December 31, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes safety Malik Hooker (24) celebrates after intercepting a pass against the Clemson Tigers during the first half of the the 2016 CFP semifinal at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
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The Chicago Bears brass did not sound happy when they spoke in their press conference about how the 2016 season ended.
Not surprising given it was a 3-13 finish. At the same time they offered plenty of optimism about the future. Namely in regards to their advantageous position in the 2017 NFL draft. For the first time since 1972 they hold a pick in the top three. GM Ryan Pace made it clear that he knows what’s at stake. When selecting that high, they have to land an “impact” player. Somebody who can change the landscape of their team almost single-handed.
Not as easy as it may sound. Still, the Bears have their best chance in years to really infuse this developing roster with significant talent. This latest mock draft will detail how they could go about it.
FS, Ohio State
Ryan Pace knows John Fox and Vic Fangio are upset. They both come from a long history of defensive excellence. So watching this Bears unit continue to struggle in the secondary must be gnawing at their patience. It’s no secret how painfully lacking the team is in terms of playmakers on the back end. Just 11 takeaways in a season pretty much says it all. Until they start adding ball hawks, these problems are going to continue.
Malik Hooker is becoming a favorite in the scouting community, viewed as one of the best free safeties to come out of college in a decade. His mixture of size, speed, awareness, instinct and ball skills are on display constantly. In just his first year as a starter he snagged seven interceptions and returned three for touchdowns. His nose for the football jumps out on tape every single game. That is what the Bears crave for their secondary, and may have to use the #3 pick to get.
Pace threw out a pretty big hint that oftentimes quarterbacks aren’t ready to play right away. He also referenced how the Dallas Cowboys were able to get Dak Prescott later in the draft. That speaks of a man who is confident enough that he can find a talented passer outside the 1st round and has the coaching staff necessary to make the young man a success. Given how the Bears did with Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley, it’s not a completely unreasonable feeling.
Among the names gaining steam in this class is Patrick Mahomes. Most believe his mechanics and fundamentals are too raw to risk in the 1st round, but his overall skills set may be the best in the entire draft. He’s got a cannon arm to go along with underrated accuracy and touch. He runs well and has the strength to shrug off tacklers to keep plays alive. There is no shortage of toughness either as he can play hurt and play well doing so. The kind of quarterback who knows how to carry a team on his back.
The Bears endured the nightmare scenario at tight end in 2016. It was feared that with Martellus Bennett traded to the Patriots, they were just a Zach Miller injury away from irrelevance at a key offensive position. Sure enough, Miller was lost for the year to another foot injury. If this offense is going to start putting up more points, they need credible threats at tight end who can catch the football. Thankfully this draft appears quite rich in such talents.
Jordan Leggett is one name who can sometimes be overlooked. In part because he plays on such a loaded offense. Deshaun Watson, Mike Williams and Wayne Gallman get so much of the attention. Leggett can be underrated. Though not a vertical threat, he’s got enough speed and route running skill to get himself consistent separation. His 6’5″ size is ideal as well, making it difficult for defenders to match up.
The Bears suddenly have some major questions to answer at the receiver position. It starts of course with Alshon Jeffery and whether to re-sign him. However, there is another one they must sort out at slot receiver. Eddie Royal has had two years on the team. He’s played well at times, but just can’t stay healthy. His replacement Josh Bellamy shows great ability to get open but has a wholly unreliable pair of hands. Getting somebody in that position who can create without help from scheme is big.
Don’t bother challenging Ryan Switzer because he’s 5’10”. The young man plays like he’s 6’6″ A relentless competitor with good quickness and savvy to shake defenders and get open. A genuine feel for where the dead spots are in coverage and is consistently able to exploit them. Unlike Daniel Braverman, who had Corey Davis to help pull defensive backs away from him, Switzer has been the unquestioned go-to receiver for one of the best QBs in the country. That says plenty.
It’s not just safety where the Bears are going to need a playmaker. Cornerback requires equal attention. Maybe Deiondre Hall will pan out but thus far the team hasn’t given him many opportunities. Their leading interceptor was Cre’Von LeBlanc, an undrafted free agent who managed two picks. If Chicago is going to gain some respectability in the league, they have to keep searching for guys who can produce more.
Demontae Kazee may not meet the size standards Vic Fangio prefers, but he’s a cover corner with speed and enough length to handle press coverage. The big trade off for those couple extra inches? Kazee gets his hands on a lot of footballs. In 2016 alone he intercepted seven passes and deflected eight others. Quarterbacks really hesitated to throw in his direction too often, knowing the risks involved. That instinct can’t possibly be a bad addition.
There is no such thing as too many pass rushers and definitely such a thing as not enough. The Bears defense seems to be headed in the right direction. Pernell McPhee and Leonard Floyd, when healthy create a formidable tandem of edge rushers. Willie Young is also a savvy veteran but will be 32-years old this year. The Bears really have to think about investing at outside linebacker again at some point in this draft.
Darius English is a fascinating prospect. His length and violent hands stand out immediately. He has a good understanding of how to locate and get to the quarterback. Though not an elite athlete, his traits are such that they can become highly effective in pass rush situations. The key for him will be adding some weight. He’s hovering around 240 lbs, so it will fall to the Bears training staff to do for him what they’ve done for Floyd.
Sep 26, 2015; Chapel Hill, NC, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels quarterback Mitch Trubisky (10) celebrates in the end zone with wide receiver Jordan Fieulleteau (88) and offensive tackle Jon Heck (71) after throwing a touchdown pass to wide receiver Ryan Switzer (3) (not pictured) in the fourth quarter. The Tar Heels defeated the Delaware Fightin Blue Hens 41-14 at Kenan Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
OT, North Carolina
The 2017 class just isn’t the one that will solve the Bears’ problems at offensive tackle. Charles Leno Jr. and Bobby Massie aren’t stars, but they played well over the second half of the season. Both are young and on fairly cheap contracts. With an elite interior the Bears can likely survive another season with them on the edges. In the meantime they should definitely think about improving the depth behind them though.
Jon Heck doesn’t flash as a premier athlete but the big tackle is a determined, hard-working blocker who understands the gravity of protecting a franchise-caliber quarterback. That’s what he did for Mitch Trubisky at North Carolina in 2016. He’s had some ugly games in pass protection but is functional most of the time and stands out as an excellent run blocker. That at least would make Jordan Howard very happy.