If the Chicago Bears plan on escaping the NFC North basement, crushing it during the 2017 NFL Draft seems like a must for GM Ryan Pace and Co.
The 2016 season was a rough one for the Chicago Bears, who seemed like a potential playoff team heading into the year. The addition of several big-name free agents and a general surplus of talent left the Windy City excited about its NFL team’s outlook.
Well, as we all know, things didn’t go as planned. Instead, the Bears finished the year 3-13, looking like a train wreck for much of the year. While they had some close calls and appeared better than their record indicated at times, it was season marred by bad luck and injuries.
Unfortunately, a 3-13 record typically doesn’t make the following offseason any easier, at least during free agency. The Bears failed to sign most of the top talent they were rumored to be targeting, and had to overpay for the players they did get. It was an underwhelming showing for a franchise that could have used a splash or two during free agency.
Luckily for Chicago, the 2017 NFL Draft is a separate opportunity to make significant improvements. And with seven picks available to them, the Bears shouldn’t have too much trouble doing some damage when late April arrives.
Weith that in mind, let’s take a look at my latest seven-round mock draft for the Bears, created using Fanspeak’s On the Clock tool. Keep in mind that these selections aren’t hard predictions—instead, they aim to comment on Chicago’s current needs and the stock of the prospects mentioned.
Note: The Bears traded their sixth-round pick to the Houston Texans for tight end Khari Lee. The Bears received a fourth-round pick from the Buffalo Bills as part of the deal for Chicago’s 2016 second-round pick.
I wanted Solomon Thomas for the Bears, but he was already off the board at No. 3. So instead, adding a top-tier safety to this Chicago defense seemed like the next best move. It’s not like the team is going to spend that pick on a quarterback following the addition of Mike Glennon.
Jamal Adams appears to have all the makings of a superstar on the back end of an NFL defense. Not only is he an intelligent, instinctive safety, but he brings a physical presence to the secondary with the potential to strike fear in opposing receivers. The former Tiger can shine as a box safety, or while playing the deep part of the field.
Obviously there are still some facets of his game that need work. Adams isn’t perfect in coverage, and can get a little too physical with receivers. The confidence, grit and intimidation he brings to the safety position, though, would be well worth the selection at No. 3 overall.
With so much uncertainty in the Chicago secondary, Adams would add a tough leader to this rebuilt group. The Bears haven’t had a truly dominant safety in years, but that would change if the LSU product was drafted to the Windy City.
This offseason, the Bears brought in free agent Tom Compton to provide more support at offensive tackle. That was a result of Chicago’s two starting book ends, Charles Leno and Bobby Massie, looking nothing more than average a season ago.
Still, the move was far from impressive. Compton is a backup at best, offering limited potential in terms of pushing the incumbents for their jobs. Luckily, a serious talent along the front five happened to fall right into the Bears’ laps at No. 36.
Garret Bolles is arguably the best offensive tackle talent of the 2017 draft class. While that’s not saying a lot considering the class’ general dearth of talent at tackle, it’s nonetheless noteworthy at the top of the second round. Bolles is widely seen as a first-round talent with the potential to develop into a cornerstone left tackle.
Thanks to FanSpeak, Chicago gets an absolute steal at the start of Day 2. In only one year at Utah, Bolles proved himself to be a legitimate NFL-caliber talent while dominating the Pac-12’s best defensive ends. There’s a good chance he could make a similar impact in the Windy City, even as a rookie.
I couldn’t pass on Adams or Bolles in the first two rounds, so addressing the huge need at wide receiver had to wait. Following the loss of Alshon Jeffery, Chicago is in desperate need of more options for its new quarterback to throw to.
The team added Kendall Wright and Markus Wheaton via free agency, but neither is a true No. 1 receiver. The same could probably be said for Cameron Meredith and Kevin White, the Bears’ top two receivers heading into 2017. Put simply, more weapons must be added out wide.
While Carlos Henderson may not be Mike Williams or Corey Davis, he has the potential to be a legitimate playmaker at the next level. Although his size leaves something to be desired, he possesses explosive after-the-catch abilities and the speed to stretch the field. His route running will need work at the next level, but he’s got the raw materials to turn into something special.
Henderson may take some time to develop into a consistent playmaker for the Chicago passing game. However, with some refinement to his route running, the Louisiana Tech product could quickly emerge as a reliable target. It helps that he brings added value as a returner.
I’m a big proponent of the Bears targeting an edge rusher during the draft. That’s not to say they don’t have capable outside linebackers on the roster right now, but adding some more depth to the equation seems like the right move heading into 2017.
Why? Well most of the Bears’ top edge rushers can’t seem to stay healthy. Pernell McPhee is coming off shoulder surgery, Leonard Floyd battled concussions as a rookie, Willie Young just underwent knee surgery, and Lamarr Houston is a torn ACL waiting to happen. If that doesn’t illustrate my point, I’m not sure what will.
Either way, Tyus Bowser seems like an intriguing target here in the fourth round. The late riser has quietly been turning heads of scouts throughout the pre-draft process, and has found his way into the mid-round discussion. It makes sense considering his impressive athleticism and explosiveness off the edge.
Bowser dealt with a broken orbital bone after a scuffle with a teammate this past season, but still racked up 8.5 sacks in only eight games. Assuming he can quell any character concerns, the former Cougar should have teams salivating at the possibility of landing that type of upside in the middle rounds.
The upgrade on the edge is complete, so now it’s time to turn the Bears’ attention to the interior. They’ve got two strong starters in Akiem Hicks and Eddie Goldman, but finding a possible replacement for Mitch Unrein on the left side would be a wise move.
Thankfully, there are a number of capable defensive line talents available in the 2017 draft class who could potentially steal the job. One who could be available at the start of Day 3 is Vincent Taylor, who has given us glimpses of the potential needed to be an impact defensive end in a 3-4 front.
The Oklahoma State product has flashed the ability to get after the quarterback. He amassed 12 sacks during his final two seasons with the Cowboys, including seven during the 2016 campaign. There are some concerns about his technique and tendency to play with a high pad level. And yet, his power and quickness off the snap have some teams thinking he can be a difference maker.
Taylor has the look of a quality contributor, assuming he can tighten up his game a bit. The raw tools are there for him to steal the starting defensive end job in Chicago. This may be a tad early by some folks’ standards, but he seems like a solid addition in the fourth round.
Tight end isn’t the biggest of needs for the Bears, but that doesn’t mean they couldn’t use some more high-upside options at the position. It’s not like what they currently have on the roster is going to get the job done for the next few years.
Zach Miller is a plus starter, but can’t seem to stay healthy and is no spring chicken at 32 years of age. Dion Sims was signed this offseason, but brings limited upside as an average starter who produced solid numbers a season ago more out of necessity than skill. The rest of the depth chart is made up of unproven players with uncertain NFL futures.
If a prospect like Jeremy Sprinkle is on the board in the fifth round, he’d be an excellent get for the Bears. While not an outstanding talent, the former Razorback does just about everything well. He’s not a star receiver and isn’t going to be the best blocking tight end in the NFL. In the end, though, he’s got a well-rounded skill set and wins with effort and tenacity.
Sprinkle can come in and learn behind Miller and Sims for a year or two, with the potential to emerge as a starter not far down the road. His 6-5, 250-pound frame also makes him an intriguing option in the red zone who can be a plus blocker once he gets into an NFL strength program. The value at this point in the draft is just too high to pass on the Arkansas alum.
Heading into the offseason, cornerback was one of the Bears’ biggest needs. They did their best to address that issue via free agency, spending early and often to secure the talents of Prince Amukamara, Marcus Cooper and Johnthan Banks (re-signed). That addresses the issue for now, but it’s likely not a long-term solution.
Tracy Porter and Amukamara are currently slated as starters, but the former is getting up there in age. Bryce Callahan seems like a quality contributor, and Sherrick McManis brings experience to the table. The rest of the depth chart is made up of young, inexperienced options with varying amounts of upside.
So why not insert another youngster into the mix? And if that youngster were to be Nate Hairston, the Bears would be getting any exciting prospect. It wasn’t until his junior year at Temple that he flipped from wide receiver to cornerback. During those two seasons, though, he flashed overwhelming potential that has earned him a spot on many NFL draft boards.
Hairston is a project–no doubt about that. His athleticism, natural feel in coverage and ball skills, though, make him a worthy late-round flier who can push players like Deiondre’ Hall and Cre’von LeBlanc for the final spot on Chicago’s cornerback depth chart. At the worst, he’s an exciting practice squad stash who the coaching staff can mold for a couple of years.