The Chicago Bears came away with one of the more heralded draft classes of the 2018 NFL Draft. Headlined by selecting the best linebacker in college football and making a bold trade up into the second round, this year’s haul elicits hope that the Bears may contend for a playoff spot in the loaded NFC this season.
The team saw immediate contributions from most of their draft class last year, despite many people seeing the group as one that would make its impact felt down the line, rather than right away. Adam Shaheen was held back in John Fox’s offense, and Jordan Morgan redshirted his rookie year, but the Bears managed to get quite a bit out of the rest of their rookies. Eddie Jackson proved to be a safety around whom the team can build their secondary. Tarik Cohen was a dynamic change-of-pace back who offered versatility as a receiver out of the backfield and as a returner on special teams. Even Mitchell Trubisky, who did not have a fantastic rookie year, flashed plenty of promise and showcased a skillset that was hindered due to a lack of talent around him on offense.
Considering the fact that the group of rookies the Bears are bringing in this year are perceived to be better than their 2017 counterparts were at this time last year - and the fact that their coaching staff appears to be more creative than last year’s - one would be in their right mind to have high expectations for many of Chicago’s draft picks. Let’s take a stab at what numbers each draft pick will put up this year.
Stats: 15 games, 15 starts. 103 total tackles, two sacks, seven tackles for a loss, four pass deflections, one interception.
Roquan Smith is the safest pick that Bears general manager Ryan Pace has ever made in the first round. He’s also arguably the most talented prospect that Pace has ever picked.
Smith was the consensus top linebacker prospect in this year’s draft class, a title that is warranted to say the least. His combination of athleticism, intelligence, tackling ability and production made him a very attractive option within the first 10 selections of the draft. His skill set will allow him to start from Week 1 and make an immediate impact at the JACK inside linebacker spot for the Bears. Although there are a handful of very talented rookies on the defensive side of the ball, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Smith have the best season of them all.
Stats: 16 games, 16 starts.
The Bears had a big need at left guard entering the draft after they opted not to bring back Josh Sitton for the 2018 season. They exited the draft with one of the best and youngest interior offensive line prospects in the class in James Daniels.
Daniels is a perfect fit for Chicago’s zone-blocking scheme. He’s a great athlete for his size who has good lateral quickness and takes great angles to defenders in space. Although he played center in college, his move to guard will give him more opportunities to work in space, especially in a system like the one the Bears run. He has a high motor, as well, and he has shown flashes of having a nasty edge to his game. Daniels may need to bulk up a bit, as he played at 295 pounds in college. Given his athleticism and intelligence, though, he could end up making a fairly seamless transition to guard in his rookie year.
Stats: 16 games, 13 starts. 49 receptions, 607 receiving yards, three touchdowns.
The Bears made an aggressive trade up into the back end of the second round to add Anthony Miller to their already-revamped group of wide receivers. Although the price they gave up to get him was steep, it’s not surprising that they fell in love with them as much as they did.
Miller is a yards-after-catch machine who was irrefutably one of the best route runners in the 2018 draft class. His shiftiness and agility in space makes him an ideal fit for Bears head coach Matt Nagy’s West Coast offense. He will have to compete with the likes of Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Trey Burton and Tarik Cohen for touches, so he may not reach the eight touchdown bench mark that he set for himself. Still, he’s a very talented receiver who will have his chances to flourish in a perfect system.
Stats: 15 games, zero starts. 36 total tackles, two tackles for a loss.
The Bears’ selection of Joel Iyiegbuniwe was initially met with a lot of surprise, most of it related to the fact that most people didn’t know who he was. Over the past month or so, though, fans have started to come to terms with the pick and see a bright future in place for “Iggy”.
Considering the fact that Iyiegbuniwe will be fighting for snaps at inside linebacker with the aforementioned Smith, Danny Trevathan and Nick Kwiatkoski, it’s unlikely that he will make much of an impact on the defensive side of the ball, barring injuries to the incumbent starers. However, his athleticism makes him an intriguing special teams player, and he will likely see his fair share of opportunities come in the third phase.
Stats: 16 games, zero starts. 16 total tackles, 1.5 sacks, 3.5 tackles for a loss.
Chicago has one of the league’s best interior defensive linemen on their roster in 5-technique defensive end Akiem Hicks, but they lack a proven starter alongside him. That said, it wasn’t necessarily surprising to see them use a Day 3 pick on a defensive lineman, especially one with the upside of Bilal Nichols.
Nichols is an explosive lineman who played his fair share of nose tackle at Delaware, but will likely play as a 5-tech for the Bears. He can redirect blocks very well in the run game, and he flashed a bit of pass-rushing potential in his last two collegiate seasons, racking up 10.5 sacks in that time. He’s a bit stiff-hipped, and he has some issues with his balance, so he still has some work to be done before he can contribute on a consistent basis. Don’t expect him to put up a real fight to beat Jonathan Bullard and Roy Robertson-Harris out for a spot in the starting lineup, but don’t expect Nichols to be a total non-factor this season, either.
Stats: 12 games, seven starts. 29 total tackles, 4.5 sacks, six tackles for a loss, one pass deflection.
Out of the Bears’ four Day 3 draft picks, perhaps none has the potential to make an impact right away like sixth-round pick Kylie Fitts does. It doesn’t necessarily have to do with pure talent, but it has more to do with the situation that each player is entering.
Fitts will be fighting for reps at edge rusher with Sam Acho, a decent veteran who doesn’t really have any more potential to tap into, and Aaron Lynch, who has some upside but hasn’t played a full season since his rookie year in 2014. Fitts has dealt with his own injury problems over the past two seasons, but he has flashed the potential to be a starting edge rusher in the NFL. A good athlete with good first-step acceleration, bend off the edge and the ability to use hand techniques to shed blocks, he has more upside than any pass rusher on the Bears’ roster not named Leonard Floyd. Fitts needs to add a bit more upper-body strength and work on playing at full speed when he’s engaged with an offensive lineman, so he’s far from a finished product. However, it wouldn’t be shocking to see him starting in a few games and racking up a few sacks this season if he stays healthy.
Stats: 12 games, zero starts. 13 receptions, 179 yards, two touchdowns.
Javon Wims was the final piece of the puzzle in Chicago’s transformation of their wide receiver position this offseason. While his fellow additions at the position will likely make big contributions right away, Wims is unlikely to be a game-changer in his first season. He’s still a fairly raw prospect whose route tree needs a lot of work. However, don’t be surprised if he still manages to make his fair share of big plays.
Wims’ size, physicality, body control and his ability to high point the ball will likely see a couple of red zone targets come his way. He also figures to be a good insurance option at the X receiver spot if Allen Robinson were to go down with an injury. Although Wims probably won’t make a big splash this season, he will likely have a handful of chances to show off his potential.