Bears

2016 NFL Mock Draft: Never too early to think QB of future for Bears

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2016 NFL Mock Draft: Never too early to think QB of future for Bears

By Josh Norris

Please do not use these “projections” as where prospects were once considered. Mock drafts this early are more for watchlist purposes. "Next year" is not always better than this year. Remember how closely these prospects are evaluated and even nitpicked during the process. That does not happen on live viewing.

1. Washington Redskins - DL Joey Bosa, Ohio State - You will see Bosa listed as an edge player in many places. He can line up outside, but I’ve seen Bosa handled tackles a guards while closed by another defender. He wins with power and quickness.

2. Cleveland Browns - QB Cody Kessler, USC - Of the quarterbacks in first round contention (at this time), Kessler easily was the most consistent in terms of positive performances. His arm is not outstanding, but he certainly has functional mobility and a willingness to work through reads.

3. Oakland Raiders - T Ronnie Stanley, Notre Dame - You all know how much I love Stanley’s game. I would have ranked him as the top T in the 2015 draft. He can take over for Donald Penn on the left side.

4. Tennessee Titans - CB Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida - Hargreaves has faced some of the top receivers in the country. He has not always won, but there is obvious skill in his game. Expect him to lock down many opponents this season.

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5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - DL/EDGE DeForest Buckner, OregonArik Armstead was worthy of a first round selection, but there were numerous games where Buckner was the better player. After focusing on offense early in the 2015 draft, the Bucs might shift to defense in 2016.

6. Jacksonville Jaguars - DL A’Shawn Robinson, Alabama - The Jags added a much needed edge player in Dante Fowler. They have plenty of young pieces on offense. A long term interior defensive line piece might be their biggest need.

7. New York Jets - QB Christian Hackenberg, Penn State - Remember, it is May of 2015, but I do not see how someone can watch Christian Hackenberg’s 2014 games and see a top 10 worthy prospect. Was the situation good? No. Did he make it worse? Frequently, yes. 2015 will obviously be important for his evaluation.

8. St. Louis Rams - LB Myles Jack, UCLA - A complete linebacker who can help in the run, blitzing and in coverage. The Rams could use a linebacker who consistently plays at a high level.

9. Arizona Cardinals - QB Cardale Jones, Ohio State - I am so happy we will have more than two games to evaluate Cardale. After re-watching both, the Oregon contest was more impressive than his game against Alabama. His evaluation is a bit of a mystery right now: will Cardale continue to escape out of the back of the pocket? Can he progress past being a see-it, throw-it passer?

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10. Minnesota Vikings - T Laremy Tunsil, Ole Miss - Tunsil suffered a fracture fibula in December, so that is definitely worth watching. Before the injury he was one of the more dependable left tackles in college football.

11. Carolina Panthers - S Su’a Cravens, USC - Cravens makes plenty of plays in the backfield, at the line of scrimmage and at the second level both in coverage and against the run. I would be interested to see how he handles more split safety or single high reps.

12. Chicago Bears - QB Connor Cook, Michigan State - At times, Cook’s inability to effectively handle pressure borders on being a fatal flaw. Hopefully he harnesses the positive reps when he shows good movement while keeping his eyes up. Cook is certainly willing to throw into contested situations.

Check out Norris' complete 2016 first round mock draft at Rotoworld.com

Bears Free Agent Focus: Eric Ebron

Bears Free Agent Focus: Eric Ebron

Stop me if you've heard this one before: The Bears need a tight end.

It's a narrative that started bubbling since the middle of the 2019 regular season when it became apparent that neither Trey Burton nor Adam Shaheen was the answer at the position for the Bears. Coach Matt Nagy was forced to turn to undrafted rookie Jesper Horsted and little-known veteran J.P. Holtz to find production for his offense. It was a big problem for Nagy, whose system calls for a playmaking tight end like Travis Kelce to hit its maximum potential.

To be fair, there's only a few at that level (Kelce, George Kittle and Zach Ertz) in the league right now. But the Bears have to do their due diligence this offseason to try and find a 'lite' version of that guy. One player in free agency who has a resume of recent production as a pass-catcher to maybe be 'that guy' is Eric Ebron, who's coming off of a down year with the Colts.

Ebron appeared in just 11 games last season and finished with 31 catches for 375 yards and three touchdowns. It was a stark contrast from 2018 when he scored 13 touchdowns and was one of the NFL's best playmakers at the position.

RELATED: Bears Free Agent Focus: Case Keenum

The problem with Ebron as a viable target for Chicago is that his tenure in the league produced more seasons like 2019 than 2018, but his pedigree as a former top-10 pick with high-end athletic traits warrants at least a look for a possible one-year prove-it deal.

At 26 years old, Ebron still has a lot of good football left in his legs. His market value should come in lower than Burton's $8 million per season; according to Spotrac, Ebron's expected contract this offseason will pay him around $7.5 million per year. Compared to the likely cost for players like Austin Hooper (Falcons) and Hunter Henry (Chargers), Ebron will be a bargain.

Ryan Pace will be bargain shopping in March, and Ebron may end up on the discount rack after the first wave of free agency concludes. Teams will be hesitant to offer him the kind of multi-year deal he's going to seek, which will give the Bears a chance to swoop in and lure him with the prove-it theory. He's young enough to earn a lucrative contract in 2021 if he posts big-time numbers in 2020, which Nagy's offense will give him the chance to do if he stays healthy.

Even the worst version of Ebron is better than the best of what Chicago has on its roster right now. He should rank highly on their offseason wish list, assuming his market remains where it logically should.

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Bears Free Agent Focus: Case Keenum

Bears Free Agent Focus: Case Keenum

The Bears have been connected to all of the big-name free agent quarterbacks this offseason. General manager Ryan Pace is expected to add competition for the starting job in free agency or the 2020 NFL draft after incumbent and former second overall pick, Mitch Trubisky, regressed mightily in his third season last year.

But rather than focus on players like Tom Brady, Philip Rivers and even Marcus Mariota, it makes more sense to pay close attention to the next tier of free agent passers who could offer a potential upgrade from Trubisky while not necessarily creating shockwaves through Halas Hall upon signing.

One quarterback who fits that description perfectly is Case Keenum, the journeyman starter who's entering his 10th season in the league. 

Keenum is coming off of back-to-back forgettable seasons with the Broncos and Redskins, but it wasn't long ago when he was one of the better storylines in the NFL after leading the Vikings to 11 wins in 14 starts in 2017. He threw for 3,547 yards, 22 touchdowns and seven interceptions that year and earned himself a respectable two-year, $36 million contract with Denver in 2018. His tenure as a Bronco lasted just one season (he finished 2018 with a 6-10 record) and his time as the Redskins starter was short-lived in 2019. He started just eight games for Washington.

For his career, Keenum's completed 62.4% of his passes and has thrown 75 touchdowns compared to 47 interceptions.

Keenum's resume isn't overly impressive, which is why he's a great fit for what Pace should try to accomplish over the next two months. He has to find a competent starter who can take advantage of everything else the Bears have going for them (namely, a championship-caliber defense) and who can be aggressive enough on offense to score enough points to win the close games. Keenum proved in 2017 that he can do that, especially when he has a good supporting case around him.

Keenum also qualifies as a solid bridge quarterback in the event Trubisky crashes and burns in 2020. At 32 years old, he's young enough to keep the starting job for a couple of seasons while Chicago attempts to find a younger long-term answer under center. 

Last but not least, he's going to be cheap. He didn't have a good year in 2019, and he was making just $3.5 million with the Redskins. There will be a limited market for his services this March, which means the Bears should be able to land him at a backup's salary despite his starter's upside. And that matters, especially for a team that's trying to free up salary cap space for other positions of need along the offensive line and secondary.

Keenum won't move the needle much for Bears fans in March, but landing a player of his caliber could ultimately be the difference between the Bears missing the playoffs for the second consecutive season and making a deep playoff run.