Part 10 of a 10-part series previewing the NFL Draft and analyzing the Bears’ needs.
Asked if the Bears’ defense has any Pro Bowl-caliber players, defensive lineman Akiem Hicks playfully scoffed at first.
“Some have deserved it in the past,” said Hicks, a notable snub from last season. “Sometimes it boils down to who is the most popular.”
So Hicks is starting a campaign for outside linebacker Leonard Floyd.
RELATED STORIES Bears notebook: Floyd sits out minicamp, but Matt Nagy not concerned Breaking down the Bears’ 2018 schedule, opponents and TV stations
“[He’s] one of my personal favorites for the Pro Bowl this year,” Hicks said. “It’s his time. It’s his time to bounce back and take over and be the type of rusher that I know he can be. I’m excited for him.”
The Bears, meanwhile, are campaigning for help. Floyd is their most talented pass rusher, but he still has missed eight games over his first two seasons. They need to not just find him help on the field but also make sure they’re deep enough at his critical position for when he’s off the field, regardless of the reason.
To do that, Bears general manager Ryan Pace might have to act boldly in the draft for the third consecutive year.
He might have to trade up. Again.
From the Bears’ perspective, North Carolina State outside linebacker/defensive end Bradley Chubb is arguably the only player worth trading up for early in the draft. It’s highly unlikely he falls to the Bears at No. 8.
Before Pace traded up to the No. 2 spot to take quarterback Mitch Trubisky last year, he moved up from No. 11 to No. 9 in 2016, leapfrogging the Giants to select Floyd. Chubb justifies the cost of moving up more than Floyd did at the time. Just look at their production in college. Chubb had 25 sacks and 54½ tackles for loss over three years; Floyd had 17 and 26½.
A first-team All-American and the Bronko Nagurski Award winner for best college defender last season, Chubb is widely considered the best pass rusher in a draft class short on them. In 2016, Floyd — though he was the second-best rusher behind Ohio State’s Joey Bosa (No. 3 pick, Chargers) — was an athletic project with great potential.
Chubb’s availability may depend on how the quarterbacks are drafted. According to Sports Illustrated, the Broncos might be open to trading down from the No. 5 spot if their preferred QB is taken before their pick. That could be the opening Pace needs to strike for Chubb, who could be in play for the Colts at No. 6 and the Buccaneers at No. 7.
Chubb is generally considered a top-three prospect. The Bears and other teams can sit and wait on Boston College’s Harold Landry, Texas-San Antonio’s Marcus Davenport, LSU’s Arden Key or Ohio State’s Sam Hubbard.
“You’re always looking at the depth of the class when you’re trying to make your decisions,” NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah, a former scout for the Eagles and Ravens, said during a recent conference call. “So the lack of edge rushers — elite edge rushers, to me — that is going to help a guy like Bradley Chubb because I think there’s a dropoff after him.”
Grading the Bears’ need: High. Make that extremely high. Leonard Floyd is the Bears’ best player at an extremely thin position, and he still has much to prove in this third season. That starts with staying healthy. Aaron Lynch could prove to be a valuable free-agent addition, but he’s three years removed from his best NFL production.
On the roster: Floyd ($3,945,715 average annual value), Lynch ($4 million), Sam Acho ($2.75 million), Howard Jones ($660,000), Isaiah Irving ($510,000).
Top five draft prospects:
1. Bradley Chubb, North Carolina State: He doesn’t have the same freakish makeup as Myles Garrett, the No. 1 pick last year for the Browns, but he might be a better pass rusher.
2. Marcus Davenport, Texas-San Antonio: Davenport dominated lower-level competition, but it’s thought he will require time to develop. Consider him a boom-or-bust prospect.
3. Harold Landry, Boston College: An athletic speed rusher, Landry had 22 sacks in 2016 but only 8½ last season, though injuries were partly to blame.
4. Sam Hubbard, Ohio State: He was a solid contributor over three seasons for the Buckeyes, but he isn’t Joey Bosa 2.0.
5. Arden Key, LSU: Teams want to know why Key spent part of 2017 away from the Tigers for personal reasons. He wasn’t the same player he was in 2016, when he had 12½ sacks.
I’m intrigued by: What the Bears can find in the later rounds. Can they unearth some pass-rushing steals? How about undrafted free agency? Late in the draft, good scouting pays off for teams. The Bears’ scouts must find pass rushers.