Pre-Combine mock draft: Offensive line or defense for Bears at No. 8?

Pre-Combine mock draft: Offensive line or defense for Bears at No. 8?

As NFL coaches, general managers and personnel descend on Indianapolis, a look at where the top 10 picks stand before draft preparations begin in earnest…

1. Cleveland Browns

JJ: Sam Darnold, QB, USC

No change here, with the Browns taking the top quarterback out there. But this could very well shift after the combine if Darnold doesn’t impress, while someone like Josh Rosen or Josh Allen does.

Moon: Sam Darnold, QB, USC

Combine performances and interviews can change draft stocks but for now, Darnold hasn’t lost his spot. 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.

2. New York Giants

JJ: Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming

If it looks like I’m going back and forth on this…it’s because I am. The combine should provide some more clarity as to whether Allen’s accuracy issues at Wyoming were the product of the players around him or if that’s an issue that could drop his draft stock. Either way, his raw talent makes him a good fit for a Giants team that can give him a year to develop behind Eli Manning.

Moon: Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA

Giants need a succession plan after Eli, who may want to follow Brady and Brees in the longevity dream but recent overall Giants results and coaching change foreshadows other changes.

3. Indianapolis Colts

JJ: Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State

Sticking with an offensive mind in Frank Reich after getting burned by Josh McDaniels seems to keep the Colts on track to draft an offensive player — and they go with the best one available in this draft to, they hope, pair with a healthy Andrew Luck.

Moon: Bradley Chubb, DE, NC State

The consensus top pass rusher, a position that always goes early. 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.

4. Cleveland Browns (via Houston)

JJ: Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama

Fitzpatrick is the very best defensive back in this class, and it’s between him and N.C. State defensive end Bradley Chubb to fight it out to be the best defensive player this year. We’ll say the Browns go with Fitzpatrick a year after drafting defensive end Myles Garrett with the first overall pick.

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).

5. Denver Broncos

JJ: Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA

Since I’m slotting Allen at No. 2, I’m moving Rosen down to No. 5, presumably after Denver makes a run at Kirk Cousins but doesn’t land him. The Broncos need help on their offensive line, but No. 5 may be too high to draft a guard (even if it’s Quenton Nelson) or one of this year’s top tackles (Texas’ Connor Williams, Notre Dame’s Mike McGlinchey and Oklahoma’s Orlando Brown).

Moon: Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming

May be the most over-hyped, boom-or-bust prospect in the draft. Baker Mayfield may scramble the top five, but Denver needs a QB hit and evaluations will determine which one.

6. New York Jets

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

Free agency will be a major factor in deciphering in what direction the Broncos and Jets will go. I’m sticking with my earlier prediction of Cousins landing in New York, opening up the Jets to take the best edge rusher in this class.

Moon: Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State

RB’s 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.

7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

JJ: Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State

Ward’s 5-foot-11 stature may not fit the profile of a top 10 cornerback, but has a certain savviness for the position about him to pair with outstanding athleticism. The Buccaneers, like the Bears, have plenty of cap space to spend this offseason and need a refresh at cornerback, but we’ll say they sign a veteran and then pair him with Ward.

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.

8. Chicago Bears

JJ: Quenton Nelson, OG, Notre Dame

Is No. 8 still too high for a guard? Maybe, but heading into the Combine, there’s not a clear-cut No. 2 pass rusher behind Chubb, and No. 8 may similarly be too high to draft Calvin Ridley, Courtland Sutton or one of the other top wideouts this year. So the Bears, having just released Josh Sitton, go younger and replace him with a guy who could be an instant Pro Bowler after reuniting with Harry Hiestand. This pick is subject to change depending on what happens in Indianapolis this week, and is also based on the thought the Bears will address cornerback via free agency. Trading down out of this spot — especially with Mayfield still on the board — would still very much be an option here, too.

Moon: Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Va Tech

If there’s a trade-down scenario for G Quenton Nelson, Bears would seriously consider. If Barkley somehow slips, look for a surprise Bears strike at RB and then trade Jordan Howard.

But the need after releasing Pernell McPhee 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.

9. San Francisco 49ers

JJ: Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama

For now, Ridley looks like the best receiver in this draft class, though that could change by the end of the week. Whoever the No. 1 receiver is this year would seem likely to go to the 49ers — unless the Bears take him first — to pair with Jimmy Garoppolo and that hype train of an offense.

Moon: Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia

Smith is a hedge against Ruben Foster injury and deepening character issues. Calvin Ridley may be too good to pass up as complement to QB Jimmy Garoppolo.

10. Oakland Raiders

JJ: Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech

Expect the super-athletic 6-foot-5, 250 pound Edmunds to be a star at the Combine, and he very well could be in play for the Bears at No. 8. He has the versatility to play any linebacker position, but considering who’s Lance Zierlein compared him to — that would be Brian Urlacher — perhaps his best fit is as an inside linebacker to anchor a team’s defense for years.

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.

After releasing him, Bears reportedly bringing back Marcus Cooper


After releasing him, Bears reportedly bringing back Marcus Cooper

Marcus Cooper's offseason has resembled a will they, won't they relationship.

The corner back signed a three-year deal with the Bears last offseason, but struggled last year and was released by the Bears after one year of that deal. However, Adam Caplan is reporting that Cooper could be back in a Bears uniform this season.

Cooper was officially released by the Bears on March 14 and visited the Arizona Cardinals earlier on Friday. Cooper started for the Cardinals in 2016.

Cooper began the year as a starter for the Bears, but finished with just four starts. He finished 2017 with 18 tackles and three passes deflected in 15 games.

His play with the Bears didn't exactly make him Mr. Popular with fans, as can be observed by looking at the savage replies to Caplan's report.

Cooper's original contract for the Bears with valued at $16 million over three years so the reported $2.5 million number is a significant pay cut and could mean he is being brought back for depth as opposed to last year when he was expected to start.

Plenty of possibilities loom ahead of Bears' draft pick

Plenty of possibilities loom ahead of Bears' draft pick

As the Bears begin to fill out their draft board in earnest, they’ll do so by evaluating the players they like and the players they think will be available when they pick eighth in April. And what players check both those boxes and go into their draft “clouds,” as Ryan Pace calls them, will depend largely on how many quarterbacks are taken ahead of the Bears’ pick. 

With about a month until the draft, it seems clear two teams will take a quarterback with a top-seven pick: the Cleveland Browns and New York Jets. The Browns own the Nos. 1 and 4 picks; the Jets traded up from No. 6 to No. 3, and teams rarely invest that kind of draft capital to not draft a quarterback. 

That leaves a few hinge points in how many quarterbacks are picked by the time the Bears are on the clock:

New York Giants (No. 2 overall)

The Giants still have an aging Eli Manning but could move to use the second pick to draft his long-term replacement. Or, alternatively, they could use this deep class of top-end quarterbacks as an avenue to trade down, add some picks and build out a young core that way. Either of these scenarios would be good news for the Bears, as we’ve seen Penn State running back Saquon Barkley, N.C. State defensive end Bradley Chubb and Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson connected to the Giants at No. 2 as well, if they were to stay there. The Buffalo Bills could be motivated to trade up to No. 2 to make sure they get the guy they want with quarterbacks almost assuredly going off the board at Nos. 1 and 3. 

Cleveland Browns (No. 4 overall)

If the Browns get their quarterback with the first pick — Sam Darnold? — they could be sitting in an ideal spot at No. 4. If the Giants draft a quarterback, Cleveland could play hardball and tell teams they’re fine keeping the fourth pick and drafting Barkley with it. That could create a bidding war between the Buffalo Bills (No. 12) and Denver Broncos (No. 5) to trade up and draft the last of the four clear-cut top quarterbacks in this class. In this scenario, Cleveland adds a bunch of picks to an already-sizable stash and accelerates their growth through the draft. 

If the Giants were to trade out of the No. 2 pick, let’s say to the Bills, it may lessen Cleveland’s desire to trade down from No. 4 unless a team in need of a quarterback like the Arizona Cardinals (No. 15) or Miami Dolphins (No. 11) starts lurking around. But as we saw last year with the Bears trading up one spot to draft Mitch Trubisky, teams don’t want to leave things to chance if they have conviction on the quarterback they want. So that brings us to the…

Denver Broncos (No. 5 overall)

The Broncos signed Case Keenum to a two-year deal and still have 2016 first-round pick Paxton Lynch on their roster, though he hasn’t shown much in only five games as a pro. Does Denver absolutely, positively have to draft a quarterback? No. They’re probably in the same boat as the Giants in that regard. But what if they really like Josh Allen and/or Baker Mayfield, both of whom their coaching staff worked with at the Senior Bowl, and one of them is still on the board when the Browns’ pick comes up at No. 4? Or what if Josh Rosen has been their guy all along? 

In that case, John Elway may make an aggressive move to guarantee he gets the quarterback he wants, and not risk losing that guy if a team were to cut the line by trading with the Browns. 

The other scenario is less positive for the Bears: Maybe the Broncos only have one or two quarterbacks out of this group they want, and they either can’t find a trade partner to move out of No. 5 or don’t want to. If three quarterbacks are drafted in the first seven picks, the Bears may not have the opportunity to draft one of Nelson, Chubb or Alabama defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick. That’s not necessarily a bad thing — Virginia Tech’s Tremaine Edmunds, for example, is a super-talented prospect — but we seem to be moving toward a consensus that Nelson, Fitzpatrick, Chubb and Barkley are the four best non-quarterback prospects in this draft. And in all likelihood, the Bears will only be able to draft one of them four quarterbacks are taken before they pick. 

The wild card here is Nelson, given his position (guard) is rarely seen as worthy of being a top-10 pick. But those who saw him up close in college believe he’s a future perennial Pro Bowler, possibly beginning as soon as his rookie year. The Bears’ fit is obvious, with Harry Hiestand coming to coach the offensive line from Notre Dame and the team — as of right now — still having a fairly clear need for another interior offensive lineman. Perhaps Nelson falls to the Bears even if there are only three quarterbacks off the board before they pick, but having four go off the board would make things a little less stressful at Halas Hall in late April. 

Indianapolis Colts (No. 6 overall) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (No. 7 overall)

The Colts already traded down once, and likely did so with the confidence that Chubb would still be on the board at No. 6 to help their limp pass rush. Fitzpatrick seems to be a good fit with Tampa Bay, though a player of his caliber would be a good fit anywhere. Either of these teams still could be persuaded to trade down, especially if the Giants and/or Broncos pass on a quarterback.

Chicago Bears (No. 8 overall)

If four quarterbacks are off the board by the time the Bears pick, that’s ideal for Pace. If three are, he still could get someone from his No. 8 pick “cloud” and be content staying there. If only two are — and this doesn’t appear to be a likely scenario — that means the Bills haven’t found a trade partner and may want to leapfrog the Dolphins at No. 11 to get their guy. More likely, if the Bears are able to trade down from No. 8, it would be because a team like Arizona wants to make sure the quarterback they want isn’t snagged by an opportunistic team ahead of them. 

But Pace's draft history has seen him trade up far more frequently than trade down. If someone who's in his draft cloud is available when the Bears go on the clock, chances are he'll pick that guy and not trade down. 

Plenty can and will change between now and when the draft begins on April 26. But for right now, the landscape ahead of the Bears suggests only positive things setting up for their first-round pick.