The third day of the NFL Draft is filled with players whose stock has fallen despite possessing the talent and upside of a much higher pick.
And for the second straight year, the Chicago Bears appear to have unearthed a potential diamond-in-the-rough on Day 3, with a guy whose professional career could be a lot better than what was shown during a college stint derailed by injuries.
Indeed, GM Ryan Pace might have found a late-round steal in edge defender Kylie Fitts, who was a four-star recruit, top-100 high school player, top-12 prospect at his position, and a UCLA signee coming out of high school. Unfortunately, a variety of injuries limited the impact Fitts could have made after transferring out of UCLA to join Utah and ultimately dropped his draft stock.
“All I wanted was an opportunity,” Fitts said, via Larry Mayer of the Bears’ official website. “I knew with my injury history teams were going to be a little scared, but I know the Bears are a good team and they’re going to get a great player out of me.” That’s a sentiment Fitts’ defensive coordinator at Utah agrees with:
The @ChicagoBears are getting an absolute stud in @K_Fitts11 !! Dude has faced adversity time and time again and battled back. A ton of athleticism matched with an unconquerable spirit!! pic.twitter.com/atw9dTN3Nb
— Morgan Scalley (@SafetyPride) April 28, 2018
Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham believes Fitts would have been a second- or third-round value had he been healthier during his time with the Utes. I suppose that would make him the second Day 3 pick the Bears made with that kind of potential.
If you have that strange feeling like you’ve lived this moment before as a Bears fan, it’s because you were doing so a year ago at this time.
If you recall, the Bears had a need for a playmaking defensive back when they drafted safety Eddie Jackson in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL Draft. A broken leg caused Jackson’s senior season to be cut short, and days before the draft, Jackson had surgery to remove a screw from the surgically repaired leg. Oh, and to complicate matters, Jackson was still just three years removed from an ACL injury. Still, it was impossible to look past what Jackson provided when he was healthy. Jackson was a playmaker for the Crimson Tide who forced turnovers in the secondary and flashed big-play potential on special teams as a punt returner.
The Bears rolled the dice on Jackson, who earned a spot on Pro Football Focus’ All-Rookie Team and was considered to be one of the league’s best safeties during his first season in the pros. He scored all the team’s touchdowns in a 17-3 win against the Panthers, which led to him being named the NFC’s Defensive Player of the Week for his efforts. And now, they’re doing the same with Fitts.
Like Jackson before him, Fitts will start behind some experienced players on the depth chart. Jackson found himself behind Adrian Amos and Quinton Demps when he arrived to Halas Hall, but played his way into earning first-team reps during training camp and eventually unseated Amos as the starter. Fitts will begin behind Aaron Lynch, a player on a one-year “prove it” deal hoping to find new life while playing for Vic Fangio once again.
The main difference between Fitts and Jackson is that Fitts will also be tasked with learning a new position. While he played as an outside linebacker at times for Utah, he was primarily a defensive end. Fitts has shown skills that suggest it should be a smooth transition to life as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. But what is of primary importance is Fitts’ health.
There is a blueprint in place for Fitts to carve a niche role early in his NFL career. And if he can stay healthy, the Bears might have found an answer at a need position after all.