Trying to zero in on who the Bears could take with the 87th pick didn’t get much easier after the first round of the NFL Draft, with 54 selections still separating Ryan Pace from being on the clock as of Friday afternoon.
The Bears will, of course, have opportunities to trade up or trade down, as they do every year, so staying at 87 is not a given. Seeing as the Bears don’t have much draft capital in 2019 — five picks — trading down could make more sense than trading up, though Pace has shown an aggressive streak in the draft in years past.
The 87th pick — or wherever the Bears pick in the third round — represents the best opportunity for Pace, Matt Nagy and the team’s scouts to find a starting-caliber player in this year’s draft. With that in mind, here’s a wide look at who the team could be interested in this evening:
The best-case scenario for the Bears’ draft room is a player with a first- or second-round grade falling all the way into the third round, either where they pick at No. 87 or at a spot at which going up to get that player would be palatable. As we saw with the Oakland Raiders taking Clelin Ferrell fourth overall and the New York Giants taking Daniel Jones sixth, there are major differences between each team’s draft board (and, too, conventional wisdom), so it’s not out the question for a player with a high grade inside Halas Hall to make it all the way to No. 87.
Guessing who will make it is far tougher. Someone like Notre Dame receiver Miles Boykin — who we mocked to the Bears at No. 87 — could fit the bill, especially given only two receivers went off the board in the first round (Hollywood Brown to the Ravens at No. 23, N’Keal Harry to the Patriots at No. 32). Do the Bears “need” a receiver right now? Not really. Same goes for an off-ball inside linebacker. There’s no such thing as too many offensive linemen, defensive linemen, edge rushers and cornerbacks.
The Bears, however, do “need” a running back, tight end and safety in this draft, one would think. But just because they need a player at that position doesn’t mean that’ll be the guy with No. 87.
Here’s where it’s a little easier to take a stab at who could interest the Bears. We’ll go off the groups of 10 players ranked between Nos. 82-92 on the big boards of three smart draft analysts: Rotoworld’s Josh Norris, the Athletic’s Dane Brugler and the Ringer’s Danny Kelly.
Norris: CB Joejuan Williams (Vanderbilt), Interior OL Nate Davis (UNC-Charlotte), TE Jace Sternberger (Texas A&M), S John Abram (Mississippi State — drafted No. 27 by the Oakland Raiders), S Amani Hooker (Iowa), Interior OL Hjalte Forholdt (Arkansas), S Marquise Blair (Utah), CB Isaiah Johnson (Houston), LB Sione Takitaki (BYU), LB Jahlani Tavai (Hawaii), CB Jamel Dean (Auburn)
Brugler: WR Miles Boykin (Notre Dame), TE Kahale Warring (San Diego State), Interior OL Connor McGovern (Penn State), TE Dawson Knox (Auburn), CB Jamel Dean (Auburn), TE Jace Sternberger (Texas A&M), DL Renell Wren (Arizona State), LB Te’von Coney (Notre Dame), CB Trayvon Mullen (Clemson), DL Trysten Hill (UCF), WR Mecole Hardman (Georgia)
Kelly: EDGE Maxx Crosby (Eastern Michigan), OT Tytus Howard (Alabama State - drafted No. 23 by the Houston Texans), QB Will Grier (West Virginia), EDGE D’Andre Walker (Georgia), RB Damien Harris (Alabama), WR Mecole Hardman (Georgia), OT Max Scharping (Northern Illinois), WR Jalen Hurd (Baylor), WR Terry McLaurin (Ohio State), DL Khalen Saunders (Western Illinois), EDGE Christian Miller (Alabama)
By no means will the Bears definitely take someone from any of these three lists. That no single player showed up on all three lists shows how different big boards can be both inside and outside NFL war rooms. Plus: Two players on these lists were taken in the first round.
But let’s use this pool as a starting point to take a look at a few players who could fit the Bears’ “best available” strategy while also filling a need:
CBs Joejuan Williams, Isaiah Johnson, Jamel Dean and Trayvon Mullen
Pace has only picked one cornerback in four drafts — that being Deiondre’ Hall in the fourth round of 2016’s draft, and Hall was later shifted to safety. But as colleague John “Moon” Mullin pointed out, Pace has not shied away from committing resources to that position, and with a potential salary cap crunch looming taking a cornerback of the future while adding immediate depth would check off a need.
If the Bears do draft a cornerback at No. 87, it could also provide a clue as to what defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano expects out of players at that position beyond the basics (good coverage ability, ball skills, etc.).
TEs Jace Sternberger, Kahale Warring & Dawson Knox
The Bears only have three tight ends on their roster — Trey Burton, Adam Shaheen and Ben Braunecker — which, from a depth perspective, screams “need.”
But what do the Bears want out of another tight end? Someone with the versatility to play the “U” (split) and “Y” (in-line) spots? Insurance at the “Y” if Shaheen gets hurt or doesn’t develop the way the team expects? Another receiving threat to combat a potential loss of Burton, whose injury and subsequent absence played a significant factor in the team’s playoff loss to the Philadelphia Eagles?
Each of these three tight ends could present an answer to each of those questions. Sternberger is an athletic pass-catcher who had 10 touchdowns his senior year in College Station, but would need significant development to be able to play in-line at the NFL level, so he may be better suited as a “U” option. Knox fits the bill as a super-athletic player whose college production (39 catches, 605 yards in three seasons) may not match his upside as a versatile U/Y tight end. Warring is a former basketball player who could immediately step in as insurance for Shaheen at the “Y,” and at the least could help the Bears be more effective in 12 personnel.
The question for Pace here is if he could find an answer to his tight end question later in the draft, and not need to use his highest pick on one.
Safeties Amani Hooker and Marquis Blair
Pace found Eddie Jackson in the fourth round and Adrian Amos in the fifth round, so it would be a mild surprise if he jumped at a safety in the third round. But again — if one of these guys fits a best player available mold, it won’t matter what past history says or what the need is.
That being said, the Bears are only slated to have Ha Ha Clinton-Dix for one season, and finding his eventual replacement for cheap will be important, especially given the rich contract extension Jackson will be due after the 2019 season.
That Josh Jacobs was the only running back to go off the board in the first round wasn’t surprising — the Raiders used one of the first-round picks the Bears sent them in the Khalil Mack trade to land him — but it leaves an open question heading into Friday: Will there be a run on running backs before the Bears pick?
If Darrell Henderson is on the board when pick No. 87 comes up, it’ll be a fascinating look into what Nagy wants out of a running back. Henderson’s explosive speed and playmaking ability in both the passing and running games make him a dynamic prospect — which also would make it a little surprising if he was still available later into the third round.
Pace has been adamant about the Bears not needing to take a running back at No. 87, which could have some truth to it — or it could be classic draft-week misdirection. We’ll see.
EDGEs Maxx Crosby, D’Andre Walker and Christian Miller
The thing about edge rushers and the later rounds of the draft: It’s a position that usually gets picked over quickly, leaving little talent by the end of the third round. Seven defensive ends/outside linebackers went in the first 32 picks; expect a second wave of edge guys to go off the board by the end of Round 2. The most sacks a player picked 87th or lower had in 2018 was three (Detroit’s DaShawn Hand, a fourth-round pick), and while it’s not impossible to find a quality edge presence that late — the Vikings got Danielle Hunter at No. 88 in 2015, for example — it’s difficult.
The Bears need better edge rushing depth, yes, but then again — what team doesn’t?
OLs Nate Davis, Hjalte Forholdt and Max Scharping
Pace has taken an offensive linemen in every draft as Bears’ general manager, and has used a second - or third-round pick on one in three of his four drafts (Hroniss Grasu, Cody Whitehair, James Daniels). There’s no such thing as too much offensive line depth, even if Charles Leno, Bobby Massie and Whitehair have proven to be exceedingly durable in recent history. Taking a tackle or a guard here wouldn’t be out of the question.
Not a “need” but a “fit”
Could Baylor’s Jalen Hurd (a running back turned receiver) or Georgia’s Mecole Hardman (an explosive athlete) be the kind of dynamic weapon Nagy covets, perhaps moreso than a running back right now? What about a defensive lineman to compete with Jonathan Bullard, who’s entering the final year of his rookie deal? Or an off-ball inside linebacker with an eye on the end of Danny Trevathan’s contract after the 2019 season?
In reality, if you squint hard enough, you can find a reason why every position is a “need” with this third-round pick. Well, except for three: Quarterback, kicker and punter, given it would be far too early to take a developmental quarterback and certainly too early to take a kicker or punter.
But beyond those three positions, everyone and everything will be on the table for Pace tonight.