The Tuesday after the Super Bowl has become sort of a holiday for me, and hopefully also for some of my regular readers. This is the first year my Bears mock drafts will appear on WGNRadio.com, but for those of you who have followed me over from CBSChicago.com, you know that this is the fifth year that I have put these together. Like last year, you can expect four of these leading up to the draft: one at the beginning of each month, with a bonus edition the week of the draft.
Before we get to the picks, I’ll give the usual spiel I do every year: The point of this exercise isn’t to successfully predict who will be wearing a Bears uniform next season. Rather, it’s to simulate possible ways in which the Bears will execute their draft selections this year. The picks I make 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. The Bears’ scouts may agree with me on some of these picks, and they’ll inevitably laugh at some others. Such is the NFL Draft evaluation process — the debates are endless.
Most of the players I profile over the next three months won’t be wearing a Bears uniform next season, but one or two of them might. Kyle Long, Alshon Jeffery, Christian Jones, Stephen Paea and Gabe Carimi are all examples of players appearing in these mock drafts who ended up on the Bears. Again, that’s not the point of this exercise, but it does happen.
So, with that out of the way, let’s get to the picks:
(Note: The Bears traded their fifth round pick to the Broncos to trade up for safety Brock Vereen in last year’s draft. Also, exact numbers for “overall” picks after the third round have yet to be determined because of compensatory picks that still need to be announced.)
1st Round, No. 7: QB Marcus Mariota, Oregon (6-4, 215 pounds)
There will be much debate about whether or not the Bears should use the seventh overall pick on either Marcus Mariota or Jameis Winston if one or both are still available. The Bears’ defensive needs are exorbitant, but then again, they have a quarterback problem and that’s the most important position on the team. Top 10 picks are rare, and when you have one with a good quarterback available to you, I believe you have to take a swing.
At this point, it’s debatable as to whether or not Mariota will still be available at No. 7, but there’s a realistic chance he is. Some scouts have major doubts about whether or not his game will translate to the next level and now Mariota is also dealing with a sprained AC joint in his shoulder that kept him out of the Senior Bowl and could limit him at the NFL Combine.
This I know: Mariota is the smartest quarterback in the draft. His leadership skills are off the charts. Teammates rave about him as a teammate and look up to him for his work ethic. In this regard, he’s exactly what the Bears need at the quarterback position.
As for Mariota’s on-field performance, he has a very strong arm and also shows good touch when needed. The accuracy is a question mark and will need to be tightened up by whichever NFL coaching staff gets its hands on him. But Mariota’s speed, athleticism and scrambling ability will be a luxury at the next level, especially because he doesn’t sacrifice ideal quarterback size. Concerns about his durability as a scrambler are overblown because, like Russell Wilson, he only scrambles when he has to or is asked to by the play caller.
As for the concerns about his game translating to the NFL, it’s hypocritical to laud Mariota for his intelligence and then say he can’t make the transition to a pro style offense. I have little doubt he can learn how to take snaps from under center, master the footwork on a drop and get through his progressions. Chances are, this has already happened in the last few weeks. Mariota’s skills still fit a pro style offense and if there’s any quarterback in this draft who can quickly pick up a new scheme, it’s Mariota.
Like many scouts, I believe Mariota would benefit from a year of NFL coaching before he’s anointed the starter (unless, of course, he proves he ready). 99.9 percent of quarterbacks coming out of college would benefit from that type of development. But that’s another reason why the Bears are a great fit. Drafting Mariota would certainly get the attention of Cutler, providing him with some legitimate competition for the first time in his career. The Bears could then be patient with Mariota, giving him the time he needs to develop.
2nd Round, No. 7 (No. 39): FS Cody Prewitt, Ole Miss (6-1 1/4, 212)
If you’ve been reading these mock drafts over the last five years, you know I value good tape over good measurables/potential. I’m willing to take the smaller player who has very little poor tape over a raw player who happens to have perfect size, but has yet to prove himself.
Well, in Cody Prewitt’s case, he has great tape, but doesn’t sacrifice the measurables at the free safety position. Simply put, he’s a football player. I love football players. At Senior Bowl practices, his instincts really stood out to me (i.e. sniffing out a reverse and meeting a ballcarrier in the backfield). You can tell he’s an experienced player. His ball skills are good and he shows up all over the field.
The reason why he might still be available early in the second round is because he’s not going to be a very versatile safety. He’s your typical one/two-deep safety who’s not going to mix it up much in the box. During pass rush drills at the Senior Bowl, Prewitt was manhandled by tight ends and running backs, often getting caught between moves. With some good coaching, he can become an effective blitzer, but patience will be needed.
Still, Prewitt fits what the Bears need, as Ryan Mundy was effective in the box last season and Brock Vereen is better suited as a nickel corner, in my opinion.
3rd Round, No. 7 (No. 71): OLB Lorenzo Mauldin, Louisville (6-3 5/8, 256)
With the Bears moving to a 3-4 defense, they need linebackers. A lot of them.
Some have pegged Mauldin as a second-rounder, but he looks stiff in coverage with tight hips, which is why I would wait until the third round. That said, he looked dominant in Senior Bowl practices when he was moving forward and has great size for a 3-4 edge rusher. Maulden made the successful switch from a 4-3 defensive end to a 3-4 outside linebacker as a senior, as Louisville changed schemes. He also has a strong connection to the Bears, as assistant Clint Hurtt was his defensive line coach at Louisville. Hurtt served as the Bears’ assistant defensive line coach last season, but with the switch to the 3-4, he’ll now coach outside linebackers, which is where Mauldin projects at the next level.
4th Round, No. 7: WR Jamison Crowder, Duke (5-8 1/8, 174)
The Bears’ return game came to a screeching halt in 2014 after letting Devin Hester go. Forget the 20-yard-line, the Bears couldn’t even get the ball past the 16-yard-line regularly until they found Marc Mariani late in the year.
Crowder is a dynamic returner who also happens to be a good wide receiver. His small size will keep him from being draft early (in fact, he came in a full inch shorter at the Senior Bowl than he was listed at Duke), but he has tremendous hands and a good offensive coordinator will find a way to work him into the offense.
2014 proved that it’s difficult to just sign kick/punt returners off the street. You need to draft them, and Crowder would be a steal in the fourth round.
6th Round: No. 7: ILB Hayes Pullard, USC (6-0 1/4, 236)
I didn’t know much about Pullard before the Senior Bowl, but he stood out to me in North team practices. He’s a little small and can get lost in traffic, but he looked like a tough, physical player who fills gaps and doesn’t shy away from taking on much bigger blockers. One particular play that stood out to me in Mobile was when Pullard quickly read a run-play, bounced right off of Duke right guard Laken Tomlinson (who had a great week of practices) and stopped the running back cold in the backfield.
Pullard played inside in USC’s 3-4 defense as a senior and he’d be worth the Bears taking a chance on in the sixth round.
7th Round: No. 7: ILB Ben Heeney, Kansas (6-0, 230)
Heeney is your classic overachieving football player who will be able to keep a job at the next level, even if it’s just as a special teamer. To me, he’s a poor man’s Chris Borland, someone whose motor is always running and always giving max effort. He’s not as athletic as Borland, so he probably won’t make as many impact plays (especially against the pass), but Heeney will be a solid run defender who exceeds expectations. The Bears need a lot of linebackers and given the few inside linebackers worthy of an early round pick, taking both Pullard and Heeney late would be wise.