non-precarious position is something someone of Daniel’s reputed knowledge can handle.

I wouldn’t mind the Bears taking someone to develop in the sixth or seventh round if they were to like a prospect enough that late, though. More often than not, those late rounders don’t end up contributing anything at the NFL level anyway. Stashing someone on the practice squad and coaching him up for a few years to understand what you possess is good business.

As the roster stands today: whom among these Bears do you envision having an elite 2018 season and putting himself in contention to be talked about as one of the top five players at his position in the league? - Acreman20

I assume you mean breakout elite players and not guys who are already firmly established such as Akiem Hicks. Top-five is a lofty prospect too, so I’ll extend this to top-10. Here are two non-obvious Bears (Trubisky is a given) I see blowing up as true franchise players in 2018.

  • A fantastic fourth round value in 2017, Eddie Jackson is going to entrench himself as one of the premier ballhawk safeties in football. I thought that his rookie year had a lot of missed opportunities at forcing turnovers such as properly breaking on interceptable passes one could mostly attribute to inexperience. That shouldn’t be an issue for Jackson by having another year in defensive coordinator Vic Fangio’s system and more comfort at the NFL level. Jackson forced five turnovers last year. I see close to double digit takeaways in his sophomore campaign.
Cleveland Browns v Chicago Bears
Expect another huge year for Fuller in 2018.
Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images
  • Yes, he already had his breakout season in 2017. And yes, he’s being paid like one of the elite cornerbacks in football. But, I don’t think anyone on a wide level quite considers Kyle Fuller a shutdown corner. That’s going to change as he’ll show last season wasn’t a fluke and capitalizes by creating more turnovers. Already one of the better and more physical athletes at the position, Fuller just needs to put up a consistent run of success. Do that, and he’ll be uttered in the same conversation as other cornerback “islands”.

The Bears at 8-8 in 2018: Over or under? And what team is the Bears’ surprise victory of the season? - x160630

This is off-season optimism, but I see the Bears going over 8-8 and settling at 9-7 next season. That doesn’t mean a playoff berth, especially as they sit in the gauntlet known as the NFC North, but it does mean they’ll be relevant come December. As far as why I think that happens, the reasons are obvious. I expect Trubisky to have a stellar second season. I believe Nagy’s offense confounds the NFL by a certain point. And with desired defensive core upgrades in the draft, Chicago will have the kind of unit that can consistently flex its’ muscles on opponents. This is going to be a fun and competitive team for awhile.

Quickly examining the 2018 schedule, the Bears shock the world and knock off the visiting Madden-like Los Angeles Rams at Soldier Field. Los Angeles’ roster has experienced a dramatic makeover in the past few weeks with the additions of Aqib Talib, Marcus Peters, Ndamukong Suh, and Brandin Cooks. They’ve put themselves in position to be an NFC heavyweight uttered in the same breath as the Philadelphia Eagles and Minnesota Vikings. But I’m not sold on Jared Goff as an elite quarterback.

Goff’s sparkling 2017 statistical line of 28 touchdowns, seven interceptions, and a 100.5 passer rating doesn’t tell the full story. This is a young quarterback that had his hand held through most of the season by head coach Sean McVay, who radioed in most play adjustments after seeing the defense to Goff through his headset. Goff, in comparison to elite passers, never actually made pre-snap reads by himself. When the Rams ran into the tenacious and exotic Falcons in January’s Wild Card round, that was all she wrote for a limited quarterback that hadn’t fully been given the keys.

Plus, last year’s Goff operated with by far the best field position, the highest rate of play action passes (which are easy reads), and by far the most yards after catch from his receivers. Given the constructs of the Rams’ roster, it’s possible that could happen again, but not likely. Not to mention Goff routinely wasted one of the NFL’s top speedsters in Sammy Watkins, because of an issue of ball placement and accuracy that hasn’t been elaborated on.

In a classic battle, I think the Bears’ defense gets the best of Goff to upset the Rams. If Los Angeles visits in the late fall or early winter, where “Bear weather” becomes a thing for competitive Bears teams, I’ll double down on this prediction.

I don’t agree with all of these prospect to professional comparisons. For the purposes of this hypothetical exercise, if Boston College’s Harold Landry was Khalil Mack (he isn’t comparable), I don’t logically see how the Bears could pass up on him. The team’s biggest remaining need is an edge rusher opposite Floyd. If they had a chance to add a Defensive Player of the Year caliber player such as this proposed Landry, I wouldn’t hesitate. Football is about playing quarterback, protecting the quarterback, and pressuring the quarterback. It’d be Landry or bust with this knowledge.

What player could the Bears select this year to finally get you to break up with Leonard Floyd? What player could make Cupid shoot you in the tail again? - tonkaman

First of all, I’m never breaking up with Floyd. I don’t appreciate that sentiment being considered. I would ask that you respect my wishes and adulation at this time. Floyd holds a special place in my heart that can’t be matched and that’s never going to change.

But, if I were to add a new “son” that I love slightly less, it’d be Virginia Tech’s Tremaine Edmunds. In terms of pure athleticism, coverage ability, and range for such a raw player at 19-years-old, Edmunds is my favorite prospect in the 2018 Draft as far as a fit for the Bears. I’m of the belief he’s going to be a transcendent defensive talent we haven’t seen before and have already begun the preparations to give him the proper amount of attention were the Bears to draft him.

Given the opportunity, which Avenger would Pace draft at No. 8, and what position would they play? - The Passenger

He’s the safe, boring pick with not much upside but Pace would take Captain America. Hulk was considered, but with rule changes for safety, it’s unlikely the Bears would be able to unleash his brute power.

Cap gives the Bears a player who is already the size of a linebacker slash safety, that can run like a corner. I’d let Steve Rogers man the middle of my defense, rush off the edge, and even play as a deep safety. He’s a physical freak but not to an egregious extent like the Hulk. The serum in his body (which is not illegal!), makes him a revolutionary player. You also have to consider the obvious intangible aspects such as leadership and selflessness. If Rogers makes it through the Infinity War, he should independently consider a football career.

Things that keep me up at night: Is Mitchell Trubisky, Iron Man or Captain America? Akiem Hicks is obviously Hulk, but is Tarik Cohen Spider-Man or another character?

Oh yeah, and wondering if Quenton Nelson will be there at No. 8. - Southern Texas BEARS

This is too easy: Trubisky is Iron Man. For any athlete to be Captain America, they’d have to be beyond idealistic and the greatest patriot of all time. At 23-years-old and just starting his NFL career, Trubisky is set to focus on becoming an elite quarterback, taking care of his team, and his own. His personality also meshes better with Tony Stark rather than Rogers: there’s a twinge of swagger lying in wait.

Cohen is Ant-Man: diminutive at his best, but beyond effective at driving his opponents insane when he shifts into gear. Spider-Man would’ve made sense personality-wise, but the shrinking powers and sensibilities match ideally with the former.

USC v Notre Dame
Crazier things have happened for the league’s future Thor.
Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Unfortunately, I don’t think the NFL’s version of Thor in Quenton Nelson is available at No. 8 overall. I don’t see him getting past No. 6 and the Indianapolis Colts. Don’t fret: the Bears will still have their choice of another mightiest hero once they’re on the clock.

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.