The Chicago Bears are trending in the right direction. They're actually being compared to the Los Angeles Rams, which means they're bound to be everyone's favorite playoff sleeper among teams that don't have Jimmy Garoppolo at quarterback.
But they'll need to fix their remaining roster holes through the NFL Draft to actually make the leap from promising to good.
With that in mind, let's take a look at how their big board should be set up as draft season ramps up.
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To this point, the offseason has gone according to plan. The signings of Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, and Trey Burton gave Mitchell Trubisky . and Prince Amukamara gave the secondary some much-needed stability. Now, the Bears are sitting at No. 8 overall while a whole host of quarterback-needy teams positioned ahead of them eye the big four quarterback prospects. And that means the Bears, who aren't in the quarterback market a year after trading up for Trubisky, should be able to draft one of the best non-quarterback prospects in the draft. In other words, it's setting up perfectly for Chicago.
Clear needs do exist. They Willie Young, which means they need more pass rushers. They released Jerrell Freeman, which means inside linebacker is a need. Though they retained their defensive backs, they could be in the market for another one considering you can never have too many defensive backs in a division filled with Aaron Rodgers, Kirk Cousins, and Matthew Stafford. Finally, they cut Josh Sitton, which and leads us to the top player on our big board for the Bears.and
The 6-foot-5, 329-pound guard out of Notre Dame has been compared to Larry Allen (an 11-time Pro Bowler) and Steve Hutchinson (a seven-time Pro Bowler). An NFC team personnel executive told NFL.com's Lance Zierlein that Nelson is "one of the best run blockers I've ever evaluated, but he's not a liability in pass protection." That same executive called Nelson an "alpha who can bring (an) a-- kicking mindset into your position room." In other words, he might be a perfect offensive guard prospect.
Here's another way to describe him:
Watching Quenton Nelson film brought visions of Oprah working at IHOP to my head, “You get a pancake! You get a pancake! And you get a pancake!” Good grief. Looked so unfair at times.— dan durkin (@djdurkin) April 4, 2018
You get the point. He's a stud. He's also a perfect fit for the Bears, a team that happens to employ his offensive line coach at Notre Dame, Harry Hiestand. Not only would Nelson improve Trubisky's pass protection -- a year ago, he posted a 48.7 passer rating under pressure, per Pro Football Focus -- but he'll also improve the run blocking for Jordan Howard. Nelson is the Bears' dream prospect that they desperately need to fall to No. 8.
The weird thing is, he might actually get to them. I broke it down in my latest mock draft, but here's a quick summary of how it could happen:
- Browns: Quarterback
- Giants: Bradley Chubb or a Quarterback
- Jets: Quarterback
- Browns: Saquon Barkley
- Broncos: Quarterback
- Colts: Trade down again, this time with Bills, who take a quarterback.
- Buccaneers: Minkah Fitzpatrick
You get the point. Four quarterbacks need go in the top-seven, which seems very likely, and then the three teams not needing a quarterback need to take defensive end Bradley Chubb, running back Saquon Barkley, and one of the top defensive backs (Fitzpatrick or Derwin James). That doesn't seem impossible.
But because of just how good of a prospect Nelson is, there's also a decent chance he'll get taken before the Bears are on the clock. There's not a team in this draft that couldn't use him. So, with that in mind, let's take a look at the rest of the Bears' big board in case Nelson isn't available at No. 8.
Of note: You'll surely notice that two of the best prospects, both of whom the Bears could use, are not on this list. That's because I fully expect both Barkley and Chubb to be off the board well before the Bears' turn. If they're somehow sitting there at No. 8, the Bears should absolutely pull the trigger on them. But they won't be there barring something truly shocking happening in the next three weeks.
OK, onto the list.
1. Quenton Nelson, OG, Notre Dame
As explained above in further detail, Nelson fills the opening created by the release of Sitton. He's arguably the best prospect in the draft without sorting for position, and could fall to No. 8 if there's a run on quarterbacks in the early going. The Bears would be lucky to have a player of Nelson's caliber on an already solid offensive line.
2. Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama
The Bears have a lot of players in their secondary that they like -- Fuller, Amukamara, Eddie Jackson, Bryce Callahan, and Adrian Amos -- but Fitzpatrick is the kind of versatile defensive back who can change the outlook of a defense. If Fitzpatrick somehow falls to No. 8 and Nelson is off the board, I think the Bears have to pull the trigger on him and figure out how to deal with playing time later. According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, the Bears hosted Fitzpatrick on a visit. So, they appear to be interested, as they should be.
3. Roquan Smith, ILB, Georgia
Losing Freeman creates an opening at inside linebacker. Smith is largely thought of as the best linebacker in the draft and he can start immediately, playing alongside Danny Trevathan. Smith isn't likely to slip past the Raiders at No. 10, so the Bears can't expect to trade down and grab him later. They'll need to take him at No. 8 to get him.
4. Tremaine Edmunds, ILB, Virginia Tech
Similar to Smith, Edmunds would plug into Freeman's former spot. Edmunds shot up draft boards after an impressive showing at the combine and might be even better than Smith. The Bears might be able to get him by trading down, but it also might not be worth the risk in case he does get taken before they're on the clock again. If either Smith or Edmunds are available here after Nelson is off the board, the Bears should fix their linebacker problem by taking one or the other.
The Bears will certainly get one of the four players above if they stay at No. 8. But what happens if they trade into the teens?
5. Harold Landry, OLB, Boston College
If the Bears do trade down into the teens, Landry would be a nice target for them. As previously mentioned, the Bears cut a ton of their pass rushers, so it's an area of need for them. Landry isn't as talented of a pass rusher as Chubb, but what he did in 2016 (16.5 sacks) is more than enough evidence that he features upside. The Bears need another pass rusher to pair with Leonard Floyd. Landry might be that guy and the Bears could get him by trading back and grabbing extra draft ammunition in the process.
6. Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State
Cornerback isn't a clear need, but Ward -- the top cornerback in the draft -- is good enough to warrant consideration. Though the Bears signed Amukamara to an extension, Ward would likely take his place as one of the team's starters. In other words, Amukamara should not be the reason why the Bears pass on a potential superstar cornerback. If the Bears can trade down a few spots as a team like, say, the Bills tries to move to take a quarterback and still grab a Week 1 starter in Ward, they'll be doing more than OK. Along with Fitzpatrick, the Bears also hosted him for a visit, Rapoport reported.
If the Bears trade further down the draft, here's one player that could make sense ...
7. Leighton Vander Esch, OLB, Boise State
If the Bears trade down into 20s (something I don't see them doing), Leighton Vander Esch would be a nice pickup. The Bears need to get better at linebacker and Vander Esch is more than capable of playing against both the run and the pass. Taking him at No. 8 is probably a reach, so the Bears should only target him if a quarterback-desperate team gives them a haul to move up.