Bears

Chicago Football Madness Sweet 16: Two All-Pros face off in 2018 region

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NBC Sports Chicago

Chicago Football Madness Sweet 16: Two All-Pros face off in 2018 region

Excitement for the Bears are at an all-time high, so while March Madness and the NCAA Tournament begin, we still have Bears on the mind. So we've created Chicago Bears Football Madness, pitting players from the three best Bears teams and legends head-to-head. This is the 2018 region.

1.   Khalil Mack
4.   Eddie Jackson

Mack: Good players are hard to find in the NFL. Great players are even tougher. Elite players? Those guys rarely become available. So when the Oakland Raiders were willing to trade an elite player, Ryan Pace did what he had to do, surrendering two-first round picks and a boatload of cap space in the process. Mack immediately transformed the Bears’ defense from a good unit to a great one, with his mere presence scrambling opposing quarterbacks and coordinators. No player had a bigger impact on the Bears’ 12-4 season from not only a production standpoint, but from a mental one, too. Mack was worth every bit of draft capital and cap space the Bears parted with to acquire him in 2018. 
 -JJ Stankevitz

Jackson: The undisputed breakout start of the 2018 Bears, Eddie Jackson is extremely the real deal. PFF had him as their top safety in football all year, and the NFL seemed to agree when he was named All-Pro. He has a knack for finding the end zone, and at one (late) point this last season had as many touchdowns as a BUNCH of Pro Bowl receivers. 8 interceptions, 3 touchdowns, and 94 solo tackles over 30 games is incredible, and Jackson’s set to be a staple of the Bears’ defense for years to come. And you think Landon Collins got paid … 
-Cam Ellis

2.  Matt Nagy 
3. Akiem Hicks

Nagy: From the moment Nagy first addressed his team in early April of last year, his message resonated. It wasn’t just the offense quickly buying into him — it was the defense, too, appreciating his genuine personality and swagger. “Club Dub” became a massive hit, as did him yelling “Boom!” after wins later in the season. Innovative plays like “Willy Wonka” and “Santa’s Sleigh” became almost an expectation near the goal line. Not only did Nagy make the Bears good again, he made them fun, too. 
- JJ Stankevitz

Akiem Hicks: Ryan Pace's biggest hit in free agency. Hicks is your #3 seed in a bracket that some might consider the favorite to come out of the region. While he might not have the flare of a Mack or a Nagy ahead of him, his hard nosed and nasty presence anchored arguably the NFL's top defense to the tune of 7.5 sacks, 41 tackles, and 3 forced fumbles. Freezer Left made him the most beloved Bears DL since the Fridge. 
- Matt Rooney

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Mock Draft: Bears stick to best player available, wait to take a running back

Mock Draft: Bears stick to best player available, wait to take a running back

Mock drafts are, at best, educated guesses. At worst, they’re blindly throwing darts at a board. 

For the first time since 2014, the Bears will not make a selection in the first 10 picks of an NFL Draft. And for the first time since 2010, the Bears won’t have a first- or second-round selection at all. That makes for a lot more guesswork in projecting this year’s NFL Draft for those outside Halas Hall — and those in it as well. 

“We’re trying to project right now who will be there (at No. 87),” general manager Ryan Pace said of his team’s first pick this year. “So I would just say that third-round cloud, for example, is just bigger than it is in previous years. There’s this bigger pool of players that we’re talking about.”

So with that in mind, here’s a stab at who the Bears could wind up with after the dust settles on Saturday:

Third round (No. 87 overall): Miles Boykin, WR, Notre Dame

Ryan Pace goes for a true “best player available” play here, given the Bears don’t “need” a wide receiver, at least right now. The 6-foot-4, 220 pound Boykin blew up at the NFL Combine this spring by running a 4.42 40-yard dash, vaulting the Tinley Park native into some second-round discussions. But if a team doesn’t take a shot on his outstanding athletic profile and the upside he flashed in his redshirt junior year in South Bend (59 receptions, 872 yards, eight touchdowns), the Bears could. Boykin would be a good fit with the Bears, especially given he’d be provided at least a year to learn the offense and refine his game without necessarily having the pressure of needing to start, as Anthony Miller had a year ago. 

“There’s so many variables and so many scenarios, because there’s so much space before we pick,” Pace said. “There’s a bigger pool of players, so you’re playing out every one of these scenarios. ‘Man, what if this player fell?’ Or there’s just a bigger pool of players we’re talking about. A lot of scenarios. That’s probably the challenge that exists with that.”

More than any pick, No. 87 will be an opportunity for Pace to pluck someone he, Matt Nagy and scouts like who perhaps has fallen further than expected. The Bears don’t “need” Boykin right now. But in a year? They very well could. 

Fourth round (No. 126 overall): Will Harris, S, Boston College

Harris’ 4.41 second 40-yard dash was the fourth-fastest among safeties in this draft class, and he totaled 158 tackles for Boston College in the last two years while steadily improving as a run defender. He doesn’t profile as a ballhawk based on his past production (five interceptions in four years) but the Bears could see Harris as someone with long-term potential to play next to Eddie Jackson in the future. 

If the Bears do take a safety around this part of the draft, remember: Pace unearthed Adrian Amos and Jackson in the fifth and fourth rounds, respectively. While not everyone has become a key starter (Deon Bush, Deiondre Hall), the Bears’ front office does seem to know what to look for in mid-round safeties. 

Fifth round (No. 162 overall): Corey Ballentine, CB, Washburn

Pace has selected someone from below the FBS level in each of his last three drafts: Hall (Northern Iowa) and DeAndre Houston-Carson (William & Mary) in 2016, Adam Shaheen (Ashland), Tarik Cohen (North Carolina A&T) and Jordan Morgan (Kutztown) in 2017, and Bilal Nichols (Delaware) in 2018. Ballentine, from Division II Washburn, participated in the Senior Bowl and is regarded as having the athleticism and makeup to make it in the NFL with the ability to play either outside or in the slot. 

PROJECTED TRADE: Bears acquire a sixth-round pick (No. 204) from New England for 2018 seventh round pick (No. 238) and 2020 seventh-round pick

The Patriots are notorious for hoarding picks and frequently trading down, so if the Bears want to move into the sixth round, targeting New England’s comp pick here makes sense. And trading down would land the Bears, in this scenario, their running back:

Sixth round (No. 204): Travis Homer, RB, Miami (Fla.)

Part of this projection is having all three of Darrell Henderson, Miles Sanders and David Montgomery go off the board before the Bears pick at No. 87. If any one of them — Henderson especially — is available when the Bears pick in the third round, it wouldn’t be a surprise for Pace to jump at the opportunity to draft a running back. 

The Bears waited until the sixth round to address their most obvious need last year — edge rusher, in drafting Kylie Fitts — so we’ll say Pace does the same thing this year (running back in 2019, though, is far less of a need than edge rusher was in 2018). Homer averaged six yards per carry in three years at Miami and flashed some pass-catching potential. At the least, he could be a third-down back as a rookie with some special teams upside — think a replacement for Benny Cunningham — who could have an opportunity find a larger place in the Bears’ offense. 

Seventh round (No. 222, from Denver via Philadelphia): Yosuah Nijman, OT, Virginia Tech 

The 6-foot-6, 324 pound 23-year-old has good athleticism and size but poor technique, making him an ideal prospect for offensive line coach Harry Hiestand to develop behind the scenes. Interestingly, this would be the first time Pace has picked an offensive tackle since the last selection of his first draft (Tayo Fabuluje, who never played in the NFL). 

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Bears fans on social media want Penn State RB Miles Sanders in 2019 NFL Draft

Bears fans on social media want Penn State RB Miles Sanders in 2019 NFL Draft

Even without a pick until the third round, Bears fans are still excited for what the 2019 NFL Draft could bring.

They’ve had to do their homework on prospects available later in the draft, but overall, fans have reached a consensus on their favorite player for the 87th overall pick.

Sports Illustrated partnered with the Clemson Social Media Listening Center to look at which draft prospects have received the most attention from fans on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Bears fans are enamored with Penn State running back Miles Sanders in the third round.

“After dealing Jordan Howard to the Eagles, the Bears are in the market for a back to pair with Tarik Cohen,” Sports Illustrated wrote. “It's easy to understand why Sanders, a savvy runner with an emerging three-down skill set, would be garnering the most buzz among Bears fans.”

Sanders emerged from the shadow of Saquon Barkley to break out in 2018, and a strong showing at the NFL combine bolstered his draft stock.

He might have played his way out of the Bears draft range, but if he’s on the board when Ryan Pace is on the clock, the fans will be clamoring for their favorite running back.