Yes, it’s early.
The NFL Draft is two months away, with this week’s NFL Scouting Combine providing the first extended glimpse into the college game’s greatest players — from personal interviews to medical tests to on-field drills. That’s followed by a mid-March free agency period that will help determine exactly what positions each team needs to fill.
Consider the Sun-Times’ first mock draft, then, a starting point. Each Monday on suntimes.com, we’ll adjust our predictions — with no draft-day trades—leading up to the Bears’ No. 8 overall selection based on what we’re hearing, what the Bears have done and how the teams surrounding them have filled out their rosters.
1. Browns — Sam Darnold, USC QB
Despite an uneven 2017 — with a mere 2:1 touchdown to interception ratio — Darnold is still the most NFL-ready of the quarterback crop. A look at USC’s boom-or-bust quarterback history in the first round — they’ve had Carson Palmer, yes, but also Mark Sanchez, Matt Leinart and Todd Marinovich— makes this a very Browns-y pick indeed.
2. Giants — Josh Rosen, UCLA QB
Rosen has impressive footwork and mechanics, but like Darnold struggled after a last year despite a wave of preseason hype. The outspoken quarterback would be a fun fit in the Big Apple after a year backing up Eli Manning.
3. Colts — Bradley Chubb, N.C. State DE/LB
He’s the best edge rusher in the draft by a mile and a Godsend to the Colts, who finished second-to-last in the league in sacks last year.
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4. Browns (from Texans) — Saquon Barkley, Penn State RB
Don’t overthink this, Cleveland.
5. Broncos —Josh Allen, Wyoming QB
Broncos boss John Elway has praised Allen’s arm strength — he should know — but teams are right to be worried about his accuracy. If they end up pouncing on Kirk Cousins, though, the Broncos could draft someone to protect him.
6. Jets — Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma QB
Ditto on Cousins. Mayfield, the Heisman Trophy winner, is the anti-Christian Hackenberg — what he lacks in size, he makes up for in actual collegiate success. He’d make for some fun New York Post back pages, too.
7. Buccaneers — Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama DB
Fitzpatrick replaced future Bear Eddie Jackson at safety when he got hurt in 2016, and could be a game-changer at that position in the pros. His coverage skills add versatility — he had four pick-sixes with the Crimson Tide.
8. Bears —Quenton Nelson, Notre Dame G
In January, new head coach Matt Nagy hired Nelson’s college coach, offensive line guru Harry Hiestand, for the same role on his staff. Last week, general manager Ryan Pace decided he wouldn’t pick up the $8 million option on four-time Pro Bowl guard Josh Sitton’s contract, rendering him a free agent and creating a gaping hole where there’d been none before. Here’s why Nelson makes so much sense.
9. 49ers* — Denzel Ward, Ohio State CB
The Bears were among the teams who attended the Cotton Bowl, hoping to scout Ward before he decided to sit out the finale to protect his health.
10. Raiders* — Tremaine Edmunds, Virginia Tech LB
Edmunds’ length means he can play both inside and outside. He’d fit in the former with the Raiders, who have Khalil Mack as one of the game’s most dangerous defensive chess pieces.
11. Dolphins — Roquan Smith, Georgia LB
Adam Gase might only be as loyal to Ryan Tannehill as his options. In our mock, the best quarterbacks don’t last this far.
12. Bengals— Kolton Miller, UCLA OT
Searching for their Andrew Whitworth replacement a year late, the Bengals take the first tackle.
13. Redskins — Vita Vea, Washington DT
Pairing the beefy Vea —who the Huskies listed at 6-5, 340 pounds —with last year’s first-round pick, Jonathan Allen, makes for an imposing D-line.
14. Packers — Marcus Davenport, UT-San Antonio DE/LB
Clay Matthews will be 32 next season, Nick Perry 28. Time for some young blood.
15. Cardinals — Calvin Ridley, Alabama WR
Larry Fitzgerald flirts with retirement every year, but he won’t be there forever. Mentoring Ridley, the draft’s best receiver, makes too much sense. The Cardinals could look to trade up for a quarterback, too. If one of the big four fall to No. 8, the Bears should have the Cardinals on speed dial.
16. Ravens — Orlando Brown, Oklahoma OT
We’re giving Brown to the Ravens, where his late father, Orlando Sr., played right tackle for six seasons. The Sun-Times Mock Draft loves a good story.
17. Chargers — Da’Ron Payne, Alabama DT
The Bolts desperately need some beef to pair with their stud edge rushers. With Vea gone, they turn to Tuscaloosa.
18. Seahawks — Derwin James, Florida State S
ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. called James “a perfect fit as a Kam Chancellor-type player.” The original is battling a career-threatening nerve and neck issue.
19. Cowboys — Harold Landry, Boston College DE/LB
Landry led the nation with 16 ½ sacks in 2016.
20. Lions — Mo Hurst, Michigan DT
The Lions give defensive-minded head coach Matt Patricia a Wolverine to groom.
21. Bills — Rashaan Evans, Alabama LB
I don’t see the Bills being able to cash in their two first-round chips for a top-four quarterback, so let’s give them Evans, who had 13 sacks last year on America’s best team.
22. Bills (from Chiefs) —Josh Jackson, Iowa CB
He led the nation with eight interceptions last year, but needs a strong Combine showing to assuage any one-year-wonder concerns.
23. Rams — Billy Price, Ohio State C/G
There’s no denying Price’s raw strength. The Rams, who don’t have a second-round pick this year, might include this pick in the deal for Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters.
24. Panthers — Courtland Sutton, SMU WR
The Panthers and new offensive coordinator Norv Turner need a receiver after trading Kelvin Benjamin last year.
25. Titans —Isaiah Wynn, Georgia G
Teaming a first-round guard with tackles Taylor Lewan and Jack Conklin would be killer. Bonus pick: in the fourth round, the Titans take Washington State edge rusher Hercules Mata’afa, bound by their shared mythology theme. The Sun-Times Mock demands it.
26. Falcons —Taven Bryan, Florida DT
He makes sense as a developmental project if the Falcons, as expected, shake up their defensive interior.
27. Saints —Hayden Hurst, South Carolina TE
The Saints are in win-now mode, and Hurst, a former baseball draftee who will be 25 when the season starts, fills one of their few offensive holes.
28. Steelers — Mike Hughes, UCF CB
He only spent one season as a college starter, but someone will fall in love with him during the pre-draft process.
29. Jaguars — James Washington, Oklahoma State WR
He looks more like a running back, but Washington showed just how great a receiver he could be with a strong Senior Bowl week.
30. Vikings — Connor Williams, Texas OT
Whomever is playing quarterback for the Vikings would appreciate the protection offered by Williams, whose stock could rise this week.
31. Patriots — Lamar Jackson, Louisville QB
Bill Belichick and deputy Josh McDaniels don’t wait until the second round to draft Jimmy Garoppolo’s replacement.
32. Eagles — Brian O’Neill, Pittsburgh OT
Call this Jason Peters Insurance. The 36-year-old tackle tore both his anterior cruciate and medial collateral knee ligaments in the middle of last season.
* — The Raiders and 49ers, who had identical records and strengths of schedule, will flip a coin Friday to determine who picks ninthand 10th.
Follow me on Twitter @patrickfinley.