Coming off what looks to be a promising 2016 draft class, Bears general manager Ryan Pace will attempt to stockpile more young talent in this year’s draft, which will take place in Philadelphia April 27-29.
Unlike in 2016 when Pace had nine draft picks to operate with, he currently only holds seven selections this year and that number could go down if the GM pursues a quarterback like Jimmy Garoppolo via trade. For now, as we enter Year 7 of my Bears Mock Drafts, we’ll operate with the idea that the Bears still need to address the quarterback position and may need to find a replacement for wide receiver Alshon Jeffery.
As I do every year, I’ll remind you that the point of this exercise is not to successfully predict who will be wearing a Bears uniform next season. Rather, it is to simulate possible ways in which the Bears could execute their draft selections this year. The picks are not based on what I think the Bears will do — they’re based on what I think the Bears should do based on my own evaluations. Pace and the Bears’ scouting staff may agree with me on some of these picks (Jordan Howard and Deiondre’ Hall come to mind from last year), and they’ll inevitably laugh at some others (like putting safety Jeremy Cash in the second round a year ago). Such is the NFL Draft evaluation process — the debates are endless.
Let’s get to the picks:
1st round, No. 3 overall — S Jamal Adams, LSU (6-2, 213 pounds)
Alabama defensive lineman Jonathan Allen would probably be the safest pick the Bears can make here, but for a safety, Jamal Adams is pretty safe too. Some will say No. 3 overall is too early to draft a safety, but those people probably haven’t watched Chicago Bears safeties over the last decade.
I’ve been advocating for an impact, first round safety in these mock drafts for years and the Bears keep ignoring the position. As urgent as the Bears’ quarterback need is, Vic Fangio’s defense desperately needs a game-changing safety — a locker room leader who can cover sideline-to-sideline, jump up in the box to make big stops and (most importantly) create takeaways. Adams does all of that. He’s a big, long safety who has the speed and athleticism to play deep, but also the want-to and physicality to play up in the box when needed. His knack for fighting through traffic is impressive and he can cover tight ends too. Those who I talked to said Adams was a big-time leader for LSU and he’ll instantly have a similar role in the NFL. He has the confidence and playmaking ability the Bears lack in their secondary.
2nd round, No. 4 (No. 36 overall) — WR Zay Jones, East Carolina (6-1 7/8, 202)
Wide receiver might not be the Bears’ biggest need, but how soon people forget that the second half of 2016 was littered with big drops in key situations by special-teamers like Josh Bellamy and Deonte Thompson. Sure, a wide receiver trio of Alshon Jeffery, Kevin White and Cam Meredith sounds good, but will Jeffery even be back? Will White ever be the player he was supposed to be? The first question should be answered by the time the NFL Draft comes around, but it’s going to be a while before we know the answer to that second question.
So with that in mind, meet Isaiah “Zay” Jones, who is the all-time FBS receptions leader and caught 158 — 158! — passes at East Carolina in 2016. How does one catch that many passes in a single college football season? Well, because they threw him a lot of short slants, bubble screens and tunnel screens, which means he still needs to prove he can run NFL routes and be a go-to deep threat at the next level. Fortunately for Jones, he already answered all of those questions at last month’s Senior Bowl where he was a match-up problem in practices all week and delivered in the game with three big-time touchdown catches (officially, two of them didn’t count because of a penalty and the lack of replay in the game).
Jones has hands made of super glue and while he might not have top-end speed and misdirection, he high-points the football and plays bigger than he really is. He’s a high-character player who seems determined to prove his doubters wrong. Jones really helped himself at the Senior Bowl and would be a great pick early in the second round.
3rd round, No. 3 (No. 67 overall) — CB Rasul Douglas, West Virginia (6-2, 204)
It’s no secret the Bears need a ball-hawking cornerback and Douglas might be the best option still available early in the third round. At 6-2, 204, Douglas has incredible length at the position and his playmaking ability was on display in 2016 with eight interceptions. So why would he still be available in the third round? Well, his speed and agility are average for an NFL corner, so he’s going to need to win with his technique. Watching Douglas’ tape, he appears to be more comfortable playing zone, even though his lengthy frame projects well to press-man. In other words, like most third-rounders, he needs some work. With coaching though, Douglas and second-year corner Deiondre’ Hall would give the Bears two long, intriguing young corners to work with this fall.
4th round, No. 4 (No. 108 overall) — TE Gerald Everett, South Alabama (6-2 3/4, 227)
Zach Miller is a good pass-catching tight end, but injuries are still a concern and he’s entering the final year of his contract at 32 years old. The Bears need more depth at the position and a more reliable longterm option.
Gerald Everett measured in a little shorter than I was expecting at the Senior Bowl, but he still proved to be a matchup problem for linebackers and safeties. He’s your typical wide receiver-like tight end who used to play basketball, but he’s a surprisingly willing and effective blocker at his size. Will that blocking hold up at the NFL level? It’s a fair question, but the effort in that area isn’t lacking. Everett needs some work as a route runner and will take at least a year to blossom, but he has a lot of potential as pass-catching tight end who creates matchup problems for opposing defenses.
4th round, No. 10 (No. 114 overall)** — QB Davis Webb, California (6-4 5/8, 229)
I admittedly remain torn on Davis Webb. In fact, after three Senior Bowl practices, I ranked him behind Pittsburgh’s Nate Peterman and wrote: “I don’t think I would take him before the fifth round.” But that was before the actual game, in which Webb looked considerably better than Peterman. Webb has a cannon of an arm, but his accuracy is a big question mark. He also played in Texas Tech’s and Cal’s air-raid offenses and will need time to adjust to an NFL system.
Let’s be honest here: If you’re waiting until the fourth round to draft a quarterback, you’re probably not going to draft another Dak Prescott. Prescott is the exception, not the rule. But in this particular mock draft, we haven’t addressed the quarterback position yet so in this spot I’m going to take the guy who has ideal height to go along with an NFL-caliber arm. From there, I hope my coaches can develop him.
5th round, No. 3 (No. 148 overall) — DE/EDGE Tanoh Kpassagnon, Villanova (6-6 7/8, 280)
Given the Bears needs, multiple positions are going to be feel ignored in the draft no matter which direction they go. In this case, I’ve gone from nearly drafting Jonathan Allen at No. 3 to ignoring the defensive line until the fifth round. Such is the NFL Draft.
By the fifth round, every prospect is going to have legitimate questions and weaknesses, so I’m looking at a project with upside and good character in this spot. Tanoh Kpassagnon (Tawn-oh pass-N-yo) reminds me a lot of Willie Young, not just in his physical stature, but also in that Young was an overlooked seventh round round draft pick (with similar questions about strength and explosiveness). After his Senior Bowl performance, I don’t think Kpassagnon will fall that far and he would make a lot of sense for the Bears in this spot. Young has already proven that a tall, lengthy defensive end can work as a versatile edge rusher in Vic Fangio’s defense and that’s probably the best way to hide some of Kpassagnon’s strength and balance deficiencies on the line of scrimmage. I like Kpassagnon a lot as a developmental prospect who can learn under Willie Young while he puts on some muscle and adjusts to a big jump from the FCS to the NFL.
7th round, No. 3 (No. 226 overall) — DT Stevie Tu’ikolovatu, USC (6-1 1/8, 350)
No joke, Stevie Tu’ikolovatu (Tooey-kolo-vah-too) was living out of his car near the beach last summer after he transferred from Utah to the USC. Due to a transcript issue, he couldn’t move into campus housing, so he just chilled by the beach as he got ready for training camp. It’s a crazy story.
What matters more to the Bears is that Tu’ikolovatu can play. There are a couple things going against him as he’s short and already 25 years old (which is why he could fall to the last round of the draft), but he’s also a guy who I think can come in and play relatively quickly. Is he destined to be a Pro Bowler? Probably not. But the Bears need depth on their defensive line and I think Tu’ikolovatu can backup Eddie Goldman at nose tackle and contribute a bunch in sub-packages, which are used the majority of time in the today’s NFL anyway. He’d be a solid addition this late in the draft.