The Bears did not invest many high draft picks on the defensive side of the ball last month, outside of top selection Roquan Smith. But there’s a good chance the team will need multiple rookie defensive players – all acquired day three or later – to play prominent roles in they want to be an elite unit in 2018.
- Smith is a given. His ability to cover all parts of the field is something the Bears haven’t had since Brian Urlacher and, like Urlacher, the general expectation is that Smith will be one of the top rookies in the league.
- Kylie Fitts is going to have the easiest path to the starting lineup. Sam Acho and Aaron Lynch have proven to be nothing more than journeymen and Fitts has the ability to be a top-tier pass rusher. If not for a series of injuries in college, he would’ve been selected significantly higher in the draft. While much of the focus is on pass rush, Bears scout David Williams said the team thinks Fitts can play the run from Day One and has upside as a pass rusher.
- Another Bears scout, Chris Prescott, was confident in Bilal Nichols:“You’re talking about a guy you expect year one to come in and probably immediately backup at all three positions,” Prescott told the team website. “I think this is a guy who can come in and help you right away.” Nichols has the size and strength to take on blocks in the NFL and combines that with rare athleticism for the position. Nichols is bigger than current projected starting defensive end Jonathan Bullard and nearly as athletic. With Roy Robertson-Harris being smaller and not likely able to take on blocks in the team’s base defense, Nichols could be Bullard’s primary competition for a starting job. Even if he doesn’t start, Nichols will probably take the role Bullard had last year, playing 25 to 50 percent of the snaps weekly.
- On paper it doesn’t look like fourth-round linebacker Joel Iyiegbuniwe has a clear path to playing time, but nobody should be surprised if he ends up seeing the field quite a bit on more than just special teams. Like Smith, Iggy has rare speed for the position and the Bears used a pretty big draft asset to get him, taking him with the 115th pick. The team surely views Iggy has the eventual replacement for Danny Trevathan and that could happen sooner than most think. Trevathan is a good player, but has suffered major injuries nearly every other year in his career. Since becoming a starter in 2013, Trevathan has played all 16 games just once in his career. He missed nearly the entire season in 2014 and half the season in 2016. Last year, he played 12 games. Saying there’s a good chance the Bears are going to need Iggy is an understatement. It’s almost a guarantee and the Bears seem to want it that way.
It isn’t just the draft picks who could play quite a few snaps. Out of the 15 undrafted free agents the Bears brought in, four were defensive backs. While they have some safety depth with recently drafted players, cornerback remains a big question mark.
Each of the Bears top three cornerbacks has missed significant time with injuries in recent seasons. Prince Amukamara and Bryce Callahan haven’t been able to stay on the field in their careers. UDFA’s such as Kevin Toliver II from LSU and Rashard Fant from Indiana could challenge for the top backup jobs behind them.
While many expected the Bears to spend more premium assets to finish rebuilding their defense, the guys they did come away with could all have a major impact in 2018.