The 5-1 Bears are off to their best start since 2012.
Their defense is playing at an extremely high level, and somehow, someway, the offense is doing enough to get by. With two consecutive quality wins in the books with the Buccaneers and Panthers, Chicago is sitting pretty at this point in the year, even if their wins haven’t been exactly that.
With the Bears having a need at quarterback and a first-round pick for the first time in three years, though, one can’t help but feel a little intrigued by the upcoming 2021 NFL Draft. After a couple of years of having to wait until Friday for the beloved to make their first selection, the Bears are on track to pick in Round 1, and they have many different avenues they can consider with the pick.
Much will change between now and the draft. The Bears will sign new free agents, have some players walk away, and even make a trade or two. However, for the sake of taking a look into the distant future, let’s take an early stab at what the Bears might do in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Note: Over the Cap has the Bears finishing with four compensatory picks, so all four of those selections are taken into account in this seven-round mock draft.
Round 1: Zach Wilson, QB, BYU
I will preface this pick by saying this: the Bears are currently slated to have the No. 29 pick according to Tankathon. If they end up picking there at the end of the year, then the chance that Zach Wilson will be available for them will be slim-to-none. However, assuming they pick a bit higher up in the order, the BYU quarterback could be a realistic option for them as they search for their next franchise signal-caller.
I’ve covered Wilson in my quarterback scouting report article listed above, but the more I’ve come to watch him, the more I’ve become enamored with him as a first-round talent. He may be the most mechanically-sound quarterback in the 2021 class, as he consistently throws with ideal weight distribution to his front foot and has a lightning quick release. He’s gotten more and more consistent with his accuracy and touch as the season has gone on, and his arm strength is definitely starting to win me over more than it did upon my initial viewing.
Could a quarterback like Wilson catapult into the top 10? I’m not so sure yet, as most analysts still have Trey Lance as the QB3 in this class, and Lance’s better physical tools could make him a more enticing option for teams willing to shoot for upside. As it stands right now, however, Wilson is more polished, and if he’s available for the Bears in the first round, they should take him by all means.
Besides, the last BYU quarterback the Bears drafted turned out to be pretty good.
Round 2: Alijah Vera-Tucker, iOL, USC
The Bears desperately need help along the offensive line, and if Germain Ifedi proves to be too expensive to re-sign in the offseason, then it would not be out of the question at all to see them add an interior offensive lineman early in the draft.
Alijah Vera-Tucker is a bit on the lighter side with 300 pounds on his 6-foot-4 frame, but he plays with the force of a man 25 pounds larger. He has great raw anchor strength that he gets the most out of due to his optimal pad level, his ever-churning legs and his ability to get his weight underneath him at all times. He also packs a nice pop at the point of attack and generally gets precise hand placement when he blocks.
Vera-Tucker has flexible hips, too, as he does a good job of making adjustments in his sets to square up to defenders and seal them off. Despite not being a premier athlete, he offers value blocking on the move, blocking with good body control and balance and knowing the best angles to take as a zone blocker, making him a good fit in the Bears’ system. He is also an intelligent blocker who is able to correctly identify which defenders to block in a zone, and he recognizes incoming blitzes and stunts very well and knows when to take them on.
A lack of elite lateral quickness in pass protection and the necessity to pack on a little bit more weight could see Vera-Tucker slip a little near the middle of Day 2, but he is a pro-ready guard prospect with the potential to develop into a reliable and steady force along the interior, and that’s exactly what the Bears need.
Round 3: Abraham Lucas, OT, Washington State
Ryan Pace has more or less completely ignored the offensive tackle position in the draft, and the results have given them a duo that has been regressing over the past two years. That turning of a blind eye cannot be the case any longer.
Chicago is likely going to draft a quarterback at some point in the 2021 draft—like they do in this mock draft—and if they want to put him in the best situation to succeed, they will go all-out in trying to protect him, thus making double-dipping on Day 2 a possibility.
A lot of this selection is riding off of Abraham Lucas’ 2019 tape, seeing as though the Pac-12 won’t resume football for another two weeks. However, off of that tape alone, he is worth discussing as an early-round pick.
Lucas brings a gargantuan frame at 6-foot-7 and 324 pounds, and he puts it to good use. His long wingspan gives him extended range in pass protection and allows him to easily lock out defenders with shorter arms and prevent them from getting their hands in between his shoulder pads. He packs a mean punch upon contact and has the anchor strength needed to neutralize a power rusher off the edge.
Former Washington State coach Mike Leach ran an Air Raid offense, meaning that Lucas has plenty of experience in pass protection: in fact, he was PFF’s highest-rated offensive tackle in pass protection in 2019. Despite being a bigger lineman, the soon-to-be three-year starter has impressive footwork as a pass blocker and has the quickness needed to beat a speed rush to the outside.
Lucas’ 2020 season in a new system will be a major benefit to his game: he doesn’t have much run blocking experience, and it shows. His pad level still needs some work, as he has a tendency to pop up high coming out of his stance. His technique and footwork when advancing into contact isn’t as polished as his form in pass protection, either. While this season will give him the experience necessary to fine-tune some aspects of his game, he has the physical upside and the potential to be a long-term starting tackle in the NFL, and the Bears could find that too enticing to pass up.
Round 5: Kadarius Toney, WR, Florida
If Allen Robinson leaves the Bears in free agency, then the wide receiver position would be a much bigger need than it currently is. Either way, though, they would be wise to add some talent to their group of weapons through the draft.
A utility man if there ever was one in the 2021 class, Kadarius Toney brings phenomenal athletic traits to the table. He is a dynamic force after the catch whose tremendous lateral quickness and vision past the line of scrimmage makes him a threat to break loose at any moment. For a 5-foot-11, 190-pound receiver, Toney is very tough to bring down, as he runs with a high motor and a low center of gravity to churn through arm tackles. He accelerates very well off the snap and has the deep speed necessary to stretch the field as a vertical target. He is also a versatile playmaker, having rushed for 360 yards from 2017 to 2019 and taken reps as Florida’s kick returner from time to time.
Before 2020, Toney was used as a rotational piece to relieve some of Florida’s more polished targets like Van Jefferson and Tyrie Cleveland, and that’s likely where he fits in the NFL early in his career. He doesn’t bring much physicality in tight windows, and his current understanding of leverage and altering his stems as a route runner isn’t where it needs to be yet. While the Bears could realistically take a wide receiver earlier than Round 5, Toney would be a fantastic get this late who would bring some more speed and big-play potential to their offense.
Round 6: LaBryan Ray, DL, Alabama
Though Eddie Goldman will be returning to the Bears in 2021, the team could be without numerous contributors along the defensive line, as Roy Robertson-Harris, Mario Edwards, Brent Urban and John Jenkins are all slated to hit free agency after this year. The odds are strong that one or more of the aforementioned players will be re-signed, Chicago will likely be in need of some more depth up front.
LaBryan Ray is an athletic interior defender who bursts off the snap well and has above-average mobility once he gets into space. He plays with a high motor and is willing to chase down ball-carriers in the open field and make a play in run support. Despite having a smaller, 292-pound weight for a lengthy, 6-foot-5 height, he can hold his own as a two-gap run-stuffer. He has shown some quickness in his hands and has the situational awareness in run support needed to know when to disengage with blockers and eat up a gap.
A big issue with Ray is durability: he has suffered two season-ending foot injuries and had only one full season of play on his resume prior to 2020. His lower-body drive as a pass-rusher can stand to improve, and his pad level will need a little bit of polishing at the NFL level. With his physical tools and upside, though, he could be a player who outperforms his draft stock, and he would give the Bears some nice burst and energy to their defensive line.
Round 6 (projected compensatory pick): Nick Eubanks, TE, Michigan
Jimmy Graham has exceeded expectations for the Bears this season, and the team seemingly has their long-term ‘Y’ tight end locked in with Cole Kmet. So why draft another tight end?
As good as Graham has been, he isn’t going to be around forever. He will be 35 by the time his two-year deal expires after the 2021 season, and the Bears don’t have a long-term ‘U’ option in place. Seeing as though rookie tight ends take a bit longer to adjust to the NFL game than most positions, the Bears may want to consider bringing in an understudy who better fits Graham’s skillset.
If you’re looking for untapped potential at the tight end position, Nick Eubanks is your guy. Entering 2020 with just 35 catches, 461 yards and 5 touchdowns in his collegiate career, the redshirt senior is a physical specimen just waiting to be molded. He has an ideal frame at 6-foot-5 and 256 pounds and complements that size with tremendous athleticism for a tight end. He bursts well off the snap and has great flexibility in his lower body and sharpness in his routes. Eubanks is a natural hands catcher with great ball skills and the route-running IQ to leave opposing defenders susceptible to cuts.
He won’t offer you much as a blocker, as his strength and technique on running plays are both a work in progress. With his frame and value as a pass-catching tight end, though, he could fit as a developmental ‘U’ to give the Bears a potentially dangerous one-two punch in a few years.
Round 6 (projected compensatory pick): Garret Wallow, ILB, TCU
The Bears’ inside linebacking duo of Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan has been picking up steam in recent weeks—Smith has been playing at a Pro Bowl level, while Trevathan has rebounded from a slow start to the year—but their depth at the position is still questionable, at best.
This year’s linebacker class is a stacked one, and Garret Wallow is an underrated prospect I have my eye on early in this pre-draft process. He broke out with 125 tackles in 2019, reaching double-digit tackles seven times in 12 games. He is an athletic linebacker who has plenty of agility in space and the speed needed to beat a running back to the edge on a run to the outside. A former safety, Wallow brings upside in coverage, with a nice frame at 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds and the fluidity needed to keep up with tight ends and, in some cases, running backs. When he diagnoses a play correctly, that quick processing combined with his quickness makes him a tough player to block.
Wallow is still improving his processing speed, as he can occasionally fail on executing proper run fits and can be a split second too late to make a read on a play. He can also still add a little bit of muscle to his frame to help him out at the line of scrimmage. He projects as a special teams standout early on and a potential starter down the line, and the Bears would certainly be aided by the presence of an up-and-coming backup linebacker on their roster.
Round 7 (from Miami via Atlanta): DeAngelo Malone, EDGE, Western Kentucky
A team should generally take the best player available in every round of the draft, but that rings especially true in the later rounds, when you aren’t looking as much for Day 1 contributors as you are long-term developmental pieces and players who can actually make the roster. With Barkevious Mingo only on a one-year deal, the Bears could look to find a rookie who has a similar style of play.
A prospect I talked about in our Non-Power 5 prospect preview, DeAngelo Malone exploded with 11 sacks and 20.5 tackles for a loss for Western Kentucky in 2019 and has two sacks and 6.5 tackles for a loss through five games in 2020. He’s an extremely athletic edge rusher who bursts off the snap with great quickness and plenty of flexibility in bending and turning the corner. He has dangerous speed as a backside defender and is able to kick it into another gear when he closes in on ball-carriers. The 2019 C-USA Defensive Player of the Year offers fluidity and agility on stunts and brings upside dropping back in coverage, even though he doesn’t have much experience there yet.
The big drawback about Malone is strength-related: he’s 6-foot-4 and just 230 pounds, and he has a skinny frame that can struggle with getting overwhelmed at a Group of 5 level, so significant adjustments to both his anchor strength in run support and his upper-body strength will need plenty of work. While he doesn’t project as a full-time starter due to said limitations, his athleticism and high motor could make him an intriguing rotational piece and a special teams wizard down the line.
Round 7 (projected compensatory pick): Otis Anderson, RB, UCF
The Bears’ Southeast area scout Sam Summerville has found plenty of success on Day 3—Eddie Jackson, Tarik Cohen, Darnell Mooney, and Deon Bush are among draft picks from his region—so this pick could come down to trusting his evaluations and finding a sleeper prospect from down south. It wouldn’t take Billy Mays to have to sell Matt Nagy on a dynamic running back with special teams versatility and pass-catching talent.
Otis Anderson started off his time at UCF as a wide receiver, and that experience is apparent in how he contributes in the passing game. He is a natural hands catcher who brings tremendous route-running abilities to the table, both out of the backfield and lined up in the slot. He does a great job of attacking leverage points in coverage, opening up the cornerback’s hips with subtle footwork and sinking hard into his cuts.
As a runner, Anderson has impressive breakaway speed and has the lateral quickness necessary to make defenders miss in the open field. He has shown some promise in regards to how he waits for plays to develop out of the backfield and identify running lanes in a zone-blocking scheme. It doesn’t hurt that he has experience on special teams, either—he was UCF’s primary return man in 2018 and 2019 and returned a punt for a touchdown last year.
While Anderson doesn’t bring much in the way of power or tackle-breaking ability—he’s only 5-foot-11 and 174 pounds—he makes up for it with athleticism and third-down value. He likely wouldn’t get drafted early since he doesn’t project as much more than a complementary backfield piece, but the Bears would likely be able to get some good use out of him in a variety of ways.
Round 7 (projected compensatory pick): Mark Gilbert, CB, Duke
With a pick this late in the seventh round, you might as well take a shot on a prospect with a high ceiling, regardless of what concerns they might bring. That prospect in this case is Mark Gilbert, a talented cornerback with an injury history that could knock his draft stock down significantly.
When Gilbert has been on the field, he has been an absolute force on Duke’s defense. Back in 2017, he finished with 6 interceptions and 15 pass deflections as a true sophomore, and he picked up right where he left off in 2020, intercepting a pass in his second game back. He is a lengthy cornerback prospect at 6-foot-1, and he showcases ideal athleticism on the boundary, in his burst coming out of his breaks and showing off the fluidity necessary to play shutdown man coverage.
Gilbert does a good job of reading the eyes of the quarterback while simultaneously being able to recognize route concepts that his opponents are running. This combination of athleticism and intelligence makes him a threat to make a play on the ball nearly every time he’s targeted.
There is an obvious drawback in Gilbert as a prospect: he played in just two games in 2018 due to a left hip injury and missed the entirety of the 2019 season recovering from the corresponding surgery. He has also only appeared in two games in 2020 as of this writing, having undergone surgery to remove a loose bone fragment in his right foot.
With all of those durability concerns—as well as a lack of top-notch physicality, tackling skills and a skinny, 175-pound frame—Gilbert faces tall odds to actually be drafted at all in 2021. However, the Bears can afford to take a risk on upside in the seventh round, and it’s hard to say there are many players who will be available that have the upside that he has.