NFL free agency is just a few weeks away, and this year should be one of the most unpredictable free agency periods in recent years.
With numerous high-profile quarterbacks, intriguing offensive players and prominent defenders slated to hit the open market, this year’s class has its fair share of difference makers to choose from.
A team’s needs now will likely look quite different from their needs once the first few waves of free agency reach a conclusion. Whether it be because of departing starters, the re-signing of their own free agents or the arrival of new, big-name additions, much will change over the next month or so.
Even with a lack of premier cap space, this will ring true for the Bears, who have a handful of needs and a few contributors who could leave for other teams in March.
They have several different ways they can attack free agency this year, and those decisions will impact their strategy for the 2020 draft in April. For now, though, it’s a fun exercise to take a stab at what they might do in the draft given their current needs.
In my previous two mock drafts, I went with the approach of drafting a tight end and a cornerback with the Bears’ two second-round picks, with said tight end pick being Purdue’s Brycen Hopkins both times. For the sake of mixing things up, I will take a different approach and see how things turn out. However, as is the case with my last mock draft, I do have a trade projected here.
Round 2 (via Las Vegas): Julian Okwara, EDGE, Notre Dame
Whether or not the Bears draft an edge rusher this early depends on if they deem Leonard Floyd worthy enough of a sizable extension. While their 2016 first-round pick is a valuable and versatile part of their defense, they could look to replace him with someone cheaper if they find his lack of sack production alarming.
Floyd’s value comes mostly as a length and athletic edge rusher who can drop back in coverage and also provide value in run support, and a lot of that also applies to Julian Okwara, who had 13 sacks and 19.5 tackles for a loss in his final two seasons in college. At 6-foot-4 and 248 pounds, the Notre Dame product carries a frame that has good length and has room to potentially add some more weight. He is a top-notch athlete off the edge, accelerating well off the snap and moving with admirable flexibility and fluidity in space. He rushes with a high motor, has great range as a tackler, and has shown some promise in regards to his hand usage.
Okwara, the brother of Lions edge rusher Romeo Okwara, could stand to get stronger, as his anchor strength and power in his hands need some improving. A broken leg suffered in November could see him fall to Round 2, and given the athletic upside he possesses, he could be a player worth considering if he’s available when the Bears pick.
Round 2: Tyler Biadasz, OL, Wisconsin
The Bears have a gaping hole at the right guard position, and though this year’s group of guards isn’t very good, they could find some creative ways to fix their need along the interior offensive line.
Tyler Biadasz was a three-year starter at center for Wisconsin who won the Rimington Award in 2019 for being the best center in college football. The 6-foot-3, 316-pounder is an intelligent blocker who can pick up blitzes well and clear out running lanes in zone-blocking situations. He is an impressive athlete for his size who has great lateral quickness, ideal acceleration to the second level and good agility when utilized as a pull blocker. He also understands leverage incredibly well, consistently getting inside hand placement and sinking his hips into contact.
Though Biadasz is a natural center, his skill set indicates he could be a quality starter at right guard. If the Bears want an instant starter who can be a reliable force for years to come, then drafting Biadasz could be an outside-the-box way of finding that guy.
Round 4 (via Indianapolis, projected trade): Harrison Bryant, TE, Florida Atlantic
Drafting a tight end early is a very realistic option for the Bears. However, if they want to address other needs in the second round, they could very well take advantage of this deep tight end class and take one outside of Day 2.
A recent riser up many draft boards, there’s a chance Harrison Bryant won’t be available in the fourth round, and if it were up to me, he certainly wouldn’t be. If he were available to kick off Day 3, though, I could see the Bears trading up for him. That’s why I have them giving their sixth-round pick from the Jordan Howard trade with Philadelphia, as well as their seventh-round pick from Las Vegas to the Colts move up in the fourth round, leaping ahead of tight end-needy teams like the Cowboys, Steelers and Patriots.
The 6-foot-5, 240-pound Bryant was the only tight end in the FBS to top 1,000 receiving yards this year. He is a natural athlete who runs routes with good body control and solid fluidity on the seam. He stems routes well and has shown intelligence in his ability to attack leverage points in man coverage, as well as his identification of soft spots in zone coverage. Bryant’s breakaway speed and toughness after the catch are admirable, and he has the upfield burst to be a vertical threat coming out of the slot.
Though not a polished blocker or incredibly physical player, the upside Bryant brings as a receiving tight end is palpable. If the Bears find themselves enamored with the philosophy of waiting on drafting a player at tight end, then he could be an enticing prospect for them to consider.
Round 5: Lynn Bowden Jr., WR, Kentucky
Wide receiver isn’t necessarily a big need for the Bears, but if they cut Taylor Gabriel to save money, they could look to add some speed to the position through the draft.
Many likely know Lynn Bowden as the dynamic quarterback for Kentucky who ran for 1,468 yards and 13 touchdowns, but he was a wide receiver for much of his collegiate career - and a good one at that - and that’s where he’ll play at the next level. He possesses a good frame at 6-foot-1 and 199 pounds, and he brings good physicality as a runner and as a receiver battling in tight windows. As one would expect, he’s a dynamic athlete with great lateral agility and vision as a ball-carrier. and he has shown ideal body control across the middle of the field. His experience at multiple positions—including as a returner, where he had 2 touchdowns in 2018—gives him plenty of gadget potential.
Because he had to play quarterback for most of the 2019 season, Bowden missed out on a lot of crucial reps at receiver, which would have helped out his route-running technique, ranging from his hand usage in man coverage to the sharpness in his cuts. However, his size, athleticism and versatility make him an intriguing Day 3 pick, especially in Bears coach Matt Nagy’s offense.
Round 6: Reggie Robinson, CB, Tulsa
As opposed to the top-heavy approach to the cornerback position I’ve taken in previous mocks, we’ll assume here that the Bears opted to go with Kevin Toliver, Tre Roberson and a mid-to-late-round rookie to compete for the starting spot alongside Kyle Fuller.
Reggie Robinson earned an invitation to the Senior Bowl after tallying 4 interceptions and 13 pass deflections this past season. The 6-foot-1, 197-pound corner is a lengthy defender who brings plenty of physicality along the boundary. He packs a powerful punch in press at the line of scrimmage and maintains focus when attacking the ball in physical man coverage. Robinson has good ball skills and can make tough adjustments to the ball in mid-air. His tackling ability has some promise to it, as he has good raw strength in his frame and takes smart angles to the ball carrier.
Robinson’s ceiling is fairly limited, as he doesn’t have very good deep speed, and his acceleration coming out of his breaks is subpar when compared to many prospects in this draft class. The Bears need a player who can complement Fuller’s off-man and zone oriented playing style, though, and Robinson’s strengths would make him a good piece to bring into their starting competition.
Round 7: James Morgan, QB, Florida International
Assuming the Bears look to add a veteran quarterback during the free agency period, the odds they would draft one early on would be slim to none. However, taking a late-round flier on a signal-caller late on Day 3 might not be a bad idea.
James Morgan has plenty of starting experiences at the collegiate level, as he was a two-year starter at Florida International after starting in 12 games in two seasons at Bowling Green. He has a lean frame at 6-foot-4 and 213 pounds, which has some more room to gain 10 to 15 pounds. His throws have some good heat behind them, as his velocity allows his passes to fit into tight windows. Morgan’s overall sense of anticipation and timing is commendable, and he has the raw arm strength to deliver a fastball off-base or in a collapsing pocket.
As is the case with many collegiate quarterbacks, Morgan is primarily a one-read quarterback who forces throws and can make some bad decisions. His footwork under pressure isn’t all that great, and his composure in the pocket could use some work, too. For a late-round pick, though, he has some upside worth tapping into. The Bears met with him at the East-West Shrine Bowl, so using a seventh-round selection could be a reasonable decision.