Adam L. Jahns: Whom the Bears should draft with their first-round pick Thursday

Sun-Times Bears beat writer Adam L. Jahns 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:

ADAM L. JAHNS’ DRAFT

1. Browns — QB Sam Darnold, USC

2. Giants — RB Saquon Barkley, Penn State

Roquan Smith runs during Georgia's pro day. (AP)

3. Jets — QB Josh Rosen, UCLA

4. Browns — DE Bradley Chubb, North Carolina State

5. Broncos — QB Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma

6. Colts — CB Denzel Ward, Ohio State

7. Buccaneers — G Quenton Nelson, Notre Dame

At No. 8, the Bears will take … 

Roquan Smith, Georgia LB

If Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen still is available, general manager Ryan Pace should make sure his phone is charged.

But if the Bears stick with the eighth pick, their decision will come down to Smith, Virginia Tech linebacker Tremaine Edmunds or Alabama defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick. They’re three high-character players who ooze potential.

RELATED STORIES
Patrick Finley: Whom the Bears should draft with their first-round pick Thursday
Mark Potash: Whom the Bears should draft with their first-round pick Thursday

At 6-1 and 236 pounds, Smith isn’t as physically imposing as Edmunds, who is 6-5 and 253 pounds. But ideal measurables can be an overrated attribute.

Smith’s instincts, sideline-to-sideline speed and tenacity should remind defensive coordinator Vic Fangio of former All-Pro Patrick Willis in the middle of Fangio’s elite 49ers defenses. Willis, who last played in 2014, played at 6-1 and 240 pounds.

Phil Savage, an analyst for Alabama and the executive director of the Senior Bowl, offered a lofty comparison for Smith, too.

“The kid is a reincarnation of a Ray Lewis, who we drafted in Baltimore when I was there in 1996,” Savage said in an interview this month on SiriusXM.

“He’s got passion, energy, burst, acceleration. He makes players around him better. Roquan elevated the play of those around him, and they became a very salty defense this past season. That really helped carry them to the national championship game. And Roquan Smith was the guy in the middle of all that action. I just love him as a player.”

Savage was the Ravens’ director of college scouting when they drafted Lewis, who also played at 6-1 and 240 pounds, with the 26th pick in 1996. The 49ers drafted Willis with the 11th pick in 2007.

The knock on Smith is that he needs to take on blocks better. But good coaching can solve that. Critics said the same about Bears Hall of Famer Brian Urlacher.

As talented as Fitzpatrick and Edmunds are, there is some uncertainty. For Fitzpatrick, it’s deciding where he fits best in the secondary after he played everywhere at Alabama. 

More questions, though, seem to follow Edmunds. It starts with his instincts. Does Edmunds’ potential as a pass rusher compensate for him not being as instinctive as Smith in the middle?

NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock described Smith and Florida State safety Derwin James as two of the safest picks in the draft when asked to compare them to Edmunds.

“I think his upside is higher than those other kids, but I think his floor is lower,” Mayock said of Edmunds. “I’m not sure what you’re getting with him at the end of the day.”