Chicago Bears Picks & Analysis
The Bears have so many needs that they don’t have enough draft picks to solve all of them. I drafted two defensive tackles (1st & 4th) because I think that is the most important position in the Bears defensive scheme and it was a glaring weakness last year. To quote Bears GM Phil Emery, “The under-tackle position in the scheme that we’re in is the engine that drives the defense,”. 1st round pick Timmy Jernigan and 4th rounder Caraun Reid give the Bears two quick, disruptive DTs who have the potential to be stout against the run and pressure the QB up the middle. After Henry Melton got hurt last year the Bears didn’t have anyone who could do both and most couldn’t do either.
The middle of the Bears defense was a sieve last year as nobodies like Bennie Cunningham and Brandon Jacobs broke long runs up the middle with little to no resistance. With that in mind I targeted a free safety, Calvin Pryor, in the 2nd round and a run-stopping MLB, Yawin Smallwood, in the 3rd to help shore up the middle of the Bears defense. It’s a bit of a stretch that Pryor will be available when the Bears pick in the 2nd round, but stranger things have happened. Players fall well past their projected draft slots every year and traditionally safeties aren’t drafted in the first round (only 5 in last 4 years) so the Bears could catch a break.
Defensive end is definitely a need for the Bears with Julius Peppers a real possibility to be released, Shea McClellin being moved to OLB, and no proven depth at the position behind those two players. Unfortunately, DEs that fit the Bears 4-3 scheme are in short supply in this year’s draft. It’s easily the thinnest position in an otherwise loaded draft. My pick for the Bears in the 5th round, Cassius Marsh, was overshadowed on his own team by 1st round pick Anthony Barr but has averaged 6.5 sacks the last two seasons while playing a combination of DE, DT, and OLB. He’s strong against the run and has a very quick first step that allows him to gain the edge outside. Marsh isn’t perfect, but in the 5th round he’s a good value pick and I think playing one position full-time (DE) will increase his sack total. I could see him helping the Bears right away as a 3rd down pass rusher.
It was hard to use any of the Bears picks on anything but defense, but I couldn’t completely neglect the offensive side of the ball even though the Bears are in much better shape on that side. Current Bears center Roberto Garza is a free agent, but all signs point to him coming back to the Bears on a 1-2 year deal. Even if that happens, the Bears need to start grooming a replacement at center. The Bears 6th rounder in this mock, C Bryan Stork, is a proven winner at Florida St with above average athleticism and good technique. His lack of lower body strength is really his only red flag, but he would have a year or two to build strength while he learned the position from the veteran Garza. The Bears might not end up with Stork, but I think drafting a late round center to be mentored by Garza is a sound plan.
With the Bears second 6th rounder, I took the most explosive player left in the draft, Dri Archer, who is a potential replacement for free agent Devin Hester. Bears fans who’ve watched Hester over the years know just how important a dangerous return man is and how big of an impact they can make. There were a couple years early in his career that Hester’s kick returns were the best part of the Bears offense. Those times have changed now with a top-5 offense, but having an explosive return man will shorten the field and make the Bears offense even more successful. Using a pick on a return guy when they have so many other holes might be considered a luxury, but picks this late in the draft rarely pan out, so why not swing for the fences.
The only major hole on defense that wasn’t addressed by my mock draft was cornerback. I considered taking one every round as this is a very deep draft for corners, but I also think that of the Bears holes, corner is the least glaring. The Bears have an all-pro CB in Tim Jennings and a promising slot corner in his 3rd season, Isaiah Frey. No one is talking about Frey this off-season, but I thought he showed signs last year of becoming a competent slot corner. Regardless of Frey’s improvement, the Bears still have an opening at the #2 CB position and need at least a 4th if not a 5th CB for depth and sub packages. Luckily, the free agent market at corner is very deep. The Bears could bring back Zach Bowman and/or Kelvin Hayden for around $1M / year each. There are also big names like Alterraun Verner, Vontae Davis, and Sam Shields available. Mid-tier guys like Walter Thurmond, Chris Harris, and Corey Graham would improve the Bears secondary. Or there are bargain veterans like Jabari Greer, Asante Samuel, or Corey Webster available to name a few. There are 8-10 more solid veterans on the market who can be signed for considerably less than their market value. My point is that there are plenty of ways for the Bears to fill their CB needs besides through the draft. It is also much more affordable to sign a free agent CB than it is to sign a good DE or DT in free agency. Rookie CBs also tend to need a year or two more of development time then D-lineman before they acclimate to the NFL. Eventually the Bears need to use a high pick on a corner or two for the future, but it doens’t need to be this year, especially when there are so many holes to fill on the D-line.
I hope my explanation makes sense, if not let me have it in the comments. Here is a recap of the Bears picks:
1. DT Timmy Jernigan, Florida St (6’2, 298): When motivated Jernigan was a beast inside for FSU. He has the tools to be an all-pro DT if he can maintain a consistent effort level.
2. S Calvin Pryor, Louisville (6’2, 208): The Bears get lucky and the draft’s #2 rated safety falls to the mid 2nd round. This might reek of a homer selection, but safeties are rarely drafted in the first round (only 5 in last 4 drafts), it’s a deep draft at the position which may force teams that need a safety to address thinner positions (DE, DT) first, there aren’t many teams that need a safety bad enough to draft one early, and at least one safety-needy team (Eagles) is rumored to be filling the position in free agency instead. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Bears signed at least one free agent safety as well, but they can’t afford to pass on Pryor if he is available. He’s the complete package at free safety with great range, good ball skills, and is a solid tackler known for occasionally laying out a receiver over the middle. In other words, he’s exactly what the Bears have been missing at the safety position since Mike Brown. If the Bears draft Pryor and find a way to sign SS TJ Ward, then all of a sudden they could have one of the best safety combinations in the NFL.
3. MLB Yawin Smallwood, Connecticut (6’3, 236) – Smallwood’s HC at UConn, Paul Pasqualoni, is the Bears new D-line coach and they could reconnect if Smallwood is still available at this point of the 3rd round. Smallwood was very productive in college (118 tackles, 9.5 TFLs, 4 sacks in 2013), has good range in run defense, is an instinctive blitzer with good closing speed, and is fast and fluid enough to cover tight ends and running backs. He is a well rounded MLB prospect and would probably go a round higher if he had played in the SEC.
4. DT Caruan Reid, Princeton (6’2, 301) – This would be the highest a player from Princeton has ever been drafted and Reid would be the Bears first Ivy leaguer since Gary “Hitman” Fencik. Reid is extremely quick for a 300 pounder with already polished pass rush moves and the strength to hold the point against the run. The ivy-league competition was weak, but Reid put up 168 tackles, 41 TFLs, 20.5 sacks, and 7 blocked kicks (!) in his three years as a starter and was Princeton’s first two-time All-American. The lack of competition is a legit concern, but when you consider that he put up those numbers against double and sometimes triple teams, it’s pretty impressive. Reid also took a big step towards erasing those concerns at the Senior Bowl; Against future NFL players, Reid dominated 1-1 drills and made an impact in the game with two sacks on consecutive plays, beating two different guards (Cyril Richardson, Brandon Linder) with two different pass rush moves. Reid also impressed at the Senior Bowl weigh-in, weighing 301 with no visible fat on his frame. He might be maxed out weight-wise, but he is already big enough to play DT in the Bears scheme and has the quickness, strength, and closing speed to be a force against both the run and pass. He is probably pretty smart too (Princeton!). Reid would be a steal this late in the draft.
5. DE Cassius Marsh, UCLA (6’4, 268) – Three year starter at UCLA who was versatile enough to play DE, DT, & OLB for the Bruins. Marsh is a max-effort player with a very quick first step and good speed and athleticism. Marsh should be able to contribute right away as a 3rd down pass rusher and with a little more strength should develop into a 3-down DE who can move inside to DT in passing sub packages.
6. C Bryan Stork, Florida St (6’4, 306) – Smart, with a quick burst off the line and great leadership skills. Stork can learn from Roberto Garza for a year or two before he retires and then take over as the Bears center of the future. Great value this late and fills a need for the Bears.
6. RB/WR/KR Dri Archer, Kent St (5’9, 175) – Bears replace Devin Hester with possibly the fastest player in college football last year. Archer is a more complete football player than Hester with 24 career rushing touchdowns, 12 receiving touchdowns, and 4 kick return touchdowns. He’s very small, but could give the Bears a speed dimension they just don’t have right now at receiver or running back. More importantly he is a dangerous weapon in the return game.