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Moon's Mini-Mock NFL Draft: Bears pick Alabama DT A'Shawn Robinson

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Moon's Mini-Mock NFL Draft: Bears pick Alabama DT A'Shawn Robinson

The NFL owners meetings were not directly draft-related but some actions and statements during the sessions, along with signings and pro days elsewhere, have had draft implications.

During those meetings, GM Ryan Pace said that Akiem Hicks was “the start” of adding defensive linemen. While coach John Fox was clearly pleased with the rehab work of Ego Ferguson coming back from knee surgery, Ferguson projects as only one piece of the base 3-4 rotation.

Former Bears quarterback and CSN Chicago analyst Jim Miller posits the Bears grabbing Alabama defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson to this point. Despite more than a dozen other players being mock-draft’ed to the Bears at No. 11, CSNChicago.com’s is staying on that same tack with the draft now four weeks distant.

The overall here actually has gotten borderline-comical. SBNation’s informal survey of mocks detailed the Bears taking, in no particular order, Ezekiel Elliott, Jack Conklin, Ronnie Stanley, DeForest Buckner, Shaq Lawson, Noah Spence, Sheldon Rankins, Robinson, Darron Lee, Reggie Ragland, Leonard Floyd, Vernon Hargreaves, Jarran Reed and 19.5 percent “other.”

[MORE BEARS: Changes coming to 2016 NFL Draft in Chicago]

If you weren’t keeping count, that would be more possibilities than there are picks through the Bears at No. 11.

Every NFL team has its draft board, ranking the upcoming candidates for the year’s selection process that begins Thursday, Apr. 28. Those grades can fluctuate based on private workouts, pro days, uncovered information and any number of factors that emerge on a weekly, sometimes daily basis.

Accordingly, CSNChicago.com will publish its timely, up-do-the-latest “Mini-Mock” draft every Thursday, culminating to Day 1 of the 2016 NFL Draft. “Mini-Mock” will target the Top 15 picks of the draft, the range in which the Bears reside (No. 11). “Mini-Mock” also will incorporate all the latest mock-draft predictions for the Bears’ pick, news, reports, information from pro days and workouts, and relevant available data, as well as specific updates on selected other significant draft prospects.

Moon's Mini-Mock NFL Draft

1. Tennessee Titans: Laremy Tunsil, T, Mississippi

Comment: Tunsil not running “40’s” due to hamstring and has some injury history. But did “explosive” 34 reps of 225 lbs. Besides showing nimble feet in drills. Also, Titans sent massive presence to Florida State Pro Day for defensive back Jalen Ramsey.

2. Cleveland Browns: Carson Wentz, QB, North Dakota State

Comment: Browns signed RGIII with understanding that competition would be coming. Wentz completed 62 of 65 scripted passes at Pro Day. But do Browns like Jared Goff better?

3. San Diego Chargers: DeForest Buckner, DE, Oregon

Comment: Ramsey rising, could go here, but elite defensive line talent is more prized, and Buckner considered elite. Team wanting quarterback could trade up to here for Goff or Wentz.

4. Dallas Cowboys: Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State

Comment: Interest in Matt Forte says running back a priority but issues with Greg Hardy, Randy Gregory could push ‘Boys to Bosa.

5. Jacksonville Jaguars: Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State

Comment: Edge rusher complements Malik Jackson signing for interior. Bosa also did drills at OSU Pro Day.

6. Baltimore Ravens: Myles Jack, LB, UCLA

Comment: Pro Day performance dispelled knee concerns and could move Jack top-5. Jack also has April 1 private Pro Day. 

7. San Francisco 49ers: Jared Goff, QB, California

Comment: Still no Colin Kaepernick trade and Goff’s Pro Day may have vaulted him ahead of Wentz but quarterback still looks like the call for team in need.

8. Philadelphia Eagles: Jalen Ramsey, CB, Florida State

Comment: New coach Doug Pederson put Goff and Wentz through private workouts. But Ramsey is self-proclaimed “best player in this year’s draft” and somebody’ll agree.

9. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Vernon Hargreaves III, CB, Florida 

Comment: Mini-run on defensive backs? Brent Grimes settles one cornerback spot but Hargreaves best-available if Bucs don’t grab A'Shawn Robinson.

10. New York Giants: Paxton Lynch, QB, Memphis

Comment: First five free agent signings were on defense. Giants shopped for offensive tackles but get Eli Manning heir-apparent here. 

11. BEARS: A’Shawn Robinson, DL, Alabama

Comment: Will go best-available, and cornerback could fall, but still a defensive line spot open and Bears like the talent pool.

12. New Orleans Saints: Shaq Lawson, DE/LB, Clemson

Comment: Lawson or Georgia’s Leonard Floyd fill need for edge pressure.

13. Miami Dolphins: Noah Spence, DE, Eastern Kentucky

Comment: Buzz building that Spence, who did only defensive line drills at Pro Day, has quieted some character concerns, which could bump him higher.

14. Oakland Raiders: Reggie Ragland, LB, Alabama

Comment: Raiders dumped middle linebacker Curtis Lofton.

15. Los Angeles Rams: Leonard Floyd, DE, Georgia

Comment: Chris Long exit leaves Rams weak on edge after Robert Quinn injury dip in ’15.

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How others see the Bears pick:

DeForest Buckner (Lester Wiltfong Jr., Windy City Gridiron/SB Nation)

Leonard Floyd (Daniel Jeremiah, NFL.com and Mel Kiper, ESPN)

Ronnie Stanley, OT, Notre Dame (Pete Prisco, CBSSports.com)

Joey Bosa (Ike Taylor, NFL Media analyst)

Jarran Reed, DL, Alabama (Rob Rang, CBS Sports)

Ezekiel Elliot (Charles Davis, NFL Network)

A’Shawn Robinson (Jim Miller, Comcast SportsNet, Sirius Radio)

Jack Conklin, OT, Michigan State (Cris Collinsworth, NBC)

Noah Spence (Michelle Bruton, Bleacher Report)

Leonard Rankins, DT, Louisville (Dane Brugler, CBS Sports)

Darron Lee, LB, Ohio State (Matt Miller, Bleacher Report

Shaq Lawson (Todd McShay, ESPN)

[MORE: Complete NFL Draft coverage on CSNChicago.com]

Remaining first round order:

16. Detroit Lions
17. Atlanta Falcons
18. Indianapolis
19. Buffalo
20. N.Y. Jets
21. Washington
22. Houston
23. Minnesota
24. Cincinnati
25. Pittsburgh
26. Seattle
27. Green Bay
28. Kansas City
29. Arizona
30. Carolina
31. Denver

(Note: New England forfeited 1st round pick)

2017 Bears position grades: Defensive Line

2017 Bears position grades: Defensive Line

2017 grade: B+

Level of need: Medium

Decisions to be made on: Mitch Unrein (free agent), John Jenkins (free agent)

Possible free agent targets: Jared Crick, Frostee Rucker, Dominique Easley

This unit was consistently the Bears’ best in 2017, with Akiem Hicks playing at a Pro Bowl level (don’t let his exclusion from the game fool you on that) and Eddie Goldman putting together a rock-solid, healthy year. 

Hicks signed a four-year contract extension just before the season began and rewarded the Bears with a dominant year, racking up 8 ½ sacks and 15 tackles for a loss. Goldman played in and started 15 games and was a key reason why the Bears limited opposing rushers to four yards per carry, tied for the 10th-best average in the league. 

But while the Bears’ defensive line was certainly good, it wasn’t as good as it could’ve been. These words from Vic Fangio ring true for Hicks and Goldman:

“I think they all have a lot more to give to us than we’ve seen,” Fangio said. “And it’s our job to get them to improve and become even better players. That will be more important to us than anybody we can acquire between now and whenever our first game is. So, and I know it’s always sexy to talk between now and the first game, you know, who are you going to draft, who’s in free agency, etc., but we’ve got to get our so-called good players playing even better. And that will be critical.”

Hicks will enter Year 3 in Fangio’s scheme, while 2018 will be Goldman’s fourth. It’ll also be a critical year for Jonathan Bullard and Roy Robertson-Harris, who’ve flashed potential at times but haven’t been able to turn that into consistent success on the field. 

And that’s where we begin to look ahead to free agency and the draft. Is the Bears’ evaluation of Bullard -- their 2016 third-round pick -- positive enough to hand him a bigger role in 2018? That’s question No. 1 to answer, with No. 2 then being if the team should try to re-sign Mitch Unrein. 

It may be a bit risky to move forward with Bullard, given how popular Unrein was among the Bears’ defensive coaching staff. 

“He’s one of the glue guys on the defense and the team,” Fangio said last November. “Every team needs a few of those guys who are going to do everything right, full speed, hard and tough all the time, and that’s Mitch.”

Defensive line coach Jay Rodgers offered this up about Unrein back in October: “He allows those guys to play fast,” with “those guys” being Hicks and Goldman. 

Statistically, the 30-year-old Unrein doesn’t  jump off the page, but he did record a career high 2 ½ sacks in 2017. Perhaps there would be some benefits to continuity in the Bears’ base 3-4 defensive line.

Worth noting too is this position isn’t a huge need, given Unrein usually played between 40 and 55 percent of the Bears’ defensive snaps on a per-game basis last year. Keeping Unrein for a relatively low cap hit would make some sense, as opposed to testing free agency to replace him.

Jared Crick is coming off back surgery and an ineffective 2016; Dominique Easley is coming off his third torn ACL this decade; Frostee Rucker is in his mid-30’s. The Bears could look to pick a 3-4 defensive end in April, but that would be a pretty quick re-draft of the position and would be an indication they don’t think much of Bullard. This seems like a position where keeping the status quo is likely, save maybe for replacing John Jenkins with a different backup behind Goldman. 
 

2017 Bears position grades: Offensive Line

2017 Bears position grades: Offensive Line

2017 grade: C+

Level of need: Medium

Decisions to be made on: Josh Sitton (contract), Eric Kush (contract), Hroniss Grasu (contract), Bobby Massie (contract), Tom Compton (free agent), Bradley Sowell (free agent)

Possible free agent targets: Andrew Norwell, D.J. Fluker, Justin Pugh, Josh Kline, Jonathan Cooper

How the Bears’ offensive line will shape up in 2018 begins with a decision on which the Bears are already on the clock. The team has until March 9 to pick up Josh Sitton’s 2018 option -- or, to put it another way, they have until March 9 to determine if Sitton was/is/will be good enough to justify keeping him and not netting about $8 million in cap savings, per Spotrac. 

For what it’s worth, Bleacher Report ranked Sitton as the league’s sixth-best guard in 2017. If the Bears’ grades of Sitton match those outside ones, then the team probably won’t cut him -- not destabilizing Mitchell Trubisky’s offensive line would be well worth the money in that case. While Sitton turns 32 in June, cutting him would put a lot of pressure on Kyle Long, who hasn’t been fully healthy since 2016. The Bears are hopeful that Long will be back to full strength after multiple offseason surgeries, but releasing Sitton and then signing/drafting his replacement would be a gamble on Long’s health. 

Sitton’s status is the first part of the Bears’ 2018 offensive line equation. There’s also a decision to be made on Bobby Massie, who Bleacher Report ranked as the NFL’s 14th-best right tackle last year but could be cut for about $5.5 million in cap savings, according to Spotrac. It wouldn’t be surprising if the Bears cut or kept both Sitton and Massie for now, then drafted an offensive lineman in the first round (like Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson or Texas tackle Connor Williams) and released one of them. Or they could keep both through the end of the 2018 season. All those options would make sense on some level.

What wouldn’t seem to make sense is the Bears cutting Sitton or Massie and replacing them with a free agent. This year’s offensive line free agent class, without adding any potential cap casualties to it, isn’t particularly strong. By Bleacher Report’s rankings, the best free agent right tackle is Houston’s Breno Giancomi, who’s 27th in that list -- 13 spots behind Massie. At left tackle, New England’s Nate Solder (No. 22) isn’t rated as highly as Charles Leno (No. 20), who we'll talk about in a bit here. 

The only potential upgrade available via free agency would be Carolina Panthers guard Andrew Norwell (No. 2 in B/R’s rankings), who’s 26 and is in line for a big payday this spring -- but that would seemingly be counter-intuitive to releasing Sitton and then potentially paying more money to a different guard, even if he’s younger and has more long-term upside. The Bears could opt for a cheaper guard in free agency who could have some potential working with respected O-line coach Harry Hiestand -- the Giants’ D.J. Fluker (57th in B/R’s rankings) or Justin Pugh (42nd) fit that mold, as would the Titans’ Josh Kline (37th) or Cowboys’ Jonathan Cooper (38th). Or the Bears could keep Sitton and still sign one of those guys as insurance in case Long and/or Eric Kush, who tore his ACL last training camp, isn’t ready to start the season. 

Tom Compton and Bradley Sowell proved to be serviceable backups last year and could be an option to return, even with a new coaching staff in place. The health of Kush, who was missed as a reliable backup in 2017, will be important in figuring out what the Bears' O-line depth looks like. Hroniss Grasu struggled when he was on the field and missed time due to a hand injury, and despite playing for offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich at Oregon could be on the chopping block before/during training camp. 

We’ll finish here with some thoughts on Leno and Cody Whitehair. Could the Bears upgrade at left tackle and displace Leno to the right side of the offensive line? Possibly, especially if Hiestand believes he can make that move work. But it’d be odd if the Bears shifted Leno off left tackle and then signed someone who’s older and, depending on the evaluator, not even as good as him. 

This is all probably a moot point, since the Bears’ internal evaluation of Leno is what matters here. Leno is 26 and the Bears believe he hasn’t reached his ceiling yet, so more than likely, he’s sticking where he is. At the very least, he’ll enter 2018 with a starting job on the Bears’ offensive line. 

One other offseason objective for Hiestand and the new coaching staff: Keeping Whitehair at the same position. Whitehair’s versatility felt like it worked against him at times last year, with the former regime opting to shift him between guard and center quite a bit from the start of training camp through the early part of the season. That instability seemed to affect Whitehair’s play, as he went through a bizarre patch of snapping issues after moving back to center and struggled to be as consistent as he was in 2016. But Whitehair finished 2017 strong, and keeping him at center for the entirety of 2018 could get him back on track to make his first Pro Bowl.