The raw numbers of how Ryan Pace drafted skew toward defense, with Pace picking three offensive players (offensive lineman James Daniels and wide receivers Anthony Miller and Javon Wims) against four defensive players (linebacker Roquan Smith, linebacker Joel Iyiegbuniwe, defensive lineman Bilal Nichols, outside linebacker Kyle Fitts).
But Pace had two buckets of “needs” to balance as he navigated the 2018 NFL Draft. On one hand, he needed to continue to build an offensive structure around Mitch Trubisky; on the other, he needed to add to Vic Fangio’s defense after largely standing pat with that group during free agency.
Finding a perfect balance between those two goals wasn’t going to be easy, certainly not with the Bears entering the draft with only two top-100 picks. And whether or not Pace was successful in improving both sides of the ball — as well as special teams — through the draft won’t be known until this fall at the earliest.
Not every one of the Bears’ draft picks will realize their best-case scenario, but Pace very well could’ve found three starters in this group. How each pick fits:
ILB Roquan Smith (8th overall): The former Georgia star should be an immediate starter next to Danny Trevathan at inside linebacker with pass-rushing instincts that should contribute to the Bears’ collective effort in pressuring opposing quarterbacks. He’s a sideline-to-sideline athlete who possesses strong leadership traits and should mesh well in the locker room.
OL James Daniels (39th overall): He’ll begin his pro career as a guard but will cross-train at center, the position at which he was the most successful in college. Wherever he winds up, Daniels should improve the interior of the Bears’ offensive line, keeping defenders out of Trubisky’s face and creating holes in zone running concepts for Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen.
WR Anthony Miller (51st overall): His route-running acumen should allow him to step in and start as the “Z” receiver in Matt Nagy’s offense. Drafting Miller gives Trubisky what looks like a full complement of weapons with Howard, Cohen, Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Trey Burton, Adam Shaheen and Miller all in the fold.
LB Joel Iyiegbuniwe (115th overall): He may have been a “reach” to draft in the fourth round, but when we get into Day 3 of the draft, if a team has conviction on a guy they should take him and not worry about taking him too high. Iyiegbuniwe should be an immediate contributor on special teams who could have some situational value in Fangio’s defense.
DL Bilal Nichols (145th overall): Nichols tested well at the NFL Combine and had 5 1/2 sacks in 2017, his only year playing in a 3-4 defense at Delaware (Matt Nagy’s alma mater). He’ll compete for playing time in a defensive line unit that needed to add depth, and his athleticism gives him some upside going forward.
OLB Kylie Fitts (181st overall): The former Utah edge rusher is an ideal boom-or-bust player on whom to use a sixth round pick. He tested well at the NFL Combine and had a seven-sack season in 2015, but injuries (Lisfranc, ankle, shoulder) limited him to only nine games with 4 1/2 sacks from 2016-2017. If he can stay healthy, he could contribute immediately as a situational pass rusher.
WR Javon Wims (224th overall): The 6-foot-3, 215 pound product caught 45 passes for 720 yards with seven touchdowns in 2017, and should provide competition for Kevin White, Josh Bellamy and/or Bennie Fowler in training camp. The book on him is he has good hands and body control, but needs to improve his route running and strength to see the field on offense.
Final grade: A-
Trading up for Miller — which cost the Bears a 2019 second-round selection and pick No. 105 in this year’s draft — was the boldest move made by Pace this week, but his skillset should fit well in Nagy’s offense. Smith and Daniels profile as solid, sensible picks who can immediately contribute. Drafting Iyiebuniwe in the fourth round may have been the only stretch, but Pace has unearthed Cohen, Eddie Jackson and Nick Kwiatkoski with fourth round picks in the past. Addressing a questionable group of edge rushers earlier could've made this draft look better.