While the Chicago Bears are trending upward after last week’s overtime win against the Baltimore Ravens, I still find myself browsing college football on a Saturday in an attempt to keep an eye on the top talents who will potentially be available in the 2018 NFL Draft.
With that in mind, Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller recently updated his big board of top prospects where the No. 1 player isn’t a quarterback. There are three quarterbacks in the top five, but Penn State running back Saquon Barkley is the top contender for the No. 1 pick as of this moment.
Not that this is much interest to the Bears right now, seeing that their Week 6 win dropped their odds of landing the draft’s top selection from 7 percent down to 2 percent. Still, knowing this team has flaws should allow us to think openly about what kind of player GM Ryan Pace should have his eyes on next spring.
There are two offensive linemen – Texas tackle Connor Williams and Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson – in Miller’s top 10, with Nelson’s Fighting Irish teammate Mike McGlinchey making it three offensive linemen in the top 25. Alabama’s Calvin Ridley is the only receiver in the top-25, which is a departure from Miller’s September rankings that had Ridley, SMU’s Courtland Sutton, and Texas A&M’s Christian Kirk all in the top-25.
There is plenty of time for players to step up and make their mark, but it’s never too early to keep your eyes open.
- Not that there’s any correlation or causation here, but it’s worth noting the Bears defensive secondary has found some stability since Miller’s latest mock draft sent Alabama safety Minkah Fitzpatrick their way. The Bears defense has been surprisingly good, but Mark Potash of the Chicago Sun-Times writes there is still much work to be done. The Bears have allowed the 12th fewest total yards, but opponents have averaged the eighth most points. However, nose tackle Eddie Goldman isn’t concerned about stats, telling Potash: “Once I do my job, plays will come.”
- Defensive Coordinator Vic Fangio doesn’t have much time for stats either, writes Chris Emma of CBS Chicago. “To me, it’s just what your eyes tell you,” Fangio said. “Not what stats tell you.” To be fair, the eyes are telling me a lot more about the Bears defense than I would have expected. Improved secondary play led by young safeties Adrian Amos and Eddie Jackson stands out as the team has improved to 20th with a 90.7 passer rating allowed after being ranked among the league’s worst earlier in the season. Stability along the defensive line with Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman, and an improved Mitch Unrein has offset some of the injuries at the second level to Willie Young and Jerrell Freeman. Obviously, the Bears need to do it again and again to prove they’re no fluke. But they’re in a better position now than they were a few weeks ago.
- At some point, the other phases need to step up and match what the defense is doing. JJ Stankevitz of NBC Sports Chicago writes the special teams unit is one of those groups that needs to get it together. Jeff Rodgers’ special teams have had their struggles, and they’ll only be amplified with an injury to Sherrick McManus. Benny Cunningham’s hamstring injury could open the door for some changes in the return game, with Tarik Cohen taking over as the lead kick returner and Eddie Jackson sliding into a role returning punts.
- Speaking of special teams, this is some interesting outside-the-box thinking:
Left-footed P Brock Miller has tryout today with Bears. Why? Their opponent, Panthers, have lefty P, Michael Palardy. Practice for returner.
— Howard Balzer (@HBalzer721) October 20, 2017
- Cam Newton is an interesting personality and a colorful wardrobe, which makes his press conferences must-see-TV. However, Newton didn’t speak with the press at all this week leading up to Sunday’s Bears-Panthers game and the NFL is looking into why that happened. The league requires all players to be available to reporters at least once a week during the regular season, as well as after games. Whether Newton speaks to reporters after Sunday’s game at Soldier Field remains to be seen. Maybe a postgame press conference would allow for Newton to share what’s been on his mind all week.
- Joe Person of the Charlotte Observer tweets one of Newton’s favorite targets is probable to play on Sunday. It appears as if wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin will be ready against the Bears after head coach Ron Rivera told reporters Benjamin had a good day at practice and ran all his routes. Benjamin will go up against a secondary that featured two players who were on Pro Football Focus’ Team of the Week for last week’s games. Safety Adrian Amos has filled in quite nicely for the injured Quintin Demps, while Kyle Fuller played the game of his life against the Ravens as he fought off 15 targets.
- It’s possible center Ryan Kalil joins Benjamin on the playing field this week. Kalil has missed five games with a neck injury, but told the Charlotte Observer he was a “full go” and excited to return to practice. The Panthers have started Tyler Larsen at center in Kalil’s absence.