Bears

Trust the tape: Bears feel confident in Division II draft picks Adam Shaheen, Jordan Morgan

Trust the tape: Bears feel confident in Division II draft picks Adam Shaheen, Jordan Morgan

When the Bears used their second-round pick on Division II tight end Adam Shaheen, it jogged coach John Fox’s memory to someone he saw develop 27 years ago.

In 1990, when Fox was a defensive backs coach for the Steelers, Pittsburgh drafted tight end Eric Green in the first round from Liberty University. Liberty, until 1989, competed at the Division II level, and Green went on to be a two-time Pro Bowler and catch 36 touchdowns in his 10-year career.

“You flash back when you’ve been doing it as long as I have,” Fox said. “I still have my senses, but every once in a while players will jump to mind. … (Green was from a) very small school but a big body.”

The Bears used three of their five picks in the 2017 NFL Draft on players who didn’t play at the FBS level: Shaheen (D-II Ashland), fourth-round running back Tarik Cohen (FCS North Carolina A&T) and fifth-round offensive lineman Jordan Morgan (Kutztown).

The step up in competition will be most stark for Shaheen and Morgan, both of whom dominated opposition that isn’t close to what they’ll face in the NFL every single week. Morgan had a taste of what facing better players is like at the Senior Bowl — where he was under the watch of the Bears coaching staff — and said after an initial shock, the transition wasn’t too difficult.

“There (were) some speed adjustments, adjusting to the talent level, but I think once I got used to that I kind of just started to take off from there,” Morgan said. “At the end of the day football is football no matter what division or school you’re from.”

[MORE BEARS DRAFT COVERAGE: Eddie Jackson healthy, ready to bring center fielder range to Bears' secondary]

Some of the Bears more solid players on their current roster weren’t stars for a major college program, too: wide receiver Cameron Meredith played at FCS-level Illinois State, linebacker Jerrell Freeman was at Division III Mary Hardin-Baylor and defensive end Akiem Hicks emerged from Regina college in Canada.

General manager Ryan Pace observed how players from off-the-radar college programs can succeed during his time in New Orleans, too.

Specifically: The Saints in 2006 drafted Jahri Evans in the fourth round from Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania and immediately plugged him into their starting lineup at right guard. Evans, who recently signed with the Green Bay Packers, became a four time first-team All Pro and started 169 games with the Saints.

“You believe what you see on tape,” Pace said. “You have conviction on players. And especially, and I’ve said this before, when I feel like we have a consensus in our building on the player, those decisions are fun to make and exciting to make. And I’m really excited to see what some of these guys do on this stage because we’re confident in our abilities.”

Bears 7-round mock draft: Is Jalen Hurts the answer at QB?

Bears 7-round mock draft: Is Jalen Hurts the answer at QB?

As the calendar inches closer to Thanksgiving and the 2019 college football season slowly comes to a close, attention will soon shift to the 2020 NFL draft and the pool of prospects who will be showcased in the college football playoffs and bowl games around the country. And that means mock draft season is here.

The Bears will be without a first-round pick for the second year in a row. But let's be honest, they still have Khalil Mack. And that's a win.

What the Bears do have is two second-round picks, which if the draft were held today would be two selections in the top 50. It's unlikely they'll remain that valuable as the season marches on and Chicago and the Oakland Raiders (re: Mack trade) continue stacking wins, but the point remains: The Bears have some draft capital that they can use to improve this roster heading into 2020.

With less than two months remaining in the regular season, the biggest question surrounding the Bears is at quarterback, where Mitch Trubisky is struggling to establish himself as 'the guy.' If his struggles continue, Chicago could use the draft, in addition to a veteran free-agent signing, to create a full-blown quarterback battle next training camp.

In this mock draft, that's exactly what GM Ryan Pace does.

Round 2: Jalen Hurts, QB, Oklahoma

Hurts is getting some first-round love right now but it feels like his draft stock will depend on how his December goes. There's no denying his ability as a playmaker and comps to Lamar Jackson are already starting to bubble. Hurts is having a ridiculous season statistically, completing over 73% of his passes and a 6:1 touchdown to interception ratio. He has five games with at least 75 yards rushing, too. 

Hurts doesn't profile as a quarterback who'd be ready to step in and start early in his rookie season, and that's exactly what the Bears should look for in this year's draft. Trubisky will be on the roster next season, and coupled with a free-agent veteran signing, a prospect like Hurts will have the time to learn from the bench in Year 1. And if he's too good to keep off the field, it's a fantastic problem to have.

Round 2 (from Oak): Albert Okwuegbunam, TE, Missouri

The Bears' tight end problems have been well-documented this season. Trey Burton has been an oft-injured bust of a free-agent signing (2018) and Adam Shaheen is an even bigger bust of a second-round pick (2017). Young developmental players like Ben Braunecker don't project as long-term answers at the position, so adding a prospect like Okwuegbunam with their second of two second-round picks would be a good play.

Okwuegbunam's scouting report is likely all over the map right now. Some front offices will love him, others will think he lacks any special quality to be a top-50 pick. The former All-SEC freshman suffered a broken scapula in 2018 that limited his season to just nine games, but he flashed appealing upside as a receiver over that span. His production hasn't been great this year -- 22 catches, 280 yards, 6 TDs -- but his tape is promising. And, let's be honest: even if Okwuegbunam's true grade is somewhere closer to the third-round range, the Bears can't afford to wait on a guy at a position of need who could legitimately win the starting job as a rookie.

Round 5: Trevon Hill, EDGE, Miami

The Leonard Floyd experiment is over. And it's not that he won't be back with this team; it's just he won't be relied on as part of the pass-rush plan. He simply can't do it and it's time to move on. Enter Trevon Hill, who offers some twitchy upside as an edge defender.

Pace will have to do his due diligence on a player like Hill, whose checkered past includes dismissal from Virginia Tech in 2018. Still, he's managed 15.5 sacks and 28.5 tackles for loss over the last three-plus seasons.

The Bears need more pass-rush options, and that's what Hill represents at this point in the draft.

Round 6: Colton McKivitz, OT, West Virginia

It's unlikely the Bears will make any sweeping changes to the offensive line this offseason, especially at tackle where Charles Leno, Jr. and Bobby Massie are both under contract for the next several seasons. But the roster could use some depth on the edges which is where McKivitz fits in nicely.

Considered a riser early in 2019, McKivitz has experience at both left and right tackle and has been a reliable pass-blocker during his tenure as a Mountaineer. Entering the 2019 season, McKivitz had allowed just eight sacks on 1,459 pass-blocking snaps, per Pro Football Focus.

Round 6: Alex Highsmith, EDGE, Charlotte

Ryan Pace loves small-school prospects, so I had to fit at least one (kind of small-schooler) in this mock draft. Fortunately for the Bears, it's one of the top lesser-known players who will be available in 2020 who also happens to fill a team need.

Highsmith has 9.5 sacks so far this season and fits the mold of that twitchy pass-rusher off the edge that Chicago must find to complement Mack. The likely Senior Bowl invite will have a chance to impress scouts in Mobile, Ala., and could ascend into the Day-2 conversation. For now, he's a great value pick in the sixth round.

Round 7: Evan Weaver, LB, Cal

Weaver profiles as a poor man's Nick Kwiatkoski, who the Bears might lose in free agency this offseason if he continues playing at a high level. With Danny Trevathan also on an expiring contract, Chicago needs to add another inside linebacker to the roster regardless of who they re-sign. 

Weaver isn't the best athlete. He's vulnerable in coverage. He isn't going to wow at the Scouting Combine. But he's strong, no-nonsense inside linebacker who isn't afraid of to throw his body around. Sounds like a Bear to me.

What are your thoughts on this mock draft? Share them with me on Twitter!

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Nick Kwiatkoski was NFL's top linebacker in Week 10

Nick Kwiatkoski was NFL's top linebacker in Week 10

Chicago Bears linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski is in a contract year. And if he keeps playing the way he did in Sunday's win over the Detroit Lions, Ryan Pace better get ready to pay up.

Filling in for an injured Danny Trevathan, Kwiatkoski dominated the Lions offense to the tune of nine tackles, a sack and an interception. It was the second time this season that he stepped up in what could've been a crisis for the Bears defense. In Week 4 against the Vikings, Kwiatkoski filled-in for Roquan Smith who was deactivated shortly before kickoff for reasons still unknown. He was fantastic in that game, too.

But Kwiatkoski's performance on Sunday was borderline special. In fact, he was so good that he earned Pro Football Focus' highest grade of any linebacker in the NFL in Week 10 with a 92.4.

His ridiculous showing against Detroit pushed his season grade up to 88.2, which is second-best among Bears defenders with at least 100 snaps this season.

So, yeah, he's going to get paid.

Kwiatkoski's role moving forward is expected to change. He won't be coming off the bench filling in for Trevathan or Smith; he'll be starting for as long as Trevathan is on the mend. And with a starter's tag comes a week's worth of preparation by opposing offensive coordinators who will have more time to gameplan for his strengths and weaknesses. We'll find out real quick if his incredible flashes this season are sustainable as a traditional starter or if he'll be exposed in his newfound role.

Regardless, Kwiatkoski's emergence has been a bright spot in a season that's been lacking many of them so far.