As Bears general manager Ryan Pace takes in pro days around the country and hosts prospects for visits over the next several weeks, he does so with new goals.
The Bears’ world now revolves around quarterback Mitch Trubisky. Pace should be judged by what he is able to provide him and first-year coach Matt Nagy.
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“We feel like we have the most important position in place,” Pace said last week at the NFL Scouting Combine. “Now it’s just go and build on that foundation.”
But that doesn’t mean that the Bears’ defense should be ignored in the draft.
The best help for outside linebacker Leonard Floyd, safety Eddie Jackson and defensive lineman Akiem Hicks can be found in the draft, not in free agency.
Here’s a look at the defensive players who could intrigue the Bears with the eighth overall pick and beyond:
Best of the best
North Carolina State pass rusher Bradley Chubb and Alabama safety Minkah Fitzpatrick showed why they’re worthy of top-five selections with outstanding performances at the combine.
At No. 8, neither player likely will be available, but the Bears should still be prepared for a potential fall, should a run on quarterbacks occur. In that case, Fitzpatrick seems the more likely of the two to reach the Bears.
Safety isn’t exactly a need, but Fitzpatrick, who has experience at cornerback and nickel back, would immediately change the complexion of Vic Fangio’s defense. He also fits Pace’s first-round profile for gifted athletes.
Not only would Fitzpatrick be an upgrade over Adrian Amos, but his range of skills combats the pass-happy NFL extremely well. Fangio could be creative with Fitzpatrick’s role, perhaps, preserving Amos’ place on the team.
The quote: “[The combine] will show people I have the hips and feet of a corner, also the IQ and the tackling ability of a safety.” — Fitzpatrick
The talented kid
Is Virginia Tech linebacker Tremaine Edmunds an outside linebacker or is he better inside? Does it even matter right now?
Similar to Fitzpatrick, Edmunds fits the Pace profile. He is extremely athletic and versatile. Edmunds (6-5, 253 pounds, 34½-inch arm length) also is built similarly to Floyd (6-4½, 244 pounds, 33⅛-inch arm length at the combine in 2016). Edmunds ran the 40-yard dash in 4.54 seconds at the combine.
Finding a place for Edmunds, who has been compared to Brian Urlacher, wouldn’t be problematic for Fangio. At only 19 years old, Edmunds has plenty of time to develop and settle in.
Inside linebacker is also an overlooked need for the Bears. Danny Trevathan is a solid starter but he’s struggled to stay healthy. And Nick Kwiatkoski still has a lot to prove.
The quote: “[It’s] just my length, my speed, my ability to play out in space. I just feel like I can match up. I can do different things. I don’t limit myself so I can perfect my craft at whatever position it is. Whatever position they ask me to play, I’ll be fine.” — Edmunds
The Big Ten cornerbacks
The eighth overall selection is the ideal point to consider taking one of the best cornerbacks in this year’s class. Ohio State’s Denzel Ward and Iowa’s Josh Jackson are the top two candidates.
Teams aren’t overly concerned with Ward and Jackson each only having one year of starting experience. Both have outstanding ball skills.
The Bears’ decision to use the transition tag on Kyle Fuller won’t change their evaluations. What will matter is who profiles as a better fit for Fangio’s defense.
Jackson (6-1, 192 pounds) is bigger and stronger than Ward (5-10, 183 pounds at combine). He also had more production in his final season in college, with five interceptions and 17 pass breakups compared to Ward’s two and 15.
Ward, though, is faster, an all-important factor in evaluations of defensive backs. He ran the 40 in an official time of 4.32 seconds at the combine. Jackson ran it in 4.56, though an earlier timing had him at 4.49.
The quote: “Whatever team I go to, they’re going to be able to rely on me to be accountable. I’m a playmaker.” — Jackson
Worth a look
Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith and Florida State safety Derwin James were sound, productive players in college who are projected to be available at No. 8. Both are considered top-15 picks.
Is Smith as versatile as Edmunds? Probably not, but he was a team leader for the Bulldogs last season with 124 tackles, including 11½ for loss, and 5½ sacks.
Is James more dynamic than Fitzpatrick? Probably not, but NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock and others still have raved about his versatility.
The quote: “I feel like I can make a tremendous impact on the defense, just with my playmaking ability, my leadership qualities. I feel like that will definitely elevate any defense.” — Smith
Adding to rush
Beyond Chubb, sack-needy teams certainly will entertain Boston College’s Harold Landry (47½ sacks over four years) and Texas-San Antonio’s Marcus Davenport (38 sacks over four years).
And yes, the Bears qualify as a sack-needy team with only Floyd and Isaiah Irving as the only two outside linebackers.
Plenty of help is needed, and it won’t be found in a slim free-agent class for rushers. Ohio State’s Sam Hubbard could be an option in the second round for the Bears.
The quote: “When I burst to the quarterback, I just try and knock the hell out of them.”— Landry
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