Brian Urlacher is one step closer to becoming a first ballot Hall of Famer


Brian Urlacher is one step closer to becoming a first ballot Hall of Famer

Brian Urlacher is one step closer toward getting a gold jacket.

The former Bears great was named one of 15 modern-era finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Tuesday night, and is one of four first-year eligible players (Steve Hutchinson, Ray Lewis and Randy Moss).

In 13 seasons in the NFL — all with the Bears from 2000-2012 — Urlacher registered 41.5 sacks, 22 interceptions and scored five touchdowns (two interception returns, two fumble recoveries and one reception). He was also voted to the Pro Bowl eight times, named All-Pro five times and finished his career as Chicago's all-time leading tackler.

His best season came in 2005 when he helped lead the Bears to the Super Bowl with the No. 1 ranked defense in fewest points allowed after making 171 tackles, including 10 tackles for loss, and six sacks.

The final vote will be announced on Feb. 3 at the NFL Awards in Minneapolis, the day before Super Bowl LII. And it's hard to imagine No. 54 not being one of them.

Mock Draft: How last week's free agent frenzy affects the Bears at No. 8

Mock Draft: How last week's free agent frenzy affects the Bears at No. 8

Last week’s free agent frenzy brought plenty of things into focus as it relates to April’s NFL Draft. Kirk Cousins signing with the Minnesota Vikings left the Cleveland Browns, New York Jets and Denver Broncos all needing a long-term solution at quarterback, even with the Browns trading for Tyrod Taylor, the Jets signing Teddy Bridgewater and Josh McCown and the Broncos signing Case Keenum,

The Jets moved up from No. 6 to No. 3 over the weekend, and the Buffalo Bills are expected to make a push to move up from No. 12 to snag a quarterback. The Miami Dolphins and Arizona Cardinals could be sniffing around to trade into the top 10, too. 

All this movement has a significant impact on the Bears, who could have some options to trade down from No. 8. They could hold on to the pick, too, with the hope that someone like Bradley Chubb, Minkah Fitzpatrick or Quenton Nelson falls to them with quarterbacks flying off the board early. 

So with that in mind, here’s the latest mock drafts from JJ Stankevitz and John “Moon” Mullin:

1. Cleveland Browns

JJ: Sam Darnold, QB, USC

With the Jets trading up to the No. 3 pick and the Giants possibly looking at drafting a quarterback, too, Cleveland’s hand will be forced to take a quarterback with the No. 1 overall pick. Previously, the thought here was the Browns could wait until their No. 4 pick to take a quarterback. But if they have conviction on the guy they want, they’ll take him first overall. 

Moon: Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State

The far-and-away top rusher in this draft lit up the Scouting Combine and loosely rated the top single player in this draft. Even with Jets apparently trading up for QB, the cluster of QB prospects, none as high-rated as Barkley, still give the Browns options at No. 4.

2. New York Giants

JJ: Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming

There’s been some buzz that the Giants could snag Quenton Nelson here, but while pairing him with Nate Solder is enticing, using the second overall pick on a guard may be prohibitive. The same may go for Saquon Barkley, unless the Giants are absolutely sold him him being a mega-star in the league. For now, we’ll say the Giants stick with a quarterback, one who could refine his game behind the scenes for a year behind Eli Manning. Maybe the Giants consider trading down with the Buffalo Bills, if they aren't sold on anyone at No. 2. 

Moon: Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA

Drills and interviews will strike teams differently but with Barkley gone and Eli’s time running out, Rosen rates as best of this year’s QB clump. Sam Darnold has been prominent but USC QB’s have a very suspect history (for every Carson Palmer, there are Matt Barkley, Matt Leinart, Mark Sanchez and even Todd Marinovich). Rosen could be the latest ‘SC guy to plummet on draft day. Of course, UCLA did produce Cade McNown, but Troy Aikman was also a Bruin.

3. New York Jets (via Colts)

JJ: Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma

The Jets didn’t invest so much draft capital to trade up three spots to not take a quarterback. With Darnold and Allen off the board, it'd either be Rosen or Mayfield here. 

Moon: Sam Darnold, QB, USC

Trading up from No. 6 says Jets, even with Teddy Bridgewater and Josh McCown signed, are targeting a QB and want to get ahead of at least one Browns pick. A surprise could be coming but teams don’t mortgage their draft typically for less than a QB and Colts likely don’t trade out of this slot without being pretty sure their top target will still be there in a couple picks. The guess is which QB the Jets want, but making a move points to being sure they get more than just a leftover.

4. Cleveland Browns (via Texans)

JJ: Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State

The Browns could be in the market to trade down, too, especially if they want to add more pieces instead of shooting for one more elite talent. If they stay here, the opportunity to pair Barkley with a quarterback may be too good to pass up. 

Moon: Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma

Measurables may not be ideal (6-foot-1) but they weren’t for Russell Wilson either. Mayfield made all the throws and has the benefit of coming from a big-time program.

5. Denver Broncos 

JJ: Quenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame

This is where things get interesting. If Darnold, Allen and Mayfield are off the board, do the Brocons feel good enough about Josh Rosen to use such a high draft pick on him? With Keenum signed, the Broncos don’t necessarily have to be in a rush to find their franchise quarterback unless they're 100 percent sold on their guy. Drafting Nelson would help solidify the team’s offensive line for when they do make a move to get that young quarterback. 

Moon: Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming

The epic QB run continues. Denver and John Elway have fouled up the QB spot since Peyton Manning retired and need a QB hit. Evaluations (theirs and those of teams right above them) will determine which one falls to Broncos after they lost out to Minnesota for Kirk Cousins.

6. Indianapolis Colts (via Jets)

JJ: Bradley Chubb, DE, N.C. State

The Colts’ atrocious pass rush needs an upgrade, and with them still picking ahead of the Bears, there’s little chance Chubb falls to them at No. 8. 

Moon: Bradley Chubb, DE, N.C. State

Trading down and still getting their guy is the early leader for ’18 draft move for Indy, where defense is such a priority for the Colts and its new coaching staff. Frank Reich likely can work Andrew Luck into something and a franchise pass rusher raises everything on that side of the football.

7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

JJ: Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama

Fitzpatrick is one of those elite athletes a coaching staff collectively salivates over, and even though the Bears have a solid safety pairing with Adrian Amos and Eddie Jackson, he’s too good a talent to pass up. Unfortunately, he doesn’t get to the Bears here, with only three quarterbacks going in the top eight, not four. 

Moon: Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama

This is the top DB in the draft, left there by QB-mania, and the Bucs want to build a defense.

8. Chicago Bears

JJ: Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech

This will be a fascinating pick for the Bears if the clear-cut top offensive guys (Barkley and Nelson) and defensive guys (Chubb and Fitzpatrick) are off the board. The Bears invested heavily in Kyle Fuller (four years, $56 million) and Prince Amukamara (three years, $27 million) at cornerback, leaving a clear need for improvement in the linebacker room. So here's the question: Do the Bears go for a more proven playmaker at a position they've already addressed and target Ohio State's Denzel Ward or Iowa's Josh Jackson, both cornerbacks? Do they go for a more pure inside linebacker like Georgia's Roquan Smith? Or do they go with a more raw, projectable guy who isn't 21 yet in Tremaine Edmunds? Or do they reach for a "need" and draft a pure edge rusher like Boston College's Harold Landry or UTSA's Marcus Davenport?

While Fuller and Amukamara comprise a solid cornerback duo, both have missed time due to injuries recently (Fuller the entire 2016 season, Amukamara two games in each of the last two seasons) and combined for only two interceptions last year (both of which were Fuller's, and came in December). Does that change the calculation here for the Bears to go after Ward, who had two interceptions last year but has playmaking upside? Or Jackson, who had eight interceptions last year?

Reaching for an edge rusher seems unlikely, given Ryan Pace's adherence to drafting by best available instead of by need (three of his first four draft picks last year came on the heels of signing a player in free agency who played that position, and the other was a running back after Jordan Howard rushed for over 1,000 yards as a rookie). Smith is an athletic freak who was productive at Georgia, but probably is an inside linebacker only. Edmunds has the potential to be an edge rusher, but could also be a long-term solution at inside linebacker if that doesn't work out. So while he's not the finished product that Ward/Jackson/Smith are, his potential is through the roof and could fill a red-line need for Vic Fangio's defense. 

Moon: Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech

Suddenly an extremely interesting spot after the QB craze. A handful of their targeted players will still be on the board, making a trade down very attractive. Their ratings are key; GM Ryan Pace won’t and shouldn’t go all-in based solely on need. Retaining Prince Amukamara and Kyle Fuller for big $$ takes CB need way down, and someone may be hungry to trade up for Ohio State CB Denzel Ward. If there’s a trade-down scenario for G Quenton Nelson, Bears would seriously consider help for a questionable interior O-lineman to protect QB Mitch Trubisky. If one of the QB’s is still on the board, the Buffalo Bills have already jumped up to No. 12 and might pick up the phone to come a little further.

But the dire Bears need, after releasing Pernell McPhee and Willie Young and even after signing ex-49er Aaron Lynch, is for rush-LB and those are too rare and too expensive in free agency. Edmunds has length for 3-4 OLB or possible ILB when Bears go nickel. The decision will be between Edmunds, with length, and Roquan Smith, with better production (6.5 sacks, 14 TFL in ’17).

The Bears’ decision will turn on their (secret) evaluations and two questions: whether Edmunds carries the requisite grade to go this high, and how driven Pace is to give his new (offensive) coach even more firepower to ensure success.

9. San Francisco 49ers

JJ: Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia

Smith is more of a finished product than Edmunds, so for a team that’s looking to contend in the uber-competitive NFC West this year, San Francisco is happy to go with him to anchor their defense. 

Moon: Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia

Assuming Bears don’t grab Smith, he is a hedge against Reuben Foster's injuries and deepening character issues. Calvin Ridley may be too good to pass up as complement to QB Jimmy Garoppolo.

10. Oakland Raiders

JJ: Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State

The Raiders didn't get anything out of an injured Gareon Conley in 2017, but go for another Ohio State cornerback with a first-round pick this year. 

Moon: Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State

Ward was a backfield mate of Marshon Lattimore and consistently solid. Jon Gruden will want help on offense for Derek Carr, and Alabama’s Calvin Ridley will be tempting, but Ward projects as day-one starter.

JJ’s mock for the rest of the draft:

11. Miami Dolphins: Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
12. Buffalo Bills (via Bengals): Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville
13. Washington Redskins: Vita Vea, DT, Washington
14. Green Bay Packers: Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama
15. Arizona Cardinals: Derwin James, S, Florida State

Notes: The Bills, Dolphins and Cardinals could be jockeying to move up, with the Bills' need certainly the most pressing. If Miami is sending signals it may take a quarterback, that could not only jump-start Buffalo's efforts to trade into the top five, but perhaps it presents the possibility Arizona would want to move up ahead of Miami -- possibly with the Bears at No. 8 as a trade option. 

16. Baltimore Ravens: Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M
17. Los Angeles Chargers: Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame
18. Seattle Seahawks: Marcus Davenport, EDGE, UTSA
19. Dallas Cowboys: Da’Ron Payne, DT, Alabama
20. Detroit Lions: Derrius Guice, RB, LSU

Notes: Perhaps the Chargers want to find Philip Rivers' long-term replacement, making them a trade option with the Bears, too. Moving down to No. 17 would present the Bears with better options at edge rusher, like Davenport or Boston College's Harold Landry.

21. Cincinnati Bengals: Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa
22. Buffalo Bills: Connor Williams, OT, Texas
23. Los Angeles Rams: Harold Landry, EDGE, Boston College
24. Carolina Panthers: Will Hernandez, OG, UTEP
25. Tennessee Titans: Sam Hubbard, EDGE, Ohio State

26. Atlanta Falcons: Hayden Hurst, TE, South Carolina
27. New Orleans Saints: Mike Daniels, C, Iowa
28. Pittsburgh Steelers: Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama
29. Jacksonville Jaguars: Tyrell Crosby, OT, Oregon
30. Minnesota Vikings: Isaiah Wynn, OG, Georgia
31. New England Patriots: Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise State
32. Philadelphia Eagles: Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU

Notes: The Saints and Steelers need to start thinking about long-term replacements for Drew Brees and Ben Roethlisberger, respectively, but windows to win Super Bowls are short and both teams may be better off trying to add impact talent rather than trading up for someone who won't start until 2019 at the earliest. 

Bears' roster moves create a looming roster hurdle for Kevin White


Bears' roster moves create a looming roster hurdle for Kevin White

Questions have been hanging over Kevin White ever since GM Ryan Pace opted to invest the No. 7 pick of the 2015 draft on a wide receiver with one outstanding college season on his resume. Given Pace’s strike for a quarterback with a roughly similar body of work last draft, this may qualify as a Pace “strategy,” but that’s for another discussion closer to the draft.

But in the wake of signings at wide receiver by Pace and the Bears over the start-up days of free agency, a new and perhaps darker cloud is forming over White. This is beyond the obvious ones visited on the young man by his succession of three season-ending injuries, and by a nagging belief in some quarters that White is a bust irrespective of the injuries.

The point is not that White will never amount to anything in the NFL. Marc Colombo came back from a pair of horrendous leg injuries to have a career as a solid NFL tackle, albeit with the Dallas Cowboys, not the Bears.

The problem facing White now, assuming he comes back able to stay healthy in a competition with Cameron Meredith for the spot opposite Allen Robinson, is whether there is reasonably going to be a roster spot the Bears can use for him.

This would be on top of whether Pace and the organization could bring themselves to cut ties with a quality individual in a move that would amount to admitting a failure in what was supposed to be a defining initial top-10 pick by a regime committed to building through the draft.

White is still under his rookie contract with its $2.7 million guaranteed for this season, so there is little reason to simply give up on him, even assuming an offset if White then signs on somewhere else.

But Robinson and slot receiver Taylor Gabriel account for two of the starting three wideout spots. For the other wide receiver job, Meredith, also coming off season-ending knee surgery, rates an early edge on White based on Meredith’s 66-catch 2016 season.

If White does not start, he then becomes a backup, and backups are expected to contribute on special teams. It’s what has kept Josh Bellamy in the NFL, and what new Bears tight end Trey Burton points to as his ticket to making it through his first years with Philadelphia.

White doesn’t cover kicks, doesn’t return them, doesn’t block them. The Bears have typically expected special-teams participation from their No. 4-5 receivers, although the fact that Meredith and Robinson are coming off knee injuries, and chances that the Bears will keep six wide receivers in the West Coast offense of Matt Nagy, all could tilt a decision in favor of White simply as insurance/depth, even with his own injury history.

It is difficult not to have a spot of rooting-interest in White, a young guy trying so hard to get a career dream off the ground. It’s just also difficult to see a clear fit in the new Bears world that began forming in earnest in the past several days.