Bears - Jaguars prediction: Two desperate teams pitted against each other

Bears - Jaguars prediction: Two desperate teams pitted against each other

If the Bears were being blown out week after week (see: Chicago Bears, 2014), all attention would rightly swing toward the 2017 offseason and draft. But after some halting early steps (Dallas, Philadelphia), the dismal 1-4 start is not necessarily a dead-solid indicator of what is to come.

At least the Bears have to hope so. Because looming after Sunday’s meeting with the Jacksonville Jaguars, also a one-win team, are the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings with a combined record of 8-1 to this point. A defeat at the hands of Jacksonville, which has had only one of its four games decided by more than four points, would move the Bears to the brink of a 1-7 first half.

The chief negative is that the Bears have largely destroyed themselves, which is precisely what poor/losing teams do. In the six-point loss to the Indianapolis Colts the Bears were flagged for 10 penalties, most of them directly affecting scoring opportunities. The Bears out-flagged their opponents in three games this season, all losses. They are simply not good enough yet offensively to overcome their own missteps. The Bears drew penalties on five of their 11 possessions at Indianapolis. On only one of those did they come back to score a touchdown.

“We've got to eliminate the self-inflicted wounds, really,” said quarterback Brian Hoyer. “Can't have the penalties, things like that, holding us back, when we get down, especially in the red area. I think all of our penalties happened inside the 40, so that's taking potential points off the board. We've got to stop doing that and continue doing what we're doing well.”

Right now the Bears are doing well at gaining yardage – Hoyer is the first quarterback in franchise history to post three straight games with 300 passing yards and zero interceptions – but not so well at gaining those final yards before the end zone.

The Indianapolis game was the first in which the Bears scored more than 17 points. By comparison, last season the Bears scored 20 or more in seven of their first nine games and had won four of six to reach 4-5.

“The 500 yards of offense [522 at Indianapolis] is something that we can smile about,” said guard Kyle Long, “but it needs to translate to points.”

For their part the Jaguars have struggled behind what some quarters will be the Bears’ model moving into 2017 and beyond. Jacksonville selected quarterback Blake Bortles with the third-overall pick of the 2014 draft but has lurched along with a passer rating of just 79.4, although he posted a season-best 96.4 in the Jaguars’ win over the Colts.

The key to the win was Bortles throwing zero interceptions for the first time this season and just the third time in his last 16 games that he has not turned the football over at least once.

[MORE BEARS: Defense gets a boost from even partial return of Pernell McPhee]

Bortles was sacked 51 times last season and 12 already this season through four games. But Andrew Luck was a sack target, taken down five times by the Bears last week, and still was able to break the Bears’ defense down when he was allowed to escape and make late-play completions.

“We’re going to have to do a better job of keeping [Bortles] in the pocket and not letting him extend plays and throw on the run or scramble for first downs,” said defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. “That’s going to have to be an improvement over last week.”

The Jags dumped Lovie Smith pal Bob Babich as D-coordinator after last season and upgraded the defense with former Bronco Malik Jackson on the defensive line and Tashaun Gipson at safety. But Jacksonville was 1-7 on road last year and hasn’t won more than five games since 2010 or had winning season since 2007.

View from the Moon called this game a win in preseason picks. That is still the call.

Bears 20, Jaguars 17

View from the Moon ’16 record:    3-2

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.