The 2019 college football regular season is over, which means the 2020 NFL draft season is right around the corner. Underclassmen are declaring by the day, all-star rosters are filling out and, of course, mock drafts are being published.
The really unique thing about the Bears in 2019 is how fluid their likely NFL draft needs have been. A few weeks ago, quarterback would've topped the list. Now? Not so much. Tight end, a position that's been non-existent in Chicago's offense all year, suddenly has two players (J.P. Holtz and Jesper Horsted) who've garnered some excitement.
Seasons like this year make trying to pinpoint which direction GM Ryan Pace will go in April's draft extremely challenging. According to the Draft Wire's latest three-round mock draft, the Bears will grab help for the secondary and offensive line in Round 2.
Their first selection (as of the start of Week 15) comes at No. 45 overall from the Raiders. Chicago uses that pick on Utah cornerback, Jaylon Johnson.
It's hard to argue this projection. The Bears may have a bigger need at cornerback by the time the draft rolls around than they do right now if they decide it's time to part ways with veteran starter Prince Amukamara. Chicago needs to make some difficult salary-cap decisions this offseason, and moving on from Amukamara would free up roughly $9 million in cap space.
Johnson (6-0, 190) will be part of the second wave of cornerbacks to get drafted this year. He isn't a first-round talent, and barring an elite showing at the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine, he should be available in the middle portion of the second round.
The Bears land offensive line help at No. 50 overall in this mock draft via Tennessee's Trey Smith.
A former five-star recruit, Smith's talent is undeniable. It's first-round worthy. His medicals, however, are not.
After dealing with blood clots in his lungs in 2018, Smith returned to action this season and was once again a dominant force. He projects as an interior player in the NFL and would be an ideal target for a Bears team that needs to add more talent at guard in their effort to replace longtime starter, Kyle Long.
Smith's medical history is likely to push him into Day 3, however, at which point he'll qualify as one of this year's best value selections.
Matt Nagy thinks about the Packers a lot.
He thinks about his first career game as an NFL head coach, at Lambeau Field, and how he’ll “never forget that day, that game, for so many different reasons.”
He thinks about his first NFC North title, which was clinched when Eddie Jackson intercepted Aaron Rodgers in the end zone, avenging the season’s earlier loss.
And he thinks about Week 1 of this season, when millions of eyes tuned in on Opening Night to watch a supposed Super Bowl contender score three points, at home, in a loss to the Packers.
“I try not to remember too much of that,” he said. “That was a rough one.”
It just so happens that, this week, everyone else is thinking about the Packers too. On the surface level, it’s the 200th meeting in one the league’s most storied rivalries, and a pivotal game in this year’s race for the second Wild Card spot. There’s Aaron Rodgers, who Nagy called, “competitive as hell.” There’s a talented-and-maybe-underperforming defense, with Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith on the edges creating matchup nightmares for an offensive line that’s undergone more change than anyone.
“We knew what kind of players they were,” he added. “They’re not unknown anymore.”
If you wanted to get esoteric, there’s a great redemption narrative to Sunday’s game too. The Packers came into Chicago and exposed the Bears’ starters – who, you’ll remember, sat out the preseason. Things would get worse – so much worse – but the book was out on Nagy’s Bears, and it took them three months to recover.
“I just feel like we’re kind of in a rhythm now,” Mitch Trubisky said. “We’re a different team. There were some things that we had to go through in the first game and the beginning of the season that just didn’t go our way, and there’s things we definitely learned from as an offense. I just feel like we have a new-found identity of what we want to do and everybody is really locked into what they have to do within their job description on the offense.”
Things have been different than Week 1, even if you couldn’t say that until Week 12. Nagy has admittedly found a better rhythm as a play-caller, and many of the issues that plagued the Bears in Week 1 haven’t been an issue lately. The tight end room is producing, they’re shifting through personnel groupings less, and the run game has stabilized – all vital components of the offense that best suits the 2019 Bears. It’s not what Nagy envisioned, but 202 ended up being formative in ways he never expected.
“I feel like a better coach going through this for the players, for my coaches and just the way we communicate,” he said. “The honesty, the belief in one another; going through this is important and it'll help me in the long run, to be able to handle these type of situations when they arise again.”