Chicago Bears April Scouting Report
Today, I am happy to announce that I am coming out of retirement to cover the Bears again. When I last wrote in this space, Marc Trestman was still the head coach and Phil Emery was still the general manager. Needless to say, a lot has changed, and for the better. GM Ryan Pace hasn't made all the right moves since taking over in 2015, but when he has conviction about a move, he goes all in (i.e. the QB Mitch Trubisky and OLB Khalil Mack trades). Lately his moves have been successful more often than not, and the Bears' stunning 2018 turnaround helped him win the Sporting News NFL Executive of the Year award.
John Fox helped restore some credibility to a franchise that had gone off the rails, but he was never going to be a long-term solution. Enter Matt Nagy, whose energy and charisma were a breath of fresh air as he won NFL Coach of the Year honors for his rookie season. The offense was much-improved last season but still wasn't good enough (21st in yards/game and less than 20 points in half their games). That said, Nagy is optimistic that his offense will take another big step forward in 2019 now that Trubisky and Co. have a full season under their belts. The team's biggest offseason loss wasn't a player, but a coach, as defensive coordinator Vic Fangio left to become head coach of the Broncos. Chuck Pagano was hired to replace him, and it will be interesting to see if this defense will continue to dominate or if it will take a step back in 2019.
2019 NFL Draft Preview
The Bears have no first or second rounders because of the Mack trade (a trade well worth making). They have one pick in the third, fourth and fifth rounds and two in the seventh.
Quarterback (need: none)
Trubisky is the man, with QB Chase Daniel backing him up and QB Tyler Bray as the #3. Pretty safe to say the Bears won't be drafting a quarterback.
Runningback (need: high)
This position is where most of the team's pre-draft talk has been focused. RB Jordan Howard was traded to the Eagles late last month for essentially peanuts (a 2020 sixth-rounder that could become a fifth). There had been trade speculation surrounding Howard ever since Nagy became head coach, mainly because Howard's pass-catching ability is average at best and Nagy's Chiefs-style offense requires a back who can catch the ball well. If Howard had continued to produce last season at the same level he did in his first two seasons, this probably would've been a more difficult decision for Pace, but his dip in production and effectiveness in 2018 made the decision easier. Jordan just had too many "three yards and a cloud of dust" carries last year. It's unfortunate, as I liked Howard, but this move allows Nagy to construct the offense the way he wants to.
The team signed RB Mike Davis to a two-year, $6 million free agent contract in March. Like many Bears fans, I said, "Who?" when I heard about this signing. Afterward, Pace talked about how he liked Davis' vision, ability to make guys miss, good hands and low mileage (234 career carries). Many fans are assuming that Davis will only be a second-stringer at best and that the team will draft a back in the third round who will start immediately. However, from what I've heard, the Bears like Davis quite a bit, and there's a chance that he could be the lead back with the draft pick being the change of pace and RB Tarik Cohen being the gadget guy who is used more as a receiver than as a prototypical tailback. I fully expect that the Bears will take a back in the draft, but don't be surprised if it's not in the third round (perhaps the fourth or fifth). Pace has shown that he will go with best player available over need, as evidenced by the fact that he did not take an outside linebacker until the sixth round last year despite the glaring need there.
Watching the backs at the Combine, the ones who impressed me the most were Penn State RB Miles Sanders, Oklahoma State RB Justice Hill, and Ohio State RB Mike Weber. Sanders did so well at the Combine in a number of areas that the Bears would probably have to trade up to get him (something they'd prefer not to do with a limited number of picks). That said, Pace has a history of trading up to get who he wants, so it's possible. Hill had the fastest 40 (4.4) of any back at the Combine and is a real home-run hitter. He's a bit undersized at 5-10 198 but he is exactly the type of explosive back the Bears would love to add to this offense. Weber ran well (4.47) and showed good hands. Another back I like is Memphis RB Darrell Henderson, who ran like he was shot out of a cannon last season (8.9 yards/carry). The Bears reportedly have shown high interest in Florida Atlantic RB Devin Singletary despite a disappointing Combine. Iowa State RB David Montgomery and Notre Dame RB Dexter Williams are also possibilities.
Wide receiver (need: low-medium)
The Bears addressed this position to some extent when they signed free agent WR Cordarrelle Patterson to a two-year, $10 million contract last month. From what Nagy said after the signing, Patterson is going to be a real jack of all trades. He'll play some receiver. He'll line up in the backfield and get some carries and catches. He'll return kickoffs, addressing one of the team's main weaknesses in 2018. Will he get enough touches per game to be a real fantasy factor? Probably not (he'll be the fourth or fifth receiver at best), but it will be fun to see how many creative ways mad scientist Nagy will think up to utilize him. WR Marvin Hall signed a one-year free agent contract in March, but his main role will likely be on special teams.
Could the team use another fast, dynamic receiver? Sure, but I don't think it's their highest priority. I expect WR Anthony Miller to take a big step forward next season, assuming that he will be fully healthy after offseason shoulder surgery for a dislocated shoulder that hampered him for much of 2018. WR Javon Wims made a couple of important grabs in the 2018 regular season finale and could see increased playing time.
Tight end (need: medium-high)
TE Dion Sims, who couldn't do much of anything right in a Bears uniform, was released in February. TE Trey Burton is coming off a decent season that ended with him suffering a very ill-timed injury that kept him out of the Bears' playoff loss to the Eagles. TE Adam Shaheen has been a nice red zone target when available... but he's often been unavailable due to injury. TE Ben Braunecker is mainly a blocking tight end. The offense really suffered when Burton was out for the playoff loss, and Shaheen's availability is always a question mark, so drafting another tight end (preferably one who can block well) would probably be a good idea.
Offensive line (need: medium)
G Kyle Long agreed to have his contract restructured in the offseason, clearing some cap space for the Bears. RT Bobby Massie agreed to a four-year contract extension in January. Veteran OL Ted Larsen signed a one-year deal last month to be an interior backup. With the entire starting o-line returning, this isn't a huge draft priority, but drafting Long's successor could be a possibility considering his injury history and his high cap hit for 2020 ($9.6 million).
Defense (need: medium)
The Bears signed nickel CB Buster Skrine to a three-year, $16.5 million contract at the start of free agency. Skrine replaces CB Bryce Callahan, who followed Fangio to Denver. The team also signed S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix to a one-year, $3.5 million deal last month. He replaces S Adrian Amos, who decided to head north and join the enemy Packers. The fan base seemed lukewarm at best about these signings (concerns about Skrine allowing big plays and Clinton Dix's tackling ability). One thing Clinton-Dix does do better than Amos is catch the ball (14 career picks versus three). The team also re-signed OLB Aaron Lynch to a one-year deal earlier this month. Lynch played pretty well in limited action (three sacks) backing up Mack and OLB Leonard Floyd in 2018. These signings should help keep the Bears among the top fantasy defenses available.
In terms of draft priority, a team can never have enough pass rushers, so that's always a possibility. The Bears could also use another young corner to develop behind their veteran starters. A strong safety might not be a bad idea considering that Clinton-Dix is only signed for one year.
Kicker (need: high as a kite)
The signing of PK Cody Parkey last offseason was a bad idea from the beginning. Giving a kicker a four-year, $15 million contract with $9 million guaranteed? Seriously? That contract became a real albatross after his four-miss game against the Lions. He should've been cut then, but the guaranteed money caused the Bears to keep him, and of course that decision came back to bite them in the playoff loss. Bears fans dreamed of bringing PK Robbie Gould back to Chicago, but unfortunately the 49ers franchise tagged him, effectively ending those dreams. The team has signed three kickers in the offseason (PK Redford Jones, PK Chris Blewitt (lol), and PK Elliott Fry, and it's very possible that they will draft one as well. The prospect who intrigues me the most is Utah PK Matt Gay, who has a big leg but uses a three-step approach that may or may not work in the NFL.
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