The Chicago Bears have less than two weeks to finalize their plan for the 2017 NFL Draft and the future of a storied franchise in flux.
This Chicago Bears team is currently at a crossroads. They’re coming off a miserable 2016 campaign that saw them end the year with an NFC North-worst 3-13 record. For all of the talent the roster boasted after a free agency spending spree, it was a pathetic showing.
Still, the future could look bright for this franchise in less than two weeks. Many of the building blocks are present, and more free agent additions should help. The final piece of the puzzle for Chicago, though, is making the most of their seven 2017 NFL Draft picks.
Last year, general manager Ryan Pace put together an outstanding draft class. The Bears landed some serious talent in the early rounds, and even discovered rising stars in Nick Kwiatkoski and Jordan Howard on Day 3. If this team is going to point their arrow upward in 2017, they need to put together another impressive haul during next week’s draft.
In hopes of providing a roadmap of sorts, I’ve put together my latest Bears seven-round mock draft using Fanspeak’s On the Clock tool. Keep in mind, though, that these picks are based on the team’s current needs and the stock of the players mentioned. This is not a hard prediction of what I believe will happen during the 2017 NFL Draft.
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.
It’s anyone’s guess what’s going to happen with the first two picks. The Cleveland Browns could go with a quarterback at No. 1, although Myles Garrett would be the better choice. The San Francisco 49ers have a number of issues to address, or they could opt to trade the No. 2 selection.
Either way, there should be a number of excellent options for the Bears to choose from when they’re on the clock. However, when it all comes down to it, I believe Thomas has to be the pick when all is said and done. That is, unless Garrett is somehow still available at No. 3 overall. That’s highly unlikely, though.
So Thomas is the pick, and he’s a great one. The Stanford sensation has turned many heads during the pre-draft process with his ridiculous mix of athleticism, power and playmaking abilities. Just put on the film, and you’ll see a superstar in the making who consistently wins no matter what he’s asked to do.
The Bears have a strong starter in Akiem Hicks at one defensive end position. However, they could absolutely use an upgrade on Mitch Unrein on the other side. Thomas would not only give them the aforementioned upgrade, but he’d easily improve this Chicago defensive front tenfold.
Even with all of the offseason additions Chicago made at wide receiver, I simply couldn’t pass on John Ross when I saw he was available at the top of the second round. Most folks see him as a lock for the first round, so passing on him at No. 36 overall wasn’t an option.
Wide receiver also happens to be a significant need for the Bears heading into 2017. Sure, they signed Kendall Wright and Markus Wheaton during free agency, but neither is capable of taking over the No. 1 role vacated by Alshon Jeffery. I don’t think Kevin White or Cameron Meredith will ever do so either.
Ross could, though. The former Husky is a dynamic weapon with the blazing speed to hurt opposing defenses in big ways. However, don’t think that he’s just some one-trick pony who runs go routes all day. Ross can easily make plays out of the slot with his quickness, effective route running and after-catch abilities.
It may not happen right away, but Ross has the potential to be a star in the NFL. If Mike Glennon is going to excel as the Bears’ starting quarterback, having legitimate weapons to throw to is a must. Adding Ross at the start of Day 2 would be a huge steal for a Chicago team that needs an upgrade at receiver.
This offseason, the Bears spent a lot of money trying to fix their secondary. Unfortunately, I don’t think they’re finished tinkering. I can assure you more help is needed, especially after the recent release of starting cornerback Tracy Porter.
That’s why Justin Evans seems like an excellent fit here in the third round. Not only is he a high-upside safety prospect with the potential to contribute early, but he also has the skills to step in at cornerback if needed. That type of versatility can’t be understated in today’s NFL.
Apart from his size, Evans has almost everything you want in a young safety. He’s instinctive in coverage, and does a great job of getting his hands on the football. When stepping up against the run, he’s an explosive hitter who will make ball carriers hesitant to run at him. On top of all of that, he’s a plus athlete who has no trouble flying around the field making plays.
The signing of Quentin Demps solidified the safety spot for the Bears. However, Evans could easily serve in a No. 3 safety role while he makes the transition. He could even pitch in at times as a slot cornerback given his physicality and athleticism. No matter how he’s used, Evans would be a terrific addition to this Chicago defense.
Even with Glennon and Mark Sanchez atop the quarterback depth chart, the Bears need more long-term options under center. Chicago can escape their deal with Glennon next year with only $4.5 million in dead money, and Sanchez is playing on a one-year contract.
I wouldn’t be surprised if the Bears added a new arm any time after the first round. They’ve been rumored to be interested in Patrick Mahomes at the top of the second round, but there’s a good chance he won’t be available then. If that doesn’t pan out, Joshua Dobbs is an intriguing option in the middle rounds.
With teams looking for this year’s Dak Prescott, the Tennessee product has earned that designation from many. Although not among the top quarterback prospects, Dobbs offers a tantalizing mix of skills that could help him develop into a starter. He’s extremely athletic, has shown glimpses of outstanding arm talent and is an instinctive playmaker.
Dobbs needs work, especially with his accuracy and consistency as a passer. His athleticism, smarts and potential, however, make him more than worth a mid-round doll of the dice. The Bears could absolutely use a youngster like that on the roster who could take over as the starter now or later.
Heading into 2017, the Bears have two capable starters at offensive tackle. Charles Leno and Bobby Massie can get the job done, but that doesn’t mean they’re long-term answers. Realistically, Chicago could use some competition for those jobs in the coming months.
While Will Holden isn’t necessarily an immediate threat, he can definitely make an impact during camp. The Vanderbilt product wins with tenacity and effort, making up for his short arms and lack of elite athleticism. He displays the strength at the point of attack to win as a run blocker, making him a better fit as a right tackle.
With that said, Holden has experience at both tackle positions and could also theoretically slide inside. Either way, I believe he has the physical tools to eventually earn a starting role in the NFL. Especially in a 2017 draft class seriously short of quality offensive line talent, the Bears could do much worse than grabbing Holden in the fourth round.
Chicago needs to put some pressure on Leno and Massie to perform this year, especially if Glennon is going to earn that massive contract. Holden can come in and provide noticeable competition on both sides of the offensive line with the potential to contribute sooner rather than later. The Bears couldn’t ask for much more out of a fourth-round pick.
Believe it or not, the edge is a huge need for the Bears right now. They’ve got plenty of talent at outside linebacker, but nearly every player worth mentioning is either coming off of surgery or missed significant time a season ago due to injury. It sounds to me like more depth is needed.
So why not gamble on a player like Tim Williams? Honestly, I was a bit shocked to see him still available in the fifth round, which is why I jumped at the opportunity to take him off the board.
Now, I must mention that there are some significant character concerns with Williams. He reportedly failed a number of drug tests at Alabama, and was suspended for one half in 2016 due to an arrest stemming from misdemeanor gun charges. That’s why the guy who was once considered a potential top-five pick finds himself coming off the board this late.
If the Bears determine his red flags aren’t dealbreakers, Williams seems like an excellent get here. His athleticism and bend off the edge are outstanding, making him a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks. While he may be delegated to a pass-rushing specialist role due to his lack of size, the Alabama star should have little trouble asserting himself as a dominant sack artist in the NFL.
Right now, I’m not sold on the Bears’ stability at tight end. Zach Miller is an aging injury liability, Dion Sims is an average NFL talent, and the rest of the depth chart is made up of inexperienced players with limited upside.
Obviously a seventh-round tight end doesn’t solve that problem. However, with what I’ve seen from Cole Hikutini, I believe he could be a late-round steal. It’s not like there’s much to lose by taking a flier on an extremely productive tight end in the final round of the 2017 NFL Draft.
During his time at Louisville, Hikutini displayed a knack for making big plays. In two years, he hauled in 69 passes for 1,016 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns. In 2016, he became an outstanding safety valve for Heisman winner Lamar Jackson, often blindsiding ACC secondaries in the process.
Hikutini is an excellent athlete with the speed and separation skills to make an impact in the passing game. Unfortunately, his underwhelming upside as a blocker will scare off several potential suitors. For a seventh-round pick, though, the Bears couldn’t ask for much more than they’d get out of the former Cardinal.