Breaking down the Chicago Bears' 2018 draft class.
Round 1, No. 8 overall: Roquan Smith, OLB, Georgia
My take: Love the pick. Smith is everything the Bears need on defense. The 2018 SEC Defensive Player of the Year, Smith has elite range for a linebacker. Plus, Smith developed into a big-time leader in college. Smith, who anchored Georgia's national runner-up defense, is slated to start Day 1 next to Danny Trevathan, giving the Bears a formidable linebacker duo -- just as long as Trevathan stays healthy. After three straight years of drafting projects in the top 10 -- Kevin White (No. 7, 2015), Leonard Floyd (No. 9, 2016) and Mitchell Trubisky (No. 2, 2017) -- Chicago gets a finished product in Smith. When Bradley Chubb (Denver, No. 5) and Quenton Nelson (Indianapolis, No. 6) went off the board, Smith became the logical choice for the Bears at No. 8 overall.
Ace in the hole: Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio strolled into the Halas Hall media room about an hour before the draft and informed reporters that he made his third lifetime hole-in-one on a golf course in neighboring Wisconsin earlier in the day. In fact, Fangio announced that he now has made two holes-in-one in the past 10 months. "I'm hot ... could be defense [drafted] tonight!" Fangio said with a smile. Fangio was right. Thursday night turned out to be a huge night for Chicago's defense. Remember, Fangio coached inside linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman in San Francisco --- plus countless other great linebackers over the course of his 31-year NFL coaching career -- so he understands the importance of inside linebackers in his version of the 3-4 defense.
Georgia connection: Smith said on a conference call with Chicago media on Thursday night that he looked up to Floyd, who left Georgia after the 2015 season, when the two played together in college. Smith arrives in Chicago with a much better college resume than Floyd, who was named second-team All-SEC following his junior year. Smith was a consensus All-American and Butkus Award winner, but Floyd has plenty of potential. Bears defensive lineman Akiem Hicks said at last week’s veteran minicamp that he believes Floyd can make the Pro Bowl in 2018. It'll be interesting to see how Smith and Floyd play off each other since they have history together.
Round 2, No. 39: James Daniels, C, Iowa
My take: The Bears had a clear need along the interior of their offensive line when Josh Sitton departed in the offseason. Instead of drafting a true guard, however, the Bears opted for Daniels, who played mostly center at Iowa. The Bears say Daniels will begin at guard and cross-train at center. Beefing up the middle of the offensive line is a good idea. The Bears are expected to run a lot of inside-zone runs in Matt Nagy’s new offense. Last season, the Bears had the third-fewest rushes (266) between the tackles in the NFL, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Chicago must also protect quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, whom opponents sacked at a high rate in 2017. Trubisky was sacked on 8.1 percent of his dropbacks last season, tied for the fourth-highest rate among qualified passers and highest in the NFC. Daniels battled injuries in college but he still played in 34 career games for the Hawkeyes.
How he fits: That’s the big question. The Bears made a habit of moving their offensive linemen all over the place during the John Fox era, and it seems that trend is going to continue. One hopes there won’t be any more position switches for former second-round pick Cody Whitehair, who hasn’t missed a game since the Bears took him 56th overall in 2016. But you never know. Again, Daniels mainly lined up at center for the Hawkeyes. There is comfort in knowing that new Bears offensive-line coach Harry Hiestand signed off on the pick. A decorated line coach at Notre Dame, Hiestand should know this class of college OL prospects better than anyone. Hiestand’s endorsement likely bodes well for Chicago.
Round 2, No. 51: Anthony Miller, WR, Memphis
My take: One of the Bears' top offseason priorities has been stockpiling weapons for quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. On paper, Miller looks like a decent addition to Chicago's upgraded wide receiver corps that already featured free-agent pickups Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel. At 5-foot-11, 190 pounds, Miller had 191 receptions, 2,896 receiving yards and 32 touchdown catches over the past two seasons alone. Regardless of whether former seventh overall pick Kevin White pans out, the Bears now have three receivers (Robinson, Gabriel and Miller) and two pass-catching tight ends (Trey Burton and Adam Shaheen) who are expected to figure heavily on offense.
Give the Bears credit for attempting to address glaring needs (linebacker, interior offensive line and wide receiver) with their first three picks. The Bears did have to ship their 2019 second-round pick and pick 105 in this year’s fourth round to New England to make the move to draft Miller. So, there’s added pressure to get this pick right. Plus, Miller missed time in the offseason due to a fracture in his right foot. Miller said on a conference call Friday night that his foot fully healed one month ago, but the Bears have been burned by players with medical red flags in the past. Miller suggested that his foot injury was the reason he lasted until No. 51 overall.
How he fits: Well, Nagy played a key role in evaluating all of the wide receivers in the draft class. So Nagy obviously has a position in mind for Miller; otherwise the Bears would not have traded away future assets to get him. Miller played both inside and outside at Memphis. Where he lines up in the NFL remains to be seen, but Miller is going to play in 2018. Nagy said at the NFL combine that the No. 1 trait for any receiver in his offense is route running. Some have questioned Miller's hands, but he clearly knows how to get open. That should serve him well in Nagy's version of the Andy Reid West Coast offense -- health permitting.
Round 4, No. 115: Joel Iyiegbuniwe, LB, Western Kentucky
My take: The Bears obviously felt compelled to beef up at linebacker after losing Christian Jones, Jerrell Freeman, Willie Young and Pernell McPhee in the offseason. Iyiegbuniwe had only 5.5 career sacks at Western Kentucky, but he left college with 22.5 career tackles for loss. Iyiegbuniwe ran 4.6 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the NFL combine, so he seems suited to play on special teams. The Bears had success in the fourth round last year with Tarik Cohen and Eddie Jackson, but a lot probably has to happen for Iyiegbuniwe to be more than a reserve/special-teamer.
How he fits: That’s the big question. Iyiegbuniwe played both inside and outside linebacker in college. As it currently stands, the Bears are pretty much set at inside linebacker with Danny Trevathan, eighth overall pick Roquan Smith and top reserve Nick Kwiatkoski, but their outside linebacker depth chart is way more fluid after Leonard Floyd. For what it’s worth, Iyiegbuniwe had his best year at inside linebacker for Western Kentucky when he recorded 117 total tackles in 2017.
Round 5, No. 145: Bilal Nichols, DT, Delaware
My take: The Bears love guys from FCS schools. Nichols is the latest in a long line of Ryan Pace picks that played collegiately at the FCS level or below, joining tight end Adam Shaheen, running back Tarik Cohen and offensive lineman Jordan Morgan -- all chosen last year. There’s no telling how an FCS player will transition to the NFL level. Cohen was terrific last season. Shaheen was underwhelming. Morgan didn’t show anything in training camp and landed on injured reserve. Nichols (6-foot-4, 306 pounds) ran 4.95 at the NFL combine. That suggests he has certainly has the athletic ability -- given his size -- to possibly make an impact for the Bears.
How he fits: The Bears are looking for another defensive lineman to step up and complement Akiem Hicks and Eddie Goldman. Former third-round pick Jonathan Bullard is definitely the front-runner to start at one defensive end spot, but Nichols could compete with the likes of Roy Robertson-Harris , Nick Williams and John Jenkins. The Bears always need defensive lineman to jump into their game-day rotation. Coordinator Vic Fangio must believe that Nichols fits somewhere in Chicago’s scheme; otherwise it’s highly unlikely the Bears make this pick.
Round 6, No. 181: Kylie Fitts, DE, Utah
Prospect Profile: Kylie Fitts
Take a look at Utah DE Kylie Fitts' college highlights.
My take: The Bears waited until the sixth round to grab a player with potential pass-rushing traits. Fitts battled a lot of injuries at Utah, but he ran 4.69 40-yard dash at the NFL combine. Fitts’ most productive season came in 2015 when he had 41 tackles, eight tackles for loss and seven sacks. Fitts’ 2016 season was almost a total wash because of a foot injury. Last year, Fitts recorded just 23 tackles and three sacks. Maybe the Bears found a hidden gem, but Fitts’ inability to stay healthy in college is why he dropped so far in the draft.
How he fits: The Bears are in need of pass-rushers. As a team, the Bears had 42 total sacks last year, but Chicago hasn’t had a player record double-digit sacks in a single season since Willie Young (10.0) in 2014. It’s worth mentioning that the sixth round of the draft hasn’t been particularly kind to the Bears in recent years. The only former sixth-round picks to make lasting impacts for the Bears since 2005 are Chris Harris (2005), Cornelius Washington (2013) and Pat O’Donnell (2014).
Round 7, No. 224: Javon Wims, WR, Georgia
My take: The Bears recognized how bad they were at wide receiver. Wims is just the latest wideout Chicago has added in the offseason, joining -- among others -- Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Anthony Miller (second-round pick) and Bennie Fowler. Whether Wims -- 6-foot-3, 215 pounds, 4.53 in the 40 -- amounts to anything in the NFL is impossible to predict, but he did catch 45 balls for 720 yards and seven touchdowns for a team that played in the College Football Playoff National Championship.
How he fits: Wims will arrive in Chicago behind about five or six receivers on the Bears’ depth chart, but unexpected stuff happens all the time in professional football. To make Chicago’s 53-man roster, though, Wims must prove he can play on special teams. The last seventh-round pick to help the Bears at wide receiver was Marquess Wilson (2013). So, it’s possible for Wims to carve out a niche for himself in Chicago. But it’s always a longshot whenever you’re talking about a seventh-round pick.