If the Chicago Bears are going to improve on their 3-13 record next season, they must address their biggest needs during the upcoming 2017 NFL Draft.
Man, the 2016 campaign was an ugly one for the Chicago Bears. They won only three games, and turned out to be one of the laughing stocks of the NFC. While injuries played a big part in their demise, it’s safe to say there were still plenty of holes present in the roster.
Moving into 2017, these aforementioned holes must be addressed. A great time to do so would be during the 2017 NFL Draft, which is set to get under way in late April.
Obviously the Bears will also look to make some moves during free agency, as general manager Ryan Pace so enjoys. They did it a season ago when they pulled in one of the top free agent classes, but it still failed to win them many games. Making a big impact during the draft, though, could help Chicago close the gap between it and the rest of the NFC North.
Between having the No. 3 overall pick and six others, the Bears shouldn’t have too much trouble finding a few contributors. They did it last year with players like Cody Whitehair, Nick Kwiatkoski and Jordan Howard—they can do it again in 2017.
So without further ago, let’s take a look at the Bears’ biggest draft needs right now.
We all know the Bears have a quality starter at tight end in Zach Miller. Unfortunately, things aren’t so pretty further down the depth chart. Especially with Miller ending the 2016 season on IR, Chicago could use some more options at tight end. Backup Logan Paulsen is scheduled to be a free agent, and may not return. The rest of the depth chart is made up of young, inexperienced prospects with uncertain upside. It’s just not a secure situation to be in.
That’s why going out and finding an early- or mid-round talent at tight end wouldn’t be the worst idea. Especially with a potential change at quarterback looming large this offseason, any newcomer would be in a better position with some quality tight ends to work with.
Thankfully for Chicago, this 2017 class is loaded with tight end talent. Not only are there some serious playmakers who could fall to the top of the second round, but there should be a couple of intriguing options lingering in the third or fourth rounds as well.
As long as he stays healthy, Miller is locked in as the Bears’ starter. However, more capable contributors are needed moving forward. Grabbing a young, high-upside tight end during the 2017 NFL Draft has to be a serious consideration for Pace.
How much of a need this position is depends on how free agency pans out. The Bears currently have three wide receivers scheduled to hit the open market, including Pro Bowler Alshon Jeffery. He’s hinted at staying (via NFL.com), but anything can happen during crunch time.
If he does jump ship, you can bet Chicago will be looking far and wide for help in the passing game. They already appear destined to have a new starter under center, which makes it all the more imperative to provide them with a decent arsenal of weapons to work with.
As previously alluded to, other receivers are set to become free agents as well. Deonte Thompson and Marquess Wilson both have expiring contracts, and will likely test the waters. That would leave the Bears with Cameron Meredith and the injury-prone duo of Kevin White and Eddie Royal as their top three targets out wide.
In case you aren’t sure, that isn’t an ideal situation to be in if Chicago plans being better than 3-13 next season. Luckily for the Bears, the 2017 draft class offers a plethora of talent at wide receiver. They’ll likely look to spend a Day 2 or early Day 3 pick at the position, which should be enough to at least get their receiving corps moving in the right direction.
Right now, the Bears have two capable starters at offensive tackle. The duo of Charles Leno and Bobbie Massie is decent, and doesn’t mean they should be settled on as the unquestioned starters in Chicago.
When it comes down to it, both are solid pass protectors who struggle to get much movement in the ground game. While keeping the quarterback upright is paramount, the Bears should obviously be invested in giving their young group of running backs as much room to work as possible. That’s why finding a rookie who can be relied upon early seems ideal for Chicago.
Even if who they add doesn’t start right away, the Bears could use the added depth. They ended the year with waiver-claimed Matt McCants as the only backup option for both tackle spots, which is unacceptable. It also doesn’t help that McCants, Mike Adams and Nick Becton are all free agents this offseason, meaning the team may be forced to completely refill their depth chart.
My only concern here would be that the 2017 draft class is devoid of exciting offensive line talent. Finding someone who can step in and make an impact from Day 1 won’t be easy. If the Bears can pull it off, though, they’d be in a much better position heading into 2017.
The future of the cornerback position in Chicago is shrouded in uncertainty. Kyle Fuller missed the entire 2016 campaign with a knee injury, leaving his status up in the air. Tracy Porter is a solid starter, but can’t be relied upon heavily for much longer. The rest of the depth chart is made up of limited veterans (i.e. Sherrick McManis) or youngsters who still have a lot to prove.
Hence, cornerback is a rather important area of need for the Bears this offseason. More specifically, they can’t afford to avoid adding a prospect or two to the position during the 2017 NFL Draft.
Like at tight end, the 2017 class is full of exciting cornerback talent. It’s to the point where people are mocking guys with first-round talent in the second or third rounds. There’s plenty of potential ripe for the picking, which should help the Bears fill a significant hole in their defense when April rolls around.
The hope is Fuller will return at full strength, and a player such as Deiondre’ Hall or Cre’von LeBlanc can emerge as a dependable option. However, whether that’s the case or not, Chicago must find another young cornerback to add to its secondary before the 2017 campaign gets under way.
It’s time to face facts–the Jay Cutler era is over in Chicago. It’s been a good run, and there have been plenty of positive moments among the rumors of his demise. However, with his contract now to the point where cutting him would yield less dead cap space, it’s time to say goodbye.
That means the Bears will be in search of a new quarterback this offseason. It’s not like Matt Barkley showed enough to suddenly put himself in the running to be the starter. Plus, he’s a free agent come March and may not even be re-signed.
It also doesn’t help that Brian Hoyer, the Bears’ top backup to start 2016, is also set to hit the open market. The NFL journeyman didn’t look half bad after taking over for Cutler, but quickly found himself on IR. Even if Chicago brings him back, they need a more permanent (and less injury-prone) solution under center.
Having the No. 3 overall pick should give the Bears several options to address the position. With the Cleveland Browns expected to take Myles Garrett with the first pick, that should leave Chicago to take whoever the San Francisco 49ers leave on the board. Chances are they could get their pick of Deshaun Watson, Deshon Kizer or Josh Allen (via B/R’s Matt Miller).
The Bears surprised many with how bad they were this season. The roster has a surplus of talent, but could use a new gunslinger to help get things back on track. One way or another, expect a new face to take the reins of the Chicago offense in 2017.