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.

Bears grades and needs: What to do with Danny Trevathan, Nick Kwiatkoski?

Bears grades and needs: What to do with Danny Trevathan, Nick Kwiatkoski?

2018 depth chart

1. Danny Trevathan
Usage: 16 games, 93.7 percent of defensive snaps
2019 status: $7.65 million cap hit

The Bears could save $6.4 million in cap space if they were to release Trevathan before March 17, per Spotrac, but that move seems unlikely. Trevathan was one of the more underrated players on the league’s best defense in 2018, serving as a vocal leader while putting together his best season in Chicago. He finished the season with 102 tackles, two sacks, two interceptions, four pass break-ups, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery and eight tackles for a loss, all while playing 986 snaps, the third-highest total on the defense. 

With Chuck Pagano keeping 3-4 continuity, Trevathan will maintain a significant role in the Bears’ defense. Cutting him for cap savings could be detrimental to the Bears’ chances of making the playoffs again in 2019. He’s a guy who not only should be back, but should be one of the team’s most important players again this coming season. 

2. Roquan Smith
Usage: 16 games, 83.7 percent of defensive snaps
2019 status: $4,199,356 million cap hit

For a guy who participated in roughly one and a half practices during training camp and the preseason, and didn’t start in Week 1, Smith put together an impressive and encouraging rookie year. He was all over the field, with his speed, instincts and physicality often overcoming a steep learning curve in Vic Fangio’s defense. He led the Bears with 121 tackles but, perhaps just as impressive, tied for third on the team in sacks with five (which equaled Leonard Floyd’s total). 

Smith’s future is searingly bright. And as the Bears’ roster evolves over the next few years, with Mitch Trubisky’s rookie deal coming to an end and a rich extension due to Eddie Jackson, the Bears can overcome some potential roster/cap casualties by Smith living up to his potential while he’s still on his rookie contract. 

3. Nick Kwiatkoski
Usage: 16 games, 10.6 percent of defensive snaps, 71.5 percent of special teams snaps
2019 status: $2,188,780 cap hit

Kwiatkoski lost his starting job after Week 1, when it was clear the Bears needed Smith’s speed on the field after blowing that 20-point lead to the Packers in Green Bay. He barely played on defense after that, but credit the 25-year-old with committing himself to special teams and being a key contributor on those units (he also caught a two-point conversion pass on “Golden Ticket” in Week 17). 

The Bears, though, could save a little over $2 million in cap space by cutting Kwiatkoski. He’s a solid backup, but if the Bears think 2018 fourth-rounder Joel Iyiegbuniwe could be a similarly-solid reserve, they could decide to move on from Kwiatkoski. 

4. Joel Iyiegbuniwe
Usage: 16 games, 2.2 percent of defensive snaps, 74.6 percent of special teams snaps
2019 status: $739,643 cap hit

“Iggy” played more special teams snaps than anyone on the Bears, though his work on defense was limited to three snaps in garbage time in Week 4 against the Buccaneers and 12 after starters were pulled in Week 17 against the Vikings. That doesn’t give the Bears much film to evaluate, though he did play 129 snaps on defense during the preseason that should help with the team’s evaluation of him. 

5. Josh Woods
Usage: Practice squad
2019 status: Reserve/future contract

Woods, who played defensive back at Maryland, suffered a hand injury in the Bears’ second preseason game but stuck around the practice squad all year. 

Level of need (1-11, with 11 being the highest): 1

If the Bears stick to the status quo with their depth chart here, there’s not much work to be done. Trevathan and Smith are an excellent starting pair, with Kwiatkoski a reliable backup and Iyiegbuniwe a strong special teams contributor. If the team moves on from Kwiatkoski, they could be in the market for another backup here, but that wouldn’t be a pressing need. 

Bears will reportedly release Cody Parkey when new league year begins

Bears will reportedly release Cody Parkey when new league year begins

The biggest question regarding Cody Parkey wasn’t if he’d be released, but when. According to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, the “when” will be at the beginning of the new league year on March 13.

Parkey will still be paid the $3.5 million in remaining guaranteed money on his contract. The Bears guaranteed Parkey $9 million in his four-year, $15 million deal signed last year, and will not net any cap savings by releasing Parkey. The Bears can use a June 1 designation on Parkey to release him on March 13 without costing them any cap space (without using that collectively bargained designation, the Bears would owe an additional $1.125 million against their 2019 cap). They’ll still have to shoulder Parkey’s dead cap figure of a little over $4 million, per Spotrac. 
The move will bring to end an ignominious, brief tenure in Chicago, in which Parkey missed 10 kicks during the regular season before his infamous double-doink that dealt the Bears a loss in their first playoff game in eight years. Murmurs began surfacing regarding Parkey’s reliability when he missed a long game-winning field goal in overtime against the Miami Dolphins (a game the Bears lost), then hit a fever pitch when he bizarrely hit the uprights four times against the Detroit Lions at Soldier Field in November. 
A media circus quickly followed Parkey after that four-doink game, with helicopters from two news stations flying over Soldier Field while he practiced on a Wednesday night. Parkey did hit 10 of 12 field goals and 12 of 13 extra points after that brutal game against the Lions, but there was no coming back from the missed 43-yard field goal that knocked the Bears out of the playoffs. 
Parkey, too, didn’t help his cause by going on “TODAY” the Friday after that double-doink miss, with coach Matt Nagy sounding and looking annoyed with his kicker for that appearance. 
“We always talk as a team, we win as a team, we lose as a team,” Nagy said. “You know, I just -- I didn't necessarily think that that much too much of a ‘we’ thing.”
The Bears signed former Tulsa kicker Redford Jones to a reserve/future contract in January after bringing in several kickers for a tryout at Halas Hall. Cutting Parkey paves the way for the Bears to continue adding kickers in free agency, the draft and/or the undrafted free agent pool. 
Robbie Gould, who’s only missed three of 85 field goal attempts since being cut by the Bears before the 2016 season, is likely to have the franchise tag placed on him by the San Francisco 49ers, according to NBC Sports Bay Area’s Matt Maiocco.