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Chicago Bears Post-draft mailbag: Scheme fits, free agents, and more!

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The 2020 NFL draft is behind us. Now, teams will look to finalize their 90-man rosters before (hopefully) heading into Training Camp in 2020. Your questions answered here!

NFL Combine - Day 3 Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The Chicago Bears are officially through the 2020 NFL draft process and now will look to finalize their 90-man roster before heading into Training Camp this summer. Despite the Bears having just two picks in the first four rounds of the draft, they came away with multiple Year 1 contributors, including their top two picks in tight end Cole Kmet and cornerback Jaylon Johnson.

With the draft in the rear view mirror, there are still questions to be answered before we get to actual football being played. While the draft (and the off-season as a whole) can be used to plug holes, most teams go in with question marks to camp and the preseason. The Bears are clearly one of those teams, but may not be in as bad of shape as some view them to be in.

Since a lull in the overall action in coming for NFL fans everywhere, this is a great time to see if we can try and solve some of the dilemmas the Bears roster still currently has.

I’ve actually seen this talked about quite a bit throughout Bears Twitter since the draft, and I would personally say, no.

When looking at Arlington Hambright, he was a solid offensive tackle at Colorado, but due to lack of length, he’s going to have to transition to the interior. Due to his body type, I think that it’s going to take a year or two for him to truly bulk up and gain enough strength to become a good fit on the interior.

Then there’s LaChavious Simmons, who general manager Ryan Pace has said can play both guard or tackle. Despite coming from a small school (Tennessee State), I actually think he possesses the higher ceiling. He’s already got an NFL body and he’s a very physical blocker with above average athleticism.

Regardless, I don’t think either of these names will be in a true competition for the starting right guard spot. I think that’s between Germain Ifedi and Rashaad Coward, with Alex Bars on the outside looking in (more on that in a minute).

It appears I’m in the minority here, but I was actually pleasantly surprised with Pace’s overall draft haul. It’s always tough when you go into draft weekend with two picks in the first four rounds and no first round pick.

I wasn’t a giant fan of the Kmet pick, but it’s also easy to see why they liked him and how he fills a need. I thought Johnson was about as good as you can get at the middle part of the second round as well.

When looking at the rest of the draft, there’s some obvious upside with a few players—namely their trio of fifth-round picks— that are worth keeping an eye on.

With that being said, Johnson is the easy answer for me.

When I was on ESPN radio Monday afternoon breaking down the draft class, I made a comparison that I think will hold true over the next few years. That comparison is to the selection of (then) fourth-round pick Eddie Jackson. The Bears gambled on health with Jackson after he went from being a top 30 talent and fell to the fourth round. I truly believe the Bears took a similar, albeit not as drastic chance, with Johnson due to medicals.

When watching Johnson play at Utah, he stood out as the best defender on the field on a loaded defensive unit. His ability to play both man and zone is a big value, but most of all his aggressive nature allows him to be a consistent play maker. I would actually argue that as pure prospects, I liked Johnson more than Kyle Fuller coming out of Virginia Tech. That’s how high of a ceiling I think Johnson has.

He’ll have every opportunity in the world to win the starting job opposite Fuller and I absolutely think he does (barring health).

At this point — despite what we all wanted to see them do — I think the Bears are content moving into the 2020 season with Nick Foles and Mitchell Trubisky as their two rostered quarterbacks, with Tyler Bray hanging on the practice squad... Again. Now, I’m not saying that’s the right decision, but the team had multiple opportunities to take a developmental arm throughout the draft and refused to do so.

In some ways I understand it. They didn’t want to burn limited resources on developing a backup that could potentially turn into a starter. On the other hand, it continues to be hard to look back on Pace talking about drafting a quarterback each year and realize he has done that just once.

Ultimately, the Bears have just not been in a very good position to take a quarterback with their lack of draft capital. At this point, the hope has to be that one of Foles or Trubisky can provide enough over the next year or two to allow them enough time to take another early-round shot at a quarterback once they’ve regained more picks, namely in the first round.

So, to answer your question- I don’t think they are overly focused on looking at any quarterback until after the 2020 season.

I would absolutely expect the Bears to transition Stephen Denmark to the safety spot, namely something closer to the box where his height and big hitting ability can bring value.

Coming from Valdosta State, Denmark was always going to be a project with upside. He spent last year on the practice squad and I could absolutely see the same thing happening this year. The way I look at his addition last year was more than the Bears didn’t want to risk fighting for him as an undrafted free agent, so they spent a seventh-round pick on him instead.

He’ll face stiff competition and it also wouldn’t shock me if they move former CFL star Tre Roberson to safety as well to create some competition on the back end of the position, with cornerback being stacked up in that regard.

I’m personally in the camp that the Bears need to add veteran depth/competition at a few spots. Running back and safety are absolutely two of those spots, along with inside linebacker.

At running back, David Montgomery and Tarik Cohen are clearly the two players that will see the majority of snaps, but someone with some scheme familiarity like Spencer Ware or (my personal favorite) Corey Clement could make some sense. I would also not be opposed to someone like DeVonta Freeman or Carlos Hyde, but I would guess both of those guys may want a better shot at playing time than what the Bears could offer.

At safety, there are still some interesting names out there. With that being said, I’m starting to get the feeling that they are much more comfortable with Deon Bush starting than most fans are. Myself included on the lack of comfort.

If they do choose to go the veteran route, Tony Jefferson is the one who makes the most sense. When healthy, he’s still one of the better in the box safeties that, by his own admission, wants to play close to the line of scrimmage and be able to blitz more often. The big issue with him right now is the torn ACL and PCL he suffered last season. According to a source close to the situation, he’s not likely to be cleared until close to training camp, which could mean the Bears would have to give this another month or two before seriously considering this option.

Eric Reid, Reshad Jones or even recently cut Teshaun Gipson could also make sense on a cheap one-year deal. Albeit, all of these names mentioned are likely to want a fair shot at the starting job. Which to me, is completely justified.

NFL: AFC Wild Card-Los Angeles Chargers at Baltimore Ravens Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

After Monday’s release of former undrafted free agent Dax Raymond, the Bears are currently down to nine tight ends.

The current names include: Jimmy Graham, Kmet, Demetrius Harris, Adam Shaheen, Ben Braunecker, Jesper Horsted, J.P. Holtz, Eric Saubert and Darion Clark.

I would classify Graham, Kmet and Harris as “locks” to the roster, barring injury.

I would also say that Clark faces little-to-no chance of making the final 53-man roster.

That leaves Shaheen, Braunecker, Horsted, Holtz and Saubert to fight for one, maybe two roster spots. My personal guess is that they end up keeping five, due to Holtz’ versatility as a fullback. Which also really means that four players are battling for one spot.

The Bears would save $1.271 million by cutting Shaheen and $1.469 million from Braunecker. Both of these being June 1st cuts because there’s a solid chance both make it to training camp before that decision is made. Now, I don’t think that money will play a large factor in making a decision, but this just goes to show that the Bears could pick up some cap space by cutting one, if not both players.

If it’s me, I go upside for that final spot and that would be Horsted for me. It’s actually quite incredible how Horsted transitioned from receiver to tight end, missed the majority of camp and some of preseason and yet still had some impact in the last half of the 2019 season. I see reasonable upside with him, which is why I’d go with Graham, Kmet, Harris, Holtz and Horsted as my final five names at the tight end position.

It’s likely that I’ll be in the minority here, but I think there’s a larger chance that Bars doesn’t make the roster than it is that he wins the starting right guard job. Don’t get me wrong. I was a Bars fan in last year’s draft, but part of that was due to his familiarity with former offensive line coach Harry Hiestand. With that out the window, I’m not sold the Bears like him better than Coward at this point.

The more than likely scenario is that Coward and Ifedi will fight for the starting job, with the loser being the primary “swing guard”. Especially when you add in the team’s pair of seventh-round selections last weekend, there won’t be a ton of margin for error when it comes to making the right decisions on who to keep.

Much like the question with Bars, I think the Bears are comfortable enough—barring injury of course— to go into training camp and the regular season with what they currently have on the depth chart.

Ultimately, I think two of the three (Ifedi, Coward and Bars) will make the roster, with the loser being released. I don’t think adding another failed first round pick to the mix does the Bears much good at this point. If anything, I actually think it may further cloud the competition at the position. Especially when you considering that there’s likely to be no off-season programs until (at least) Training Camp.

Long story short, I don’t think this is the time to add more veteran competition at the position when you look at what they already have to figure out on the depth chart.

EDITOR: Fluker signed with the Ravens.

Health is always going to play large part in any unit’s overall success from season to season. Depth also plays its role — as seen by last year’s inside linebacker group — but as a whole, I think the Bears defense could be better by default due to getting Akiem Hicks back and adding a better pass rusher in veteran free agent signing Robert Quinn in March.

When you go back and look at the big differences from 2018 to 2019 (outside of the change at defensive coordinator), one stat really stands out to me, sacks. In 2018, they had 50 total sacks and last year they had just 32.

The big difference between the two years? Outside of Hicks’ injury and Mack’s down year in the sack category, it had everything to do with their lack of edge rushers getting to the quarterback.

In 2019, edge rushers not named Mack had just three total sacks and those came from Leonard Floyd. Aaron Lynch did add two, but both came from playing on the interior. The previous year was a different story, though. Despite Mack and Hicks combining for 20 total sacks, they had 8 total sacks come from other edge rushers.

So while adding a veteran at safety wouldn’t be a bad idea, I think the biggest change they made from 2019 was simply adding a more prolific pass rusher in Quinn and drafting an upside player in Trevis Gipson.

As of me writing this (on Tuesday afternoon), the Bears have made just 11 total undrafted free agent signings.

Those names are as follows:

Offensive Line: Dieter Eiselen (Yale) and Badara Traore (LSU)
Running Back: Artavis Pierce (Oregon State) and Napoleon Maxwell (FIU)
Tight End: Ahmad Wagner (Kentucky)
Defensive Line: Trevon McSwain (Duke), LaCale London (WIU) and Lee Autry (Mississippi St.)
Edge Rusher: Ledarius Mack (Buffalo)
Linebacker: Rashad Smith (FAU) and Keandre Jones (Maryland)

By process of elimination, I would say that running back, defensive line and linebacker are the three positions where there’s an open shot to make the roster.

From what I’ve seen of Pierce, I really think he has a shot to make the roster. Even if the team opts to keep three running backs, I could see him giving Training Camp hero Ryan Nall a run for his money at the third running back spot.

The other name I’m going to keep an eye on is McSwain. Despite being a little smaller than ideal for a normal five-technique spot, he possesses a lot of upside and could push for that final spot on the defensive line.

After being a bottom five offense in 2019, a lot of the focus from fans has been on the offensive side of the ball and rightfully so. Yet, when you look at what the Bears have done from a personnel standpoint, it’s been a pretty even distribution of assets on both sides of the ball. With the quarterback addition being the primary focus.

That tells me that both head coach Matt Nagy and Pace saw coaching and certain holes to be a bigger issue than anything else.

The biggest changes outside of Foles came from the coaching staff. They brought in Bill Lazor (offensive coordinator), John DeFilippo (quarterback coach), Juan Castillo (offensive line coach) and Clancy Barone (tight end coach). This tells me, they saw coaching and/or scheme fits as a higher priority than almost anything else.

In a lot of ways, it appears that Nagy wants to get back to his “roots” with familiarity. That has been an Andy Reid staple and something — to a certain extent — Nagy somewhat broke the mold on when he was hired in Chicago with some of his hires.

I would expect to see a more Reid-style offense. A more zone-specific rushing attack and a more balanced reliance on both the “U” and “Y” tight end spots. The hope — at least from what it appears — is that familiarity will help keep Nagy grounded within his offensive scheme and creativity.

While I see why they are doing this, I’ll say this, without vastly better quarterback play none of this will matter.