Mark Potash: Whom the Bears should draft with their first-round pick Thursday

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Sun-Times Bears beat writer Mark Potash breaks down who the Bears should take in the first round of Thursday’s NFL Draft, who will be selected in front of them, and why:

MARK POTASH’S DRAFT

1. Browns — QB Josh Allen, Wyoming

2. Giants — RB Saquon Barkley, Penn State

3. Jets — QB Sam Darnold, USC

4. Browns — DE Bradley Chubb, North Carolina State

5. Broncos — QB Josh Rosen, UCLA

6. Colts — G Quenton Nelson, Notre Dame

7. Buccaneers — S Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama

At No. 8, the Bears will take …

LB Tremaine Edmunds, Virginia Tech

Georgia’s Roquan Smith might be a more complete, NFL-ready linebacker who fits today’s safety/linebacker combo model better than anybody in this draft, and he’s a possibility here. But the Bears need a pass rush, and Edmunds has loads of big-play potential.

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Taking a 19-year-old (Edmunds turns 20 on May 2) is always a risk in football, as is drafting for potential. But this seems like the kind of risk that Bears general manager Ryan Pace loves to take. Edmunds is 6-4, 253 pounds with a 40 time of 4.54 seconds, an 83-inch wingspan and sudden-impact closing speed.

It’s worth noting that Edmunds is more than potential. He had 106 tackles, 4½ sacks and 18½ tackles for loss as a sophomore at Virginia Tech and 109 tackles, 5½ sacks and 14 tackles for loss as a junior last season. He’s not an athlete playing linebacker. He’s a linebacker who is a great athlete but obviously has a lot to learn.

That said, it’s possible that Pace, who doesn’t have a third-round pick, trades out of this pick — more likely down than up, but don’t put anything past him. But he needs playmakers, and Edmunds might be his best chance to get one. It’s also possible that Edmunds is gone before the eighth pick. Smith is certainly an equal option. He’s a tackle machine with safety-quality downfield-coverage ability and an expert blitzer who had 6½ sacks last season at Georgia. It will be an interesting call for Pace if it comes down to that.

As for Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson, he might not be the no-brainer others consider him to be if he’s available. Even as a plug-and-play piece, a guard still is a tough pick at No. 8 when playmaking defenders — a more valuable commodity — are available. The Bears have a top-10 defense that still needs playmakers. An elite defender seems like a nice reward for Vic Fangio after deciding to stick with the Bears.

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