Bears

Imperfect 10: First look at who might be available for Bears in NFL Draft

Imperfect 10: First look at who might be available for Bears in NFL Draft

With the NFL draft three months from this Friday, our Bears insiders JJ Stankevitz & Moon Mullin take their first look at the Top 10 picks and evaluate the Bears options with the 8th overall pick.

Quarterback picks could scramble the Top 10, which would work to the Bears' benefit by pushing talent at other positions down toward No. 8.

GM Ryan Pace has traded up to land each of his last two first-rounders (Leonard Floyd, Mitch Trubisky) and he will have options to move up or down and draft whatever he didn’t secure in free agency.

1. Cleveland Browns 

Moon: Sam Darnold, QB USC

Browns failed to restart their franchise with a QB in ’17. Darnold has flaws and has been a turnover risk, but Browns can’t be picky at 0-16.

JJ: Sam Darnold, QB, USC

Darnold seemed like a lock to be 2018’s No. 1 overall pick a year ago, but he went from a 31/9 TD/INT ratio in 2016 to a 26/13 TD/INT ratio in 2017. Still, the tools are there, and Cleveland could see in him the quarterback who finally leads them out of such a dark stretch of losing. 

2. New York Giants

Moon: Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA

Eli may want to follow Brady and Brees in the longevity dream but Giants need a pipeline’er like Garoppolo was for Brady, and Rosen will need development.

JJ: Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming

How Darnold, Allen and Josh Rosen shake out is going to be fascinating to watch from now until late April, with two of the three likely going in the first two picks. Allen’s stock is high as draft evaluations begin, though that could change between now, the Combine, pro days and then the draft. 

3. Indianapolis Colts

Moon: Bradley Chubb, DE, NC State

GM Chris Ballard will want to give his new coach a jump start and a pass rusher on the fast Lucas Oil turf is a must for NFL’s 31st sack ‘D’ corps. Too high to take a flyer on LSU’s Arden Key with his concerns.

JJ: Bradley Chubb, DE, NC State

Chubb is an absolute menace who instantly would give the Colts’ lackluster pass rush a disruptive jolt. With quarterbacks going off the board in the first two selections, Chris Ballard gets his pick of the best players available — and goes with the best one. 

4. Cleveland Browns (from Houston)

Moon: Minkah Fitzpatrick, CB, Alabama

Letting Joe Haden go hurt in more ways than one and Browns need a shutdown force in division with elite defenses, all except for the Browns’ (7 INT).

JJ: Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State

The thought of pairing Barkley with Darnold is awfully enticing for a Browns team that hasn’t ranked in the top half of the league in points scored since 2008. Barkley is as complete a running back as you’ll find in the draft, rushing for 1,271 yards but also catching 54 passes for 632 yards at Penn State last year. 

5. Denver Broncos 

Moon: Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming

Since Peyton Manning finished, Broncos have had woeful QB results, and bringing back Brock Osweiler was a low point among several (Paxton Lynch, Trevor Siemian), all playing in ’17.

JJ: Quenton Nelson, OL, Notre Dame

Nelson may be the best offensive player in this draft — and yes, that includes Barkley in this discussion — and has the physicality and athleticism to be a Pro Bowler from Year 1 to Year 10 in the league. Denver needs to address its quarterback situation, and they could opt for Rosen here, but Nelson seems too good to pass up in this spot. 

6. New York Jets 

Moon: Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State

RBs were devalued a few years ago. Not now, with 6 of top 8 rushers in playoffs, the need for a run game is back in vogue.

JJ: Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA

The Jets could be the landing spot for whatever quarterback is squeezed out of the top two, with 2016 second-round pick Christian Hackenberg looking like a bust at this point. The Jets need to do more to improve their offensive structure around the quarterback with a better offensive line and running game, and could look for Texas tackle Connor Williams here. But in a year that could be a bumper crop of quarterbacks, the Jets get theirs. 

7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers 

Moon: Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State

Ward was a backfield mate of Marshon Lattimore and consistently solid. Bucs haven’t gone DL at No. 1 in 5 years and want to remain elite up front but Ward projects as day-one starter.

JJ: Minkah Fitzpatrick, CB, Alabama

Fitzpatrick looks like the second-best defensive player in the draft, and the Bucs might be jumping for joy if he falls to them at No. 7. Fitzpatrick could be either a corner or a safety, but no matter where he is, he seems like a good bet to be great. 

8. Chicago Bears

Moon: Quenton Nelson, OL, Notre Dame

Too high to take a WR. OL coach Harry Hiestand developed Nelson, and protecting Mitch Trubisky is a franchise-grade mandate. Texas OT Connor Williams is the other option, with more experience on the edge.

JJ: Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama

In going through the first seven picks here, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Bears traded out of this spot, since I agree with Moon that it’s probably too high to take a wide receiver. Perhaps Ryan Pace is able to trade up for the third consecutive year to snag Fitzpatrick or Nelson; or maybe he’ll look to trade down to add some more picks and still have a shot at landing Ridley, a corner (like Ohio State’s Denzel Ward), an outside linebacker (like Texas’ Malik Jefferson) or a tackle (like Notre Dame’s Mike McGlinchey, who played under OL coach Harry Hiestand in college) later in the first round. 

9. San Francisco 49ers

Moon: Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia

Pairing a force player with Reuben Foster immediately creates a defensive core, and Smith is a hedge against Foster injury issues. But Alabama WR Calvin Ridley may be too good to pass up as complement to QB Jimmy Garoppolo.

JJ: Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU

The lure of adding a go-to wide receiver to pair with Jimmy Garoppolo — who made a ragtag bunch of pass-catchers look pretty good after getting the 49ers’ starting nod in December — is too strong to pass up here. Sutton caught 62 passes for 1,085 yards with 12 touchdowns for SMU in 2017.

10. Oakland Raiders

Moon: Vita Vae, DT, Washington

Ridley would fit Raiders’ tradition for impact passing offense if he lasts this long, and Raiders very likely to go offense to muscle up for Jon Gruden’s program and support Derek Carr. But Gruden’s Oakland and Tampa Bay teams were stout on defense. 

JJ: Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia

In Smith, the Raiders could see the rock of their defense for years to come under Jon Gruden. This may be a little high for an inside linebacker, though, and Ward could be an option here as well. 

2017 Bears position grades: Defensive backs

2017 Bears position grades: Defensive backs

2017 grade: B-

Level of need: High

Decisions to be made on: Kyle Fuller (free agent), Prince Amukamara (free agent), Marcus Cooper (contract), Sherrick McManis (free agent), Bryce Callahan (restricted free agent), Quintin Demps (contract)

Possible free agent targets: Trumaine Johnson, Malcolm Butler, Bashaud Breeland, E.J. Gaines, Rashaad Melvin, Robert McClain, Darrelle Revis

There’s a wide spectrum of scenarios for the Bears at cornerback, ranging from keeping the status quo to blowing the whole thing up, and everything in between. Safety is far more stable, with Adrian Amos and Eddie Jackson proving to be a reliable pairing, so that’s set for 2018.

Let’s start with one end of that cornerback spectrum: The Bears keep the top of this unit intact. That means, No. 1, retaining Kyle Fuller via the franchise tag and/or a long-term contract. No. 2, it means bringing back Prince Amukamara, who didn’t record an interception and committed a few too many penalties, but otherwise was a fine enough cover corner. No. 3, it means keeping restricted free agent Bryce Callahan as the team’s No. 1 slot corner.

On paper, this doesn’t seem like an altogether bad option. The Bears weren’t spectacular at cornerback in 2017, but the position was a little better than average, which isn’t the worst place to be for a single unit. Couple with solid play from the safeties and the Bears’ defensive backs were overall a decent enough group. Outside of Marcus Cooper -- who is a candidate to be cut for cap savings -- the Bears may not need to make wholesale changes to this group.

That, though, is a rosier look at this unit. The Bears can certainly improve the personnel in it with a healthy amount of cap space and a strong crop of free agent cornerbacks about to hit the market. Keeping Fuller and then signing a top-tier player like Trumaine Johnson or Malcolm Butler would upgrade this group, as would bringing back Fuller and Amukamara but then using a high draft pick on a player like Ohio State’s Denzel Ward.

Unless the Bears sign two big-time cornerbacks -- i.e. Fuller and Johnson, or even a guy like Brashaud Breeland or E.J. Gaines -- it would seem reasonable for them to use a first or second-round pick on a cornerback in an effort to find a longer-term solution at the position. That doesn’t mean the Bears would absolutely have to go that route, especially with other needs at wide receiver, guard and outside linebacker.

But here’s another thought: It’s not out of the realm of possibility that the Bears are able to sign a combination of two top cornerbacks in free agency. With plenty of cap space top-end free agents lacking at wide receiver and outside linebacker/edge rusher, could Pace allocate a good chunk of that money to, say, tagging Fuller and making runs at Johnson, Butler and/or Breeland? 2018 looks to be a good year to be aggressive in the free agent cornerback market, and that could play into the Bears’ strategy well.

Before we finish, we should carve out some space for Amos and Jackson. Pro Football Focus isn’t the only outlet that’s given Amos high marks -- Bleacher Report’s NFL1000 ranked him as the No. 1 free safety in the league, too. Jackson came in at No. 19 in B/R’s strong safety rankings, which is pretty solid for a fourth-round rookie.

But the larger point here isn’t exactly where Amos and Jackson are in outside evaluations -- it’s that, tangibly, the pair played well off each other on a consistent basis last year. Seeing as Amos didn’t enter the Bears’ starting lineup until Week 4 -- after Quintin Demps suffered a season-ending broken forearm against Pittsburgh -- how quickly and successfully he and Jackson meshed was one of the more impressive developments for the Bears’ 2017 defense. Amos needs to make more plays on the ball and Jackson has some things to clean up, but the Bears enter the 2018 league year not needing to address their safety position. That’s a good place to be for a team with other significant needs.

2017 Bears position grades: Inside linebacker

2017 Bears position grades: Inside linebacker

2017 grade: B+

Level of need: Low

Decisions to be made on: Christian Jones (free agent), John Timu (free agent), Jonathan Anderson (free agent); Jerrell Freeman has reportedly been cut

Possible free agent targets: Demario Davis, Preston Brown, Anthony Hitchens, Avery Williamson, Navorro Bowman, Derrick Johnson

How the Bears rate Nick Kwiatkoski will be the key to figuring out what this unit will look like in 2018. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio thought Kwiatkoski finished last season strong, but strong enough to rely on him in 2018 as the starter next to Danny Trevathan?

The thing with the Bears’ inside linebackers, though: Trevathan makes whoever is playing next to him better. The problem is Trevathan hasn’t been able to stay on the field — he missed time in 2017 with a calf injury and a one-game suspension, and missed half of 2016 after rupturing his Achilles’. Trevathan hasn’t played a full 16-game season since 2013, so durability is an issue for the soon-to-be 28-year-old.

So that leads to this question: Do the Bears need to find someone in free agency, regardless of how they value Kwiatkoski, who’s also missed time due to injuries in his first two years in the league?

Free agency could provide a few options. Demario Davis had a career high 97 tackles for the New York Jets last year and has never missed a game as a pro. Preston Brown had some decent production in Buffalo and also hasn’t missed a game since being drafted in 2014. Avery Williamson may not be a world-beater but has only missed one game in his four years in the NFL.

The Bears could also opt for someone who fits more of a rotational mold, like Dallas’ Anthony Hitchens, or try to lure a veteran linebacker like Navorro Bowman (who played for Vic Fangio in San Francisco) or Derrick Johnson (who Matt Nagy knows from his Kansas City days) to play next to Trevathan and/or Kwiatkoski.

The Bears could opt to keep the status quo and re-sign Christian Jones and John Timu for depth, and enter 2018 with Kwiatkoski and Trevathan as the team’s starters (Jerrell Freeman, who suffered a season-ending injury and then was hit with his second PED suspension in as many years, was cut on Tuesday). Signing a starting-caliber free agent isn’t out of the question, either, but there is a third option for the Bears if they appear to stand pat in free agency: Draft an inside linebacker in April. If that’s the route they go, Georgia’s Roquan Smith could be the guy. But again, those more pressing needs at other positions could mean the Bears don’t burn a first-round pick on an inside linebacker.