The Chicago Bears made the most of the seven picks they made over the three-day, seven-round, 256-pick marathon that was the NFL Draft. So much so, GM Ryan Pace was praised for his work after two days and the perception of the team’s direction (not to mention draft grades) is better now than it was this time last year after capping a winning offseason with a productive draft.
To be clear, it’s too early to give the Bears – or any team, for that matter – a firm grade, but we can dissect what went down in Arlington, Texas at Jerry World.
ROUND 1, PICK 8: LINEBACKER ROQUAN SMITH, GEORGIA
After trading up in the last two drafts, the Bears stood pat and were still able to draft a top-5 talent with the eighth pick. Smith is everything you want out of a linebacker prospect. The 2017 Butkus Award winner and All-American is a tackling machine with speed to burn and instincts that allow him to be the kind of playmaker the Bears need in the middle of the defense. Smith might be the prototype middle linebacker for years to come and the hope is he is the next great inside linebacker who stars for the Bears.
ROUND 2, PICK 39: JAMES DANIELS, OL, IOWA
The dream of drafting Quenton Nelson died when the Colts took him with the sixth overall pick, but that didn’t mean there weren’t good interior offensive lineman to be drafted. Chicago used its first second-round selection on Daniels, a center at Iowa who will transition to guard at the next level. Daniels gained experience at all three spots along the interior line while playing for the Hawkeyes before settling in at center.
Daniels was a three-year contributor at Iowa who played as soon as he stepped on campus, including a start at left guard in the Rose Bowl. The versatility and ability to adapt quickly to a new position Daniels showed in college should help him as he goes down that road again in the NFL.
ROUND 2, PICK 51: ANTHONY MILLER, WR, MEMPHIS
The Bears entered draft weekend with no third-round picks, but that became irrelevant when Pace swung a deal with the Patriots for a second second-round selection. It’s a deal that came at the cost of a 2019 second-round pick and the Bears’ first fourth-round pick (No. 105 overall), but no one will think twice about it if Miller becomes the player he is projects to be. Miller was a big-play pass-catcher for Memphis, who hauled in 96 catches for 1,462 yards, and 18 touchdowns en route to earning All-American honors last season.
Miller plays with an edge and has a knack for extending plays with high-end run-after-the-catch skills. He played inside and out at Memphis, which gives Matt Nagy’s offense that much more flexibility.
ROUND 4, PICK 115: JOEL IYIEGBUNIWE, LB, WESTERN KENTUCKY
This is where the Bears’ draft gets tricky, and it has little to do with the finger gymnastics it takes to correctly spell Iyiegbuniwe without missing a vowel. Chicago figured to be in the market for linebacker depth after parting ways with Jerrell Freeman and allowing Christian Jones to sign with the Lions in free agency. However, choosing Iyiegbuniwe was something of a head-scratcher.
Iyiegbuniwe has his strengths. He is a sure-handed tackler with a knack for creating turnovers. Iyiegbuniwe also has special teams experience, which is certainly valuable – especially when you consider who that group has struggled in recent years. It’s not that Iyiegbuniwe is a bad player. After all, he picked up a team-leading 117 tackles and was first-team All-Conference USA last season. It’s just that his selection came out of left field when the team had other, more pressing needs.
The Bears seemed set at inside linebacker with Smith and Danny Trevathan as starters, while Nick Kwiatkoski, John Timu, and John Anderson holding it down and were providing depth and starting experience. I suppose you can’t have too much depth at the position after watching the team pile up IR stints over the last few years.
ROUND 5, PICK 145: BILAL NICHOLS, DL, DELAWARE
The Bears might have landed a fifth-round steal in Nichols, a defensive lineman with NFL-caliber size and speed who was playing at the FCS level of college football. Nichols checked in at 6-4 and 306 pounds at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, where he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.95 seconds and posted 29 reps in the bench press. A high-energy player whose motor seemingly doesn’t stop, Nichols showed some versatility in college by being a run stopper and a player who can get up-field, rush the passer, and make plays in the backfield.
Chicago lost Mitch Unrein to the Bucs in free agency, but will replace him internally with Jonathan Bullard. And with Roy Robertson-Harris moving up the depth chart, too, drafting Nichols allows the Bears to continue developing solid lineman in their 3-4 front.
ROUND 6, PICK 181: Kylie Fitts, EDGE, UTAH
Finally, an edge rusher prospect to talk about. The 2018 crop of free agents didn’t have much to offer regarding pass rushers and neither did this particular draft class. So rather than overpay a player who wasn’t a fit or reach for a player they didn’t love at a position they needed to get right, the Bears took a flier on Fitts. The injury history Fitts has in his past present a set of red flags that are impossible to ignore. But when he’s healthy, his upside is tremendous. Fitts picked up seven sacks, eight tackles for loss, forced four fumbles, blocked a field goal, and defended 10 passes in 2015 – his last healthy season.
After being a four-star recruit, top-100 prospect, and top-12 player at his position coming out of high school, Fitts has post-hype sleeper written all over him. This pick reminds me of when the team drafted Eddie Jackson in the fourth round of last year’s draft. That turned out pretty well, so we wouldn’t mind if history repeats itself.
ROUND 7, PICK 224: Javon Wims, WR, GEORGIA
The common theme of the offseason was improving the offense and providing weapons for quarterback Mitch Trubisky to throw to moving forward. Chicago did that by signing Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, and Trey Burton in free agency, using a second-round pick on Miller, then rounded out the group with Wims – a one-man highlight reel who led the Bulldogs in catches, receiving yards, and touchdown receptions in 2017.
A cursory glance at the Bears’ depth chart at receiver should put Kevin White on notice.