ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper, Jr. has the Bears staying out of an early run on quarterbacks in this year’s draft and taking Florida wide receiver Ladarius Toney with the 20th overall pick.
Kiper anticipates such a run on quarterbacks at the start of this year’s draft that he included potential trades in his mock draft for the first time in his 38 years of analyzing the draft for ESPN. But none of the activity includes the Bears.
The Bears are candidates to move up in the draft, just based on general manager Ryan Pace’s aggressive history in the draft — in 2016, he moved up two spots to take Leonard Floyd at No. 9; in 2017, he moved up one spot to take Mitch Trubisky at No. 2; in 2018, he traded into the second round to take Anthony Miller at No. 51; in 2019, he traded up 14 spots in the third round to take David Montgomery with his first pick of that draft.
But Pace doesn’t have the draft capital other teams have and with a typical premium on quarterbacks, it would likely take an extraordinary effort to move up significantly.
Kiper has the Falcons trading with the Jets to move up two spots to No. 2 to take BYU quarterback Zach Wilson. He has the 49ers trading with the Lions to move up five spots to No. 7 to take Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields. And he has the Patriots trading with the Broncos to move up six spots to No. 9 to take North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance.
So Kiper has five quarterbacks being drafted in the first nine picks — Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence to the Jaguars (No. 1), Wilson to the Falcons (No. 2), Fields to the 49ers (No. 7); Alabama’s Mac Jones to the Panthers (No. 8) and Lance to the Patriots (No. 9).
The 6-0, 193-pound Toney had a breakout season at Florida in 2020, with 70 receptions for 984 yards and 10 touchdowns in 11 games. He came into the season with 35 receptions for 454 yards and two touchdowns in his first two seasons. Toney is a versatile offensive threat, who rushed for 460 yards (8.8 per carry) and a touchdown in three seasons, played wildcat quarterback and returned a punt for a touchdown in 2020.
In Kiper’s mock draft, Toney would be the fourth wide receivers taken — behind Alabama’s DeVonta Smith (No. 3 to the Dolphins), LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase (No. 6 to the Eagles) and Alabama’s Jaylen Waddle (No. 11 to the Giants).
Many Bears observers consider offensive tackle more important than wide receiver as an upgrade that would help whoever starts at quarterback in 2021 — pending Allen Robinson’s potential free agent status, of course. Kiper acknowledged that need. But four tackles were already gone by No. 20 in his latest mock — Oregon’s Penei Sewell (No. 5 to the Bengals); Northwestern’s Rashawn Slater (No. 13 to the Chargers); USC’s Alijah Vera-Tucker (No. 14 to the Vikings) and Virginia Tech’s Christian Darrisaw (No. 19 to Washington).
For what it’s worth, Kiper last correctly predicted the Bears’ first-round pick in 2014 (Kyle Fuller). But he’s generally pretty close. Here are Kiper’s last eight mock-draft predictions involving the Bears:
2018 — No. 8 Quenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame (Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia)
2017 — No. 3 Solomon Thomas, DL, Stanford (Mitch Trubisky, QB, North Carolina at No. 2)
2016 — No. 11 Shaq Lawson, DE, Clemson (Leonard Floyd, OLB, Georgia at No. 9)
2015 — No. 7 Brandon Scherff, OT, Iowa (Kevin White, WR, West Virginia)
2014 — No. 14 Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech (Fuller)
2013 — No. 20 Manti Te’o, LB, Notre Dame (Kyle Long, G, Oregon)
2012 — No. 19 Whitney Mercilus, DE, Illinois (Shea McClellin, DE, Boise State)
2011 — No. 29 Derrick Sherrod, OT, Mississippi State (Gabe Carmi, OT, Wisconsin).