I never expected the Bears to fill every roster hole via trade or free agency this offseason, but I also didn’t think they’d have as many needs (particularly in starting roles) as they currently do entering draft weekend.
The good news is that the NFL Draft has arrived, which means so has an opportunity to infuse the roster with young playmakers at positions of need. But before we dive head-first into draft weekend, let’s take some time to prioritize the Bears’ needs .
For my money, the cornerbacks group is the second most important position on the defensive side of the ball. Only pass-rushers are higher on my priority list. As things stand, the Bears have two cornerbacks that are cemented in starting roles — Kyle Fuller on the outside and Buster Skrine in the slot. The team has a slew of depth players that will try and fight their way into bigger roles. And while I like what Kevin Toliver II and Tre Roberson could be, and am intrigued by Artie Burns’ potential based on his first-round pedigree, entering the season hoping one of those guys emerges as a sure-fire CB2 feels dangerous.
NFL Network draft insider Daniel Jeremiah has 14 cornerbacks among his top 100 prospects. The Bears would be wise to take advantage of the depth at this position to secure a high-floor, high-upside potential starting cornerback.
• RIGHT GUARD
On the other side of the ball, there isn’t a more important need to fill than at right guard. We knew the Bears would need to make a move to upgrade the spot in the wake of Kyle Long’s retirement. And while Germain Ifedi could ultimately be the one who gets the first crack at it, Chicago’s front office needs to start drafting and developing starting offensive linemen. But as we discussed yesterday, it’s easier said than done.
Because Ifedi has solid starting experience under his belt, the Bears don’t need to draft a lineman who can start right away. The team could follow the same path they took with James Daniels when he was a rookie. Chicago was right to bring Daniels along slowly while Eric Kush was given the first crack to start. And when Daniels was ready, he was quickly deployed and firmly locked in as a starter in short order. I can envision history repeating itself with Ifedi holding the fort down while the right prospect gets up to speed.
• WIDE RECEIVER
Unlike the guard and cornerback positions, the Bears did not use free agency to add depth to the group of pass-catchers. With that being said, maybe wide receiver should be higher on the list of needs. Then again, it feels right at home where it is.
Jeremiah’s big board has 18 wide receivers in the top-100, and five others who check in among his 150 best prospects. And while the Bears could snag a receiver who landed in Jeremiah’s top-150 guy as late as the fifth-round, getting a more high-end, high-upside target earlier might be the best use of draft assets.
My preference would be to draft a prospect like Jeremy Chinn (SIU), Antoine Winfield Jr. (Minnesota), or Grant Delpit (LSU), team him with Eddie Jackson for the next four years, and watch opposing quarterbacks freak out trying to throw against two rangy safeties. But I think I can talk myself into being OK if the Bears were to kick the can down the road because they feel fine with Deon Bush starting, or decide they want to make a run at Tony Jefferson (assuming his medicals allow for a pursuit of the free agent to get the green light).
Even still … taking a late-round flier on a safety who could grow into a starting role while on his rookie deal would be a good get in this draft.
• INSIDE LINEBACKER
Even though the Bears have a rich history of inside linebacker play, the game is evolving to a place where there isn’t much of a premium on the position. Not that it isn’t important. Inside linebackers control the running game, while being versatile enough to cover tight ends and backs out in the passing attack. It’s just that pass-rushers and pass-defenders in the secondary carry more importance.
Now, that isn’t an excuse not to find replacements for Nick Kwiatkoski and Kevin Pierre-Louis in the draft. Adding some cost-control talent who could grow as reserves and chip in immediately on special teams should be on the Bears’ to-do list this weekend. Although, it shouldn’t be a high priority.
• RUNNING BACK
David Montgomery and Tarik Cohen are nice pieces to have in the backfield, but this group could use a back who brings the room together. Someone who can take carries from Montgomery over long stretches in a pinch, but also catch passes out of the backfield and pick up blitzers on third down. Adding another running back at some point over the weekend could ultimately open up Cohen to be used more effectively in 2020.
This isn’t a high priority. But it’s a place the Bears could be creative in adding talent.
It is difficult to imagine the Bears being OK with Tyler Bray entering training camp as an unopposed QB3. Maybe he wins the job. Or perhaps he falls in line as the practice squad signal caller for a third consecutive year. In any case, the Bears would be wise to bring in someone who could — at minimum — grow into a Chase Daniel role. Seriously. Having a competent backup who can navigate rough waters while QB1 is unavailable is something that tends to be overlooked until you’re faced with having Todd Collins and Caleb Hanie needing to chip in at a moment’s notice.
• SPECIAL TEAMS
The Bears already signed a kicker to compete with Eddy Piñeiro. And even though I don’t think we’ll have some sort of wild kicking competition, I wouldn’t mind seeing a priority free agent make his way to Halas Hall for training camp. The same can be said for punter, even after Pat O’Donnell had another respectable year. And let’s not over-look the return game. Both Tarik Cohen and Cordarrelle Patterson are free agents after this year.