Part 7 of a 10-part series previewing the NFL Draft and analyzing the Bears’ needs.
In 2018, the last time he had a first-round pick, Bears general manager Ryan Pace made Roquan Smith only the third interior linebacker drafted in the top eight this century.
Smith’s first two seasons have been somewhat bizarre — he held out longer than any player while his agent haggled over contract wording in 2018 and missed a game for what the team would only say was a “personal issue” in 2019 — but the Bears believe he’s on his way to stardom.
“When he was healthy last year and playing right, you saw the player that we drafted and why we took him so high,” Pace said at the NFL Scouting Combine in February. “Our outlook on him is very optimistic.”
Smith, 23, could have the same running mate for the next three years — the two left on his rookie deal, plus a fifth-year team option — as he did the previous two. In March, Pace gave Danny Trevathan, 30, a three-year, $21.75 million deal, with $13.625 million guaranteed, to return.
“The whole goal is to bring a Super Bowl back here,” Trevathan said last month. “And I feel like we’re so close.”
Pace chose the Super Bowl 50 champ over Nick Kwiatkoski, whom the Bears had groomed since the 2016 draft. Kwiatkoski, who started eight games last year and 22 in four seasons, got almost the same contract Trevathan did, but from the Raiders: three years, $21 million with $13.75 million guaranteed.
After investing so much at inside linebacker, the Bears won’t take one until Day 3 of the draft later this month — if they select one at all.
The Bears are betting on Trevathan’s leadership and Smith’s ascendance to hold down the middle of what they believe is one of the league’s best defenses. Their ability to defend the pass made it possible for Pace to cut Leonard Floyd — an outside linebacker with coverage skills — for Robert Quinn, who’s more of a pure pass rusher.
With Trevathan and Smith locked in, the Bears need to focus on depth. History says they’ll need it.
Smith missed one game with his personal issue and the last three after tearing a pectoral muscle. He had offseason surgery, and the team expects him to return at full strength. Trevathan missed seven games last year after dislocating his left elbow. In four years with the Bears, he has started only 45 of a possible 64 games.
The Bears lost their top two depth pieces this offseason in Kwiatkoski and Kevin Pierre-Louis, who signed a one-year, $3 million contract with the Redskins.
They figure to pursue a veteran backup after the draft, the way they did when they signed Pierre-Louis last May.
Grading the Bears’ need: Low. Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan could start together for the next three years.
On the roster: Trevathan, Smith, Joel Iyiegbuniwe, Josh Woods, Devante Bond.
The five best prospects: Clemson’s Isaiah Simmons, LSU’s Patrick Queen, Oklahoma’s Kenneth Murray, Wyoming’s Logan Wilson, Purdue’s Markus Bailey.
Keep an eye on: Is Simmons an inside linebacker? A safety? A nickel cornerback? He played all three roles in college. Regardless of what teams want to call him, Clemson’s hybrid defender is the sport’s reaction to Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson. He’s a spy on run downs and a blitzer — from anywhere on the field — on pass plays. Simmons has what other spies lack: the speed to actually track down Jackson in the open field. The Browns, an AFC North rival, would be thrilled to land him with the 10th pick.
Close to home: Marmion Academy alum Jordan Glasgow walked on at Michigan just like his two older brothers. For him to join them in the NFL, he’ll have to sell himself to teams as a special-teams wizard and a high-effort practice player. The 6-foot, 221-pounder was not invited to the NFL Scouting Combine and had his pro day canceled because of the coronavirus. He’ll turn 24 in June, which is old for a rookie. None of those factors is a point in his favor, but he has faced long odds before. Glasgow is expected to be drafted in Round 7 or signed as an undrafted free agent.