The seven long days since our last mock draft didn’t exactly shake the NFL world. The first-round order did change slightly when the Patriots acquired the 23rd overall pick from the Rams for wide receiver Brandin Cooks. The Rams also signed free agent defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, but that transaction — a luxury signing with Aaron Donald the best in the business at defensive tackle —won’t impact the first round anyway, with the Rams having traded their pick.
There were two notable workout injuries, but both Wisconsin cornerback Nick Nelson and North Carolina State defensive end Kentavius Street were considered mid-round picks at best even before they were injured.
Locally, the big news was Bears wide receiver Cam Meredith signing an offer sheet from the Saints, a reported two-year, $9.6 million deal. The Bears have until Wednesday to match the offer. But whatever happens, it shouldn’t change the Bears’ approach in the first round. Meredith is a productive receiver who has come a long way since he joined the team as an undrafted free agent in 2015. But the whole idea of the Mitch Trubisky-Matt Nagy pairing is that players like Cam Meredith are fairly easily replaced.
So — on paper, without intimate knowledge of the Bears’ thinking, anyway — that leaves the Bears in a similar situation with the No. 8 overall pick as they were last week. Even with the run on quarterbacks they desire, the Bears still could be a couple of picks shy of a player who would immediately fill their biggest needs: North Carolina State defensive end Bradley Chubb long has been projected to be gone by the eighth pick; and Notre Dame once-in-a-generation guard Quenton Nelson is looking more and more like a coveted player who could be gone as well.
Even with as many as four quarterbacks taken before the Bears’ pick, there’s little chance that Chubb would fall to the Bears at No. 8. But Nelson could be a different story. Only three guards have been selected in the top 10 of the NFL draft in the last 30 years —Colorado’s Chris Naeole (10th overall to the Saints) in 1988 and North Carolina’s Jonathan Cooper (seventh to the Cardinals) and Alabama’s Chance Warmack (10th to the Titans) in 2013. Two notable “once-in-a-generation” guards ended up being mid-first-round picks — Michigan’s Steve Hutchinson went 17th overall to the Seahawks in 2001; Stanford’s David DeCastro went 24th overall to the Steelers in 2012.
(The Bears had their shot at DeCastro — a potential top-10 pick —with the 19th pick of the 2012 draft, but general manager Phil Emery got a little cute and took undersized Boise State defensive end Shea McClellin instead. McClellin had 7.5 sacks while playing almost as many positions in four seasons with the Bears. DeCastro is a three-time Pro Bowl guard despite two major knee injuries as a rookie.)
ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper scoffed when I brought up the Hutchinson/DeCastro examples on a conference call two weeks ago. “Nah, that’s not happening with Nelson. Some people think [Nelson’s] the best player in the draft. [I have him] at No. 3 behind [Saquon] Barkley and Chubb. I think Todd [McShay] has him at 2. So you’re talking about one of the best players in the draft … I don’t know how you pass on Nelson [at No. 8] and you’re certainly not trading down thinking you’re still going to get him — that’s not going to happen.”
Be that as it may, there’s a reason why guards generally don’t go in the top 10 regardless of how good they are —there usually are more valuable options. No matter how good Quenton Nelson is, you can find capable guards anywhere. Of the 40 starting guards in the past 10 Super Bowls, only four were first-round picks. Nine were undrafted free agents. In fact, exactly half (20) were drafted in the fourth round or later. Even excluding the undrafted guys, the starting guards in the last 10 Super Bowls were drafted an average of 104th overall — a pick that usually is early in the fourth round.
The Eagles starting guards in Super Bowl LII both were discards from elsewhere: Stefan Wisniewski was a second-round pick (48th overall) by the Raiders; Brandon Brooks was a third-round pick (76th overall) by the Texans. Three of the Eagles most effective defensive linemen in that Super Bowl, meanwhile, were first-round picks —Chris Long (second overall by the Rams), Fletcher Cox (12th overall by the Eagles) and Brandon Graham (13th overall by the Eagles).
So with 19 days to go before the April 27 draft, the only sure thing is that Bears general manager Ryan Pace will have plenty of options with the No. 8 pick — trade up, trade down, offense, defense. But keep in mind that after a quarterback, the need for an edge rusher usually trumps all.
And with all that said, here is the Sun-Times’ latest mock draft. If you don’t like this one, just wait a bit — another one will be here soon.
1. Browns: Josh Allen, Wyoming QB
A general rule of thumb with first-round quarterbacks is to let the Browns make your mistake for you and scoop up the right guy they left for you. But new general manager John Dorsey is a Ron Wolf disciple and those guys have a little better luck with quarterbacks — from Wolf (Brett Favre) to Ted Thompson (Aaron Rodgers) to John Schneider/Scot McCloughan (Russell Wilson) to Reggie McKenzie (Derek Carr) to Dorsey himself (Pat Mahomes).
2. Giants: Sam Darnold, Southern California QB.
The Giants would love to take Bradley Chubb here, but when you need a quarterback of the future (likely the very near future) this is the spot to fill that need.
3. Jets: Josh Rosen, UCLA QB.
Rosen’s gumption is a particularly maddening indicator for a quarterback. More often than not it means trouble. Ryan Leaf was a total bust. Jay Cutler — while still the best quarterback in the 2006 draft — was a disappointment. But Aaron Rodgers, while not in their class in that department, had a chip on his shoulder that turned off some people, but parlayed it into greatness.
4. Browns: Saquon Barkley, Penn State RB.
A lot of teams will have their eye on this pick and it might be better than 50-50 that the Browns trade it. But if they stick with it, getting the top-rated player in the draft at No. 4 is an opportunity even the Browns won’t be able to pass up.
5. Broncos: Bradley Chubb, North Carolina State DE
The Broncos’ interest in Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield has been almost too overt. Trade possibilities still loom, but look for John Elway to take the best available player if he stays at this spot.
6. Colts: Quenton Nelson, Notre Dame G
After missing out on Chubb, the Colts will take a player who can help keep Andrew Luck healthy.
7. Buccaneers: Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama CB
Bucs need a versatile corner and Fitzpatrick is not only the best cornerback in this draft but the most versatile. Nick Saban-bred defensive backs usually come ready-made for the NFL.
8. Bears: Tremaine Edmunds, Virginia Tech LB.
A bit of a projection here that the 19-year-0ld Edmunds (he turns 20 on May 2) will develop into a pass rusher, but he has the kind of athleticism, closing speed and coverage ability that Ryan Pace covets. Unlike Leonard Floyd in 2016, Edmunds would be joining a defense that already is in the top-10 in the NFL, which makes him an even better high-ceiling risk.
9. 49ers: Denzel Ward, Ohio State CB.
Everything John Lynch touches seems to turn to gold, and he gets the best rated man-to-man corner in the draft — with Richard Sherman there to bring him along.
10. Raiders: Roquan Smith, Georgia LB.
Smith has been compared to Ray Lewis, which is usually the kiss-of-death, but even if he’s not Lewis, Smith has the kind of sideline-to-sideline ability and intangibles that will make the Raiders’ defense better.
11. Dolphins: Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma QB.
The Dolphins better have a Plan B ready (Florida State safety Derwin James? Washington defensive lineman Vita Vea?), but if Mayfield falls this far, they figure to give Adam Gase a quarterback he can develop.
12. Bills: Lamar Jackson, Louisville QB.
The Bills are expected to move into the top five to get a quarterback. But if they have the option of staying put and getting a quality prospect in Jackson, if they think they can solve the accuracy issues he had in college.
13. Redskins: Vita Vea, Washington DT
The Redskins have bigger needs on defense vis a vis their Kirk Cousins-less offense and a run-stuffing nose like Vita Vea for their 3-4 scheme is a good fit here.
14. Packers: Marcus Davenport, Texas-San Antonio DE.
Still breaking down the film on this small-school prospect, but I like what I see so far. Assuming Mike Pettine’s defense won’t differ much from Dom Capers’, Davenport looks like he’ll fit in well, especially with Clay Matthews showing his age.
15. Cardinals: Josh Jackson, Iowa CB.
The Cardinals lost CB Tramon Williams in free agency and Jackson not only can fill that hole, but also has special teams ability the Cardinals like.
16. Ravens: Derwin James, Florida State S.
Ravens need more help on offense, but the 6-3, 215-pound James — a top-10 pick in many mock drafts — is too good to pass up here.
17. Chargers: Mike McGlinchey, Notre Dame OT.
The Chargers probably need more help at defensive tackle (Alabama’s Da’Ron Payne?) to shore up their league-worst run defense (4.9 yards per carry), but the opportunity to fill a hole at right tackle with the highly rated McGlinchey and give aging Philip Rivers better protection is too good to pass up.
18. Seahawks: Harold Landry, Boston College LB.
The Seahawks’ defense was losing its bite even before Michael Bennett, Sheldon Richardson and Richard Sherman left and Landry is the kind of high-ceiling guy Pete Carroll loves.
19. Cowboys: Da’Ron Payne, Alabama DT.
Don’t discount the possibility of the Cowboys reaching for a wide receiver here, but they need more help on defense and Payne is one of the best run-stoppers in the draft, with pass-rush potential, they say.
20. Lions: Leighton Vander Esch, Boise State LB.
With only six picks, the Lions are likely to trade down for more and still improve their woebegone running game, possibly with LSU running back Derrius Guice or Georgia’s Sony Michel. Vander Esch, a former walk-on at Boise State, is the kind of fast-rising player Matt Patricia figures to like.
21. Bengals: Rashaan Evans, Alabama LB.
It remains to be seen if Evans will still be here, because he has enticing athletic ability and blossomed in a starring role as a senior in 2017. But if he’s available, he’s the kind of player the Bengals love and it’s unlikely they’ll pass on the opportunity.
22. Bills: Calvin Ridley, Alabama WR.
It’s almost unlikely the Bills will still have this pick, as they are expected to trade up to draft a quarterback. But if they’re here, Ridley is the best plug-and-play wide receiver in the draft and could provide the immediate help the Bills need in their passing game.
23. Patriots: Jaire Alexander, Louisville CB.
Assuming the Patriots can get a tackle to replace Nate Solder at No. 31, they figure to look for Malcolm Butler’s replacement here with the pick they acquired from the Rams. Josh Jackson is gone in this mock, but Alexander has the kind of background, moxie and demeanor that Bill Belichick seems to like.
24. Panthers: Courtland Sutton, SMU WR
After trading Kelvin Benjamin last season, the Panthers have a need at wide receiver and the 6-3 Sutton, while hardly a finished product, has the kind of size and catch radius to give Cam Newton the target he needs.
25. Titans: Josh Sweat, Florida State DE.
Iowa center/guard James Daniels might be the best player available at this point, but after re-signing starting guard Josh Kline, the Titans can afford to roll the dice on an athletic pass rusher with impressive measurables at the combine.
26. Falcons: Taven Bryan, Florida DT.
Michigan’s Maurice Hurst might provide more immediate help to fill the hole left by the departures of Dontari Poe and Derrick Shelby, but the athletic Bryan is the kind of high-ceiling player the Falcons can probably take a shot at. “He fits the scheme” isn’t always the best rationale to take a guy, but sometimes it is.
27. Saints: D.J. Moore, Maryland WR
After the Saints signed Bears wide receiver Cam Meridith to a two-year, $9.6 million offer sheet, they are definitely looking for help at wide receiver. Any receiver who comes into that offense, with Drew Brees at quarterback has a chance to succeed and Moore is a good bet to do just that.
28. Steelers: Mike Hughes, Central Florida CB.
Boise State linebacker Leighton Vander Esch is a popular pick here with the Steelers trying to replace Ryan Shazier. By draft day, they might have to trade up to get him. If they can’t, they won’t reach and will gladly settle for Hughes, who played only one season at UCF but showed a ton of big-play potential.
29. Jaguars: Isaiah Wynn, Georgia OL.
After years and years — and years — of searching for difference-makers in the top 10, the Jaguars have the luxury of fortifying a strength by drafting Wynn, who figures to play guard in the NFL and would upgrade the offensive line in front of running back Leonard Fournette.
30. Vikings: James Daniels, Iowa G/C.
The Vikings and Rick Spielman are smart enough to know that even though they pieced together a fine offensive line last season, they are anything but set there — especially after guard Joe Berger retired. After signing Kirk Cousins, they’ll be looking for upgrades and Daniels figures to be the best linemen available. Texas OT Connor Williams also an option here.
31. Patriots: Kolton Miller, UCLA OT.
After losing veteran Nate Solder in free agency, the Patriots’ biggest draft need is left tackle. The 6-9, 310-pound Miller may or may not be a plug-and-play replacement, but he has the size and athleticism the Patriots seem to know how to develop into a quality player.
32. Eagles: Dallas Goedert, South Dakota State TE.
After losing Trey Burton to the Bears in free agency and cutting Brent Celek, the Eagles have to shore up their tight end depth behind (or beside) Zach Ertz. The 6-5, 255-pound Goedert (72 receptions, 1,111 yards, seven TDs in 2017) is a pass-catching threat who could thrive in Doug Pederson’s offense.