Three quick thoughts on this inevitable development:
There is a belief in some older-school league coaching circles that somehow young players benefit from starting as third-stringers and working their way into the starting lineup over the laborious period of training camp. When Parcells and Walsh were on the sideline, sure, I’d buy it. But now? Coaches are too limited in the amount of time they can put their hands on players. They get so little actual field time with their starters, never mind the rookies. The smart staffs recognize talent and insert that talent into the starting lineup immediately. Let the kids play themselves out of that spot.
This should have happened last season with Mitch Trubisky but the Fox coaching staff was gutless. Because they did not recognize the MASSIVE talent gap between their starter and third-stringer, they botched what could have been a terrific year of development for the kid. (It could be argued the Bears simply waited a year too long to follow the Eagles model.)
Am I getting excited about Matt Nagy? Yep. I’m trying not to, because most of this stuff doesn’t matter, but I just like everything happening around the 2018 Chicago Bears right now.
Come back Monday morning to read big-picture analysis of the front office’s approach to these three days. For now, here are the newest members of the Chicago Bears with a quick blurb from yours truly.
Round 1 – Roquan Smith, ILB, Georgia
Honestly, ten years from now, fans should be debating where Smith ranks among the great middle linebackers in Bears history. That’s what an organization should expect when drafting a player at this position this high. Ryan Pace needs this to be Roquan’s defense for the next decade plus.
Round 2 – James Daniels, C/G, Iowa
Immediate starter. The Bears now have one of the league’s best interior o-lines (Daniels-Whitehair-Long) and one of the league’s three finest offensive line coaches. If he stays healthy, Jordan Howard may find himself in the MVP conversation this season.
Round 2 – Anthony Miller, WR, Memphis
A text from a friend in the league: “He was the highest wide receiver on our board.” The Bears gave up a lot to get Miller and will put a lot on his shoulders quickly. Expect him to start in the slot in the opener against Green Bay.
Round 4 – Joel Iyegbuniwe, ILB, Western Kentucky
This most interesting pick of the week for Pace. If the Bears intend to play him inside, he’ll have a near-impossible time getting on the field. But he profiles similarly to Brendon Ayanbadejo – a solid defensive depth piece who excels on special teams. (If he sticks I’m sure I’ll need to Google the spelling of his name just as many times as I did Ayanbadejo’s in his career.)
Round 5 – Bilal Nichols, DT, Delaware
Akiem Hicks wore down in 2017. Eddie Goldman has an injury history. Nichols is being drafted to work steadily into the rotation and give these two great players a breather. In 2017 he simply devoured blockers in the middle of a 3-4 line. In 2016, according to Mike Mayock, he showed burst and acceleration getting to the quarterback. Rarely should one have expectations for a fifth-round pick. In this case, have some.
Round 6 – Kylie Fitts, Edge, Utah
Worth the risk for an athlete this impressive at a need position off the edge. Fitts has a terrific chance to be a real contributor to this Bears defense if he stays healthy. The problem? He’s rarely healthy. But it’s the sixth round. Why not?
Round 7 – Javon Wims, WR, Georgia
A big dude who consistently makes highlight reel catches. Can he separate from pro corners? Doubtful. But with his size and speed, it’s impossible to rule him out of having a plausible chance to make some kind of impact in 2018.
Selecting Roquan Smith with the eighth pick of the first round was an absolute no-brainer for Ryan Pace. Taking my favorite player in the draft? Icing on the cake.
What did others have to say about the pick? It’s being universally praised. Two things I have heard from a source inside the Bears.
(1) The team was genuinely surprised Roquan became available. There was an assumption by Pace & Co. that Smith wasn’t going to make it by Indianapolis and the team had begun zeroing in on playmaking DB Minkah Fitzpatrick.
(2) Last three first round picks? Georgia. North Carolina. Georgia. The Bears lean heavily on their southeastern scouts and we should all take note.
“I know Vic and his staff will maximize this player, and that’s what’s exciting about it,” Pace said after the first round concluded. “Vic’s been around a lot of good linebacker play, and this just adds to the great linebacker play the Bears have had as well.”
Pace called Fangio’s input “very important” on Smith.
“This is obviously one of Vic’s top players, [and] one of Matt’s top players, my top player,” Pace said. “We might have 10, 12, 15 grades on a guy, and it’s so comforting for me when I can look at that bandwidth of grades and they’re all right next to each other.
“That’s definitely how Roquan was, so it makes the pick really easy when we’re all unified like that.”
Smith fits Fangio’s mold for inside linebackers. At 6-1, 236 pounds, he’s built similarly to former 49ers star Patrick Willis (6-1, 240). And that’s just the start.
Smith’s instincts, range, speed and tenacity, and his take-charge demeanor off the field, also fuel comparisons to Willis, who was a tone-setting, five-time All-Pro in the middle of Fangio’s elite 49ers defenses. Pace said the Smith has “outstanding intangibles.”
From my two high-profile league sources:
A current league GM: “The perfect Bear middle linebacker.”
Former NFC personnel man, freelancing for an AFC team this off-season: “Told you several times over the last few weeks. This is my favorite defensive player in the draft. He’s a sure thing.” (He’s not lying. This individual’s praise is the primary reason Roquan became my favorite player in this draft.)
There is now so much draft shit available it’s hard to make sense of any of it. Hell, even here there’s more than in the previous ten years combined thanks to the efforts of Data and Andrew. So I won’t pepper this yearly column with too much detail. Instead, here’s who I love in this year’s draft. If you look back historically, these guys usually tend to be pretty good in the league.
5. Troy Fumagalli, TE, Wisconsin
He’s battling a sports hernia, limiting his ability to do much for the pro scouts in draft lead-up, but the Aurora native should be healthy for the start of the 2018 season. This kid can play at the next level. He’s not going to be a star but he’s going to be a steady, tough contributor. He’s a poor man’s Heath Miller. And he’s going to fall too far in this draft.
I’m a firm believer that good football players don’t need excuses. Josh Allen and Sam Darnold have excuse makers littered throughout the football media but ultimately both just weren’t good enough in college.
Washington was great. 226 catches in four years. Nearly 4500 yards. 39 touchdowns. And he got better every season. Hopefully Washington ends up on a team with a strong-armed QB who will be able to utilize his ability to completely destroy the back-end of a secondary.
Side note: I’ve Tweeted several times that I don’t like the quarterbacks in this draft. That’s only semi-true. I like Mason Rudolph and Luke Falk as mid-rounders who’ll contribute in the league for a long time.
2. Quenton Nelson, Guard, Notre Dame
A few years ago I wrote that Aaron Donald was far-and-away the best player in the 2014 draft. That was based purely on his football playing, nothing else. Not cones or sprinting in spandex or his work on the pommel horse. When one watched him play, one saw an NFL star.
Nelson is exactly the same player on the other side of the line. If Chris Ballard lets him by the Colts at #6 Thursday night, he’s insane. (But don’t worry, his friends in the press will still celebrate him as a genius.) If Ballard passes, Andrew Luck should sucker punch him in the building Friday morning.
Nelson is the best player in this draft.
1. Roquan Smith, ILB, Georgia
Pursues the ball carrier like Harry Carson.
Ability to get sideline-to-sideline is Urlacher-esque.
Coverage ability reminiscent of young Derrick Brooks.
6.5 sacks his senior year showed he can get into the backfield and wreck havoc.
The only player in the 2018 draft I’m hoping ends up in a Chicago Bears uniform. This kid is special.
Trying to figure out who they’re targeting in the 2018 draft has me stumped. I came to the three conclusions above by looking at all of the evidence I could find and asking what made the most sense.
Picking eighth, the Bears surely aren’t going to be able to get the player they surely want and need most, edge Bradley Chubb. One must also operate under the assumption that running back Saquon Barkley will be gone.
There seems to be a good chance that four quarterbacks go within the first seven picks, but if they don’t, the top guys on this list might be gone. It’s also possible that the Bears trade back, which is why the list is more than eight players deep.
There are some good players that are going to be available. The problem I’m having is that I can construct a really strong argument against all of the top candidates. Still, one sticks out as the most likely simply because it makes the most sense.
The draft is coming and the mocks are rolling in. Here are some projections for the Bears’ first-round selection. As has been proven in the Ryan Pace era, the chances of these being correct are not good.
The Bears wisely noted a weak crop of wide receivers in the draft and instead used free agency to provide young quarterback Mitchell Trubisky with some weapons to throw to.Now they are free to shore up the offensive line with Nelson, who I feel is the best prospect in this class, regardless of position.It also doesn’t hurt that Nelson’s college offensive line coach Harry Hiestand now holds the same position in the Windy City.
Nelson is a mountain of a man with outstanding strength and power, but also surprising athletic and nimble when pulling and blocking in space. What really sets Nelson apart though is his aggressiveness, nasty on-field temperament and desire to finish blocks. I don’t throw my “Elite” grade around lightly and this year Nelson and Penn St. RB Saquon Barkley were the only two prospects to earn that label.In fact, Nelson is the best true offensive guard prospect I’ve seen in my two decades of covering the NFL Draft.
If Nelson is gone or they want to go in another direction, keep an eye on Virginia Tech OLB Tremaine Edmunds.The young, athletic, rangy ‘backer has actually been compared to Bears great Brian Urlacher due to his well-rounded skill set and upside.
Under Ryan Pace, the Bears have primarily targeted great athletes at positions of need in the first round. After the Combine, there’s no reason to expect that to be different this year. Here is how I suspect the team’s Big Board may look, as of today, with the assumption that top players like Bradley Chubb, Saquon Barkley and Minkah Fitzpatrick will already be off the board.
10. Da’Shawn Hand, DL, Alabama
It’s entirely possible that the Bears are sick of waiting for Jon Bullard to emerge. There’s no reason Bullard shouldn’t have been starting over Mitch Unrein in his second season, but it didn’t happen. The Bears need a third stud up front so they don’t run Akiem Hicks into the ground.
9.Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama
Ridley came in a bit smaller than expected and didn’t test very well, coming in the seventh SPARQ percentile. That doesn’t mean he can’t be a good receiver, but it’s unlikely that he’ll be a great one and probably not worth a top 10 pick. Still, he could be a good option for the Bears if they were to trade back into the middle of the first round. More likely, their best bet will be addressing the receiver position in free agency.
8. Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State
Doesn’t have the size or length the Bears look for at cornerback but he’s such a great athlete, they could overlook that. Generally thought to be the best CB in the draft.
7. Quenton Nelson, OL, Notre Dame
There’s a lot to be said about taking a guard in the top 10 but much of it could be moot if a team were to switch Nelson to tackle. Regardless, I don’t think the Bears would’ve hired the best offensive line coach in the world to take an already-polished guard in the top 10. Harry Hiestand gives the Bears the ability to take a guard in the mid-round and count on him developing into a stud so they can use their premium picks on premium positions.
6. Harold Landry, Edge, Boston College
This is my personal favorite option for the Bears but he falls just short of their arm-length standard. Landry’s arms measured 32.875 inches and if you look back at Pace and Fangio’s recent histories, you’ll see that 17 of the 19 defensive line and edge players their teams have drafted have had arms measuring at least 33 inches with the only exceptions being late round picks. Is Landry close enough? I hope so, but the evidence suggests otherwise.