The Bears find themselves in a solid position heading into Week 6.
At 3-2 and coming off of a strong win on the road against the Raiders, they are in the thick of the playoff hunt early on in the season. Though they face a daunting schedule in the weeks to come, the Bears appear to have built some momentum after winning their last two games and could be in line to come away with an upset or two before their bye week.
That optimism aside, it’s clear the Bears are still a work in progress.
Justin Fields serves as a tremendous cornerstone to build around going forward, and there have been some young pieces on both sides of the ball who have played very well in recent weeks. There are some glaring holes on the Bears’ roster, however, and with fairly limited draft capital at this stage of the draft process, management will have to get creative in trying to upgrade the roster with young talent this coming offseason.
So, get creative we shall.
To provide an early look at some intriguing prospects for the 2022 NFL Draft — as well as to shine a light on some potential needs the Bears might have this offseason — I decided to craft a 7-round mock draft. So much is still up in the air, such as the play of certain prospects down the stretch and the literal draft order itself. This exercise is more just to provide a nice basis to go off of when our draft coverage at WCG starts to ramp up in the next few months.
Here are some early predictions as to what the Bears could do with their current draft capital in the 2022 NFL Draft.
Round 2: John Metchie III, WR, Alabama
6-foot, 195 pounds
Darnell Mooney is the only active roster wide receiver the Bears have under contract beyond this season. Needless to say, there will likely end up being some new faces in their receiver room next year.
Here’s what I wrote about John Metchie III when I previewed potential targets the Bears could have in Round 2 in the 2022 draft:
John Metchie leads Alabama in receptions as of this writing, and it’s no surprise Bryce Young has come to rely on him often this year. The wideout is a crafty route runner who does a great job of utilizing different variations of releases off the line of scrimmage and has an acute understanding of how to attack leverage points in coverage. He is explosive coming out of his breaks and has good deep speed to stretch the field vertically. With the ball in his hands, he is elusive and tougher than one would expect for his size.
Many saw Metchie as a first-round talent heading into the 2021 season, but the general consensus has seen him slip a little bit with the emergence of Alabama teammate Jameson Williams. That could be good news for whatever team ends up drafting Metchie at a discounted price, as he has the potential to be a quality starting receiver at the next level.
Round 3: Garrett Williams, CB, Syracuse
5-foot-11, 184 pounds
Jaylon Johnson’s rise from talented rookie to legitimate CB1 has been impressive to watch this season, but the Bears have struggled at the cornerback position outside of him. Their defense has been very good this year, but an upgrade at corner would go a long way towards improving their long-term outlook.
If you want an intelligent cornerback with a knack for disrupting plays, Garrett Williams is your guy. The redshirt sophomore — who is technically still a freshman because of added eligibility due to COVID — had 2 interceptions and 9 pass deflections in 2020 and has notched 6 break-ups in five games thus far in 2021. His ball production is aided greatly by his instincts, as he has an acute understanding of route concepts and is able to mirror the movements of receivers accurately. Williams is a very good athlete with a flexible lower half and the fluidity coming in and out of his breaks to stay with shifty receivers in coverage.
Williams likely doesn’t have the size or physicality to stick on the boundary, but with Johnson on the Bears’ roster, he wouldn’t need to. The Syracuse standout’s game would be a strong complement to what Chicago currently has in place.
Round 5 (via Houston): Ricky Stromberg, C/OG, Arkansas
6-foot-4, 316 pounds
The Bears would be wise to scour the center market for an upgrade this offseason, whether that be in free agency or the draft. Sam Mustipher has struggled to kick off the 2021 season, and given their lack of an internal replacement option, they might end up pursuing a center after the season ends.
Drafting Ricky Stromberg would give the Bears a versatile blocker who could even step in at guard should James Daniels depart in free agency, as the Arkansas blocker has starting experience at all three interior offensive line positions. He packs good raw power into his frame, showcasing a powerful jab at the initial point of contact and offering the anchor strength to prevent defenders from pushing the pocket. He generates leverage well with his hands and does a good job of getting his weight underneath him and his pads low. Though not the fastest blocker in space, he does a good job of rolling his hips through contact as a down blocker to seal off running lanes.
A general lack of athletic upside could hinder Stromberg’s draft stock a bit, as his lateral quickness and burst in a straight line appear underwhelming on tape. For a team looking for a refined center prospect, though, he could be a player worth monitoring.
Round 5: Braxton Jones, OT, Southern Utah
6-foot-5, 303 pounds
The Bears have a lot up in the air at the offensive tackle position, even though their current starting duo of Jason Peters and Germain Ifedi hasn’t been half bad most of this year.
The aforementioned two tackles and Elijah Wilkinson all hit free agency after the season, Teven Jenkins’ bill of health is a concern, and Larry Borom hasn’t proven enough in the regular season to warrant deeming him a future starter yet. It wouldn’t be shocking if the Bears took a tackle earlier than Round 5, but Braxton Jones is still a highly slept-on talent with sneaky starting upside.
Jones broke onto my radar with strong performances against San Jose State and Arizona State to kick off this season, but he has been dominating long before that. A three-year starter at Southern Utah, Jones packs serious physical potential. He has lengthy limbs and a long frame that aid him at the point of attack and while covering ground as a vertical set pass protector. Jones offers good upper-body strength at the point of attack and does a good job of churning his legs to drive defenders back. He is also a very good lateral athlete for a tackle, as he bursts well in his kick slide and has the lower-half flexion needed to redirect and neutralize any inside cutbacks against him. He accelerates well off the snap when climbing to the second level, as well.
Aside from the obvious competition concerns, Jones’ stock could be affected by his being a waist-bender at the point of attack and a skinnier frame for an offensive lineman that might not hold up as well as it does in the FCS. A player with his upside is definitely worth taking on a shot on as a developmental prospect, though.
Round 6: Verone McKinley III, S, Oregon
5-foot-11, 196 pounds
With just five draft picks as it currently stands, it would be incredibly difficult for the Bears to address every one of their needs in the 2022 draft. However, considering how much Sean Desai has rotated safeties so far this year — as well as the impending free agency periods of Tashaun Gipson, Deon Bush and DeAndre Houston-Carson — it might be wise for Chicago to consider adding more depth to their secondary.
For a three-year starter on a Pac-12 powerhouse that has 8 interceptions in his last 25 games, Verone McKinley III has fallen under the radar more than he arguably should be in draft circles. He is a rangy safety with fluid hips, great straight-line speed and very good explosiveness in his lower half. Versatility is a major calling card of his game, as he takes reps at Oregon in single-high shells — both up high and underneath — two-high shells, as a nickel cornerback or as a box defender. His route-recognition ability allows him to regularly pick up route concepts and read the eyes of the quarterback to break on a route quickly and make a play on the ball.
McKinley is a bit undersized, and that shows in his game at times. He doesn’t offer much physicality as a tackler, and he struggles at the catch point due to a lack of top-notch play strength. As a prospect as versatile and athletic as he is on the back end, however, the Bears would be wise to give him a shot should he be available late.