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 are getting a clearer picture every day of what they can expect in the 2017 NFL draft just a few months away.
Obviously the majority of the talk will center around the quarterback position. It’s the first time in several year where it feels like the franchise is ready to make a change. That however is not what GM Ryan Pace will be totally focused on. There are plenty of other areas on this roster that need significant upgrades. He can’t ignore them and focus solely on one position. Even if it’s as important as quarterback. That’s why his first pick will be a surprise.
FS, Ohio State
Conventional wisdom says defensive backs aren’t supposed to go in the top 5 of a draft. Not unless they have special talent and even then it’s considered ill-advised. They just don’t impact a game like a top pass rusher, pass protector or quarterback does. Logical as the idea is, the fact remains that the Chicago Bears have been utterly devoid of a true stud safety for over a decade. Never was it more evident than in 2016. There comes a time conventional wisdom must give way to common sense.
Common sense says the Bears should take advantage of perhaps the strongest safety class in years to get their guy. What they could really use is a tall, athletic ball hawk on the back end who can force some turnovers. Malik Hooker is 6’2″ and showcased his range and instinct in coverage with seven interceptions in 2016 for Ohio State. He returned three of them for touchdowns. Already he’s drawing comparisons to Ed Reed. He’s a really good player and only getting better.
The fact of the matter is if the Bears don’t get their quarterback at the #3 pick, they may have to get aggressive if they still want to get a good one in this draft. Keep in mind the Houston Texans are at #25. After watching Brock Osweiler in the playoffs, it’s pretty clear they’ll be in the hunt for a replacement. The Bears likely will have to get ahead of them if they wish to get one of the top prospects left on the board. So they swing a deal with Oakland to move up.
It’s the price that must be paid, but Patrick Mahomes could be worth it. The Texas Tech quarterback is still raw fundamentally as a passer, but he may be the most talented overall in the entire class. His big arm, impressive deep accuracy, mobility and creativity jump out on tape almost every week. The improvisational skill is something that can’t be talk. Put a solid cast around him and coach up his raw mechanics and the Bears could have something special.
The depth at the cornerback position in the 2017 draft class is among the best seen in years. That affords the Bears the luxury of waiting a bit until drafting one. Besides safety was the bigger issue. Vic Fangio has historically done really well developing mid and late round picks. He’s already done quite the job with Bryce Callahan and Cre’Von LeBlanc. Both of them are undrafted free agents. So the Bears put it in his hands again.
Brendan Langley is a small school prospect who has all the makings of a future NFL starter from the good sized 6’1″ frame to the impressive ball skills. As a senior he was able to snag six interceptions. His two punt returns for touchdowns also showcased how good of an athlete he is. He hasn’t faced top tier competition yet, which will take some adjusting. Even so, he has the physical skill to easily make the jump.
Trading Martellus Bennett was a necessity for the Bears to regain locker room stability, but in doing so they took a serious hit to their depth at tight end. Depth that was exposed in a big way when Zach Miller went down for the year with his foot injury. After that they had nobody of note who could impact the passing game either as a receiver or a blocker. That has to change if this offense is going to take a step forward next season.
Cole Hikutini is somewhat of the forgotten man in that dynamic Louisville offense that set records this past season. An underrated athlete with good size who can run routes to find the dead spots in coverage for first downs. Teams often forget how effective he is at this until he burns them. Put in an offense that likes to feature more of the tight end, like Chicago ran early in the year might be just the ticket to get him going.
The Bears will have to consider drafting a wide receiver at some point. Alshon Jeffery may be a free agent soon and Eddie Royal is likely getting cut after two injury-plagued years. Stacy Coley became a go-to guy for Brad Kaaya at Miami. A quick, agile and shifty receiver who has more speed than he gets credit for. Understands how to get himself open but still has the awareness and strength to win 50/50 battles in tight coverage.
OLB, South Carolina
There is no such thing as too much depth at the edge rusher positions, especially after the injury problems the Bears suffered through in 2016. Throw in that Willie Young will be 32 and they can afford to keep adding young bodies. Darius English may not be the most fluid athlete in the world, but the South Carolina edge rusher has outstanding length and knows how to get to the quarterback. He hasn’t put it all together yet, but if he does he will surprise a lot of people.