Even after the first few waves of free agency, NFL teams still have their needs.
And in a process that began in January, NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein has an updated look at each team’s needs. With draft order as a guide, Zierlein surveys rosters and highlights the team’s biggest areas of concern. For the Bears, Zierlein has defensive back, offensive line, and tight end as the three biggest needs.
Even though the Bears added to those areas in free agency, no player was signed for longer than three years.
That leaves the NFL Draft to find long-term solutions …
- The Bears’ focused approach in free agency seems to have opened up a new level of flexibility when it comes to the draft. Former NFL scout Greg Gabriel writes at CBS Chicago that the Bears’ early activity in free agency allows for more options on draft weekend. The Bears signed eight new players in the first three days of free agency, adding starting caliber-players at quarterback, receiver, tight end, safety, and cornerback in the process. However, because these players are on short-term contracts with big guarantees paid up front, players acquired in the draft could be the long-term fixes at positions in which they might go up against a free agent addition.
- For example, the Bears could nab a cornerback, safety, defensive lineman, or even a quarterback early in the draft. Further, the depth in the draft along the defensive line and in the secondary could allow the Bears to find impact talent in the second, third, or even fourth round. All because of their approach to start free agency. Here’s hoping GM Ryan Pace and the rest of the front office makes the most of it.
- HOWEVER, this cuts both ways. Because the draft is deep (at every position but quarterback, unfortunately) it could keep the Bears from parlaying the number three pick into multiple selections. CSN Chicago’s John Mullin writes that while reducing positional needs in free agency has added to the Bears’ flexibility, the inability to trade down could prohibit further streams of improvement. Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune makes note of that angle too, but also adds that the team holding the third pick has traded down eight times since 1980 – and only three times since 2000. Even though it has happened twice in the last five years, both deals turned out to be busts with the Dolphins drafting pass rusher Dion Jordan and the Browns picking running back Trent Richardson. In any case, it’s a tough break for the Bears to get a premium draft pick that no other team seems interested in acquiring.
- The Bears haven’t drafted a safety in the first round since picking Mark Carrier in 1990, but ESPN’s Jeff Dickerson notes the Bears have drafted safeties at some point in each of the last three drafts. Adams, then, could be the player who changes that trend after starting in 26 games across three seasons at LSU – featuring an All-SEC first-team nomination, five interceptions, two forced fumbles, and countless bone-crushing hits. If the Bears believe in Adams’ talent and upside, ESPN teammate Todd McShay has him going to the Bears with the third overall pick in one of the latest mock drafts. And he’s not alone.
- On the other hand, Adams isn’t the only safety with a fair amount of upside. Over at CBS Chicago, Chris Emma offers up details on Adams and some of the other safeties in a deep and talented class. Ohio State’s Malik Hooker looked to be a high first-round lock before labrum and sports hernia surgeries knocked him out from participating at the NFL Scouting Combine. For what it’s worth, Hooker is jogging again and progressing well in his rehab. Connecticut safety Obi Melifonwu was observed under the Bears’ watchful eye at the Senior Bowl, and could be a target too. Though, Emma points out that the Bears might need to trade into the back end of the first round to draft the UConn defensive back because of his rising stock.
- Melifonwu is among the players NFL executives believe could surprisingly sneak into the first round come April. NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah asked five league executives which player (or players) will be surprise first-round selections, and their answers feature some familiar names who were once believed to be picked after the first round. Senior Bowl standouts such as Melifonwu and East Carolina wide receiver Zay Jones are seeing their stock rise as we get closer to the draft.
- And finally, if you’re looking for depth on the offensive side of the ball, look no further than tight end. According to Pro Football Focus, there are eight tight ends among the site’s top 100 prospects, but only one player (Alabama’s O.J. Howard) with a clear first-round grade.
A look at TE O.J. Howard compared to his 2017 draft class peers.
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) March 15, 2017