The NFL Draft is less than four weeks away. While the order of the top picks isn’t clear, the draft-order tiers are coming into focus.
In the latest Sun-Times Mock Draft, we look at those tiers, and how they’ll affect the Bears — and the draft:
Picks 1-5: The Quarterback Derby
The Bears are hoping for an early run on quarterbacks. It appears they’ll get their wish — thanks to the teams drafting ahead of them taking a passer, or others trading into a similar position. With trades not allowed in this mock, here’s how four quarterbacks will be selected with the top five picks:
1. Browns: Sam Darnold, USC QB
The Browns are going to get their franchise quarterback with the first pick. Who will it be? Darnold is the pick here, despite a stellar workout showing from strong-armed Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen. Perhaps the unproven, but enticing Allen would have been the pick of previous Browns regimes, but we think John Dorsey will take the safest pick here. Darnold’s done nothing to justify falling in the draft.
2. Giants: Josh Allen, Wyoming QB
The Giants will be tempted to take Penn State running back Saquon Barkley or perhaps even Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson here, but they’ll settle on a quarterback who they can develop for the next year or two behind Eli Manning. Allen is the least plug-and-play of the four top passers, but Big Blue doesn’t need him to be a star right anyway. The Jets, by contrast, would.
3. Jets (via Colts): Josh Rosen, UCLA QB
On NFL Network, Rosen’s former UCLA coach, Jim Mora, actually lobbied for his former pupil to not be picked No. 1 overall. He thinks Darnold should go No. 1 because he has a “blue-collar, gritty attitude” that “kinda represents what Cleveland is.” He said Rosen would be happy on one of the New York teams. Was Mora taking a dig at Rosen — or merely trying to will him to a better situation than the moribund Browns?
4. Browns (via Texans): Saquon Barkley, Penn State RB
Barkley is probably the best player in the draft. He and Darnold could make the Browns relevant for the next decade. Unless the Browns are overwhelmed by a trade, there’s no way they pass on taking the Penn State star.
5. Broncos: Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma QB
The Broncos could look to trade the pick to a desperate team — what’s the area code for Buffalo, N.Y.? — but settle here for the last of the four top quarterbacks. Case Keenum is only on a two-year deal, so Mayfield, who is almost two years older than Darnold, won’t be sitting for too long. Let him learn the offense this year and compete for the starting gig in the 2019 training camp.
Picks 6-10: Already Set Under Center
When four quarterbacks go in the top five picks, no teams will be happier than the three drafting next. Three of the top five non-passers will go here — a great value for teams that already have their quarterback of the future:
6. Colts (via Jets): Bradley Chubb, N.C. State edge rusher
Chubb to the Colts is probably the most natural fit in the draft. Chubb can play defensive end for a franchise that finished second-to-last in the league in sacks last year.
7. Buccaneers: Denzel Ward, Ohio State CB
The Bucs gave up the most passing yards in the NFL last year, and could team him with Vernon Hargreaves with hopes the duo spends the next five years growing into one of the league’s top tandems.
8. Bears: Quenton Nelson, Notre Dame G
There might be no wrong answer if general manager Ryan Pace is left to choose from among Nelson, Virginia Tech edge rusher Tremaine Edmunds and Alabama safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. The first two fill areas of glaring need, while the team could deploy Fitzpatrick in a hybrid role where he could coexist alongside Adrian Amos, Eddie Jackson and their two returning cornerbacks. The Bears know all they need to know about Nelson — they hired his mentor, Harry Hiestand. That familiarity — and the opportunity to protect Mitch Trubisky until the day he retires — pushes Nelson to the front of the line.
9. 49ers: Tremaine Edmunds, Virginia Tech LB
Edmunds could play all three linebacker spots for the 49ers, or even their “Leo” weakside defensive end position. They’ll be tempted to team Fitzpatrick with Richard Sherman, but will be more intrigued by the 20-year-old physical specimen.
10. Raiders: Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama S
New head coach Jon Gruden hired Alabama defensive backs coach Derrick Ansley to teach the same position inside the Black Hole. Much like Nelson and Hiestand, he has the best idea of anyone in the country about just how special Fitzpatrick can be. If the safety — with cornerback ball skills — is still around, this one’s easy.
Picks 11-14: Deeee-fense
With the top tier of players off the board, the next four teams turn to defense — despite glaring needs on the other side of the ball. When the draft breaks this way, they’ll have no other choice:
11. Dolphins: Roquan Smith, Georgia ILB
The Dolphins apparently showed heavy interest during Smith’s pro day, but we’ll slot him here, knowing the Bills will try to trade up into the top five. Smith is undersized, but there’s no arguing with his production.
12. Bills (via Bengals): Marcus Davenport, UT-San Antonio edge rusher
It would be shocking in the Bills didn’t trade this pick. As a placeholder, though, we’ll give them the second-best edge rusher in the draft. Everyone — the Bills or whomever they trade with — needs to rush the passer.
13. Redskins: Vita Vea, Washington NT
The Redskins haven’t signed a defensive lineman in free agency and need a run-stuffing nose for their 3-4 scheme.
14. Packers: Josh Jackson, Iowa CB
Despite their claims later that they didn’t truly believe they’d be able to lure Kyle Fuller from the Bears, the Packers’ offer-sheet play underscores just how desperately they need a cornerback. Jackson led Div. I-A in interceptions last year.
Picks 15-16: Catch me outside
Three receivers went in the top 10 last year, and they were quantifiably disappointing — Corey Davis, Mike Williams and John Ross combined to catch 45 passes for 470 yards. Pass-catchers could slide farther down the draft board this year as a result, but these teams are desperate enough to grab one:
15. Cardinals: Calvin Ridley, Alabama WR
The Cardinals need a long-term quarterback. Louisville’s Lamar Jackson is available. But with Sam Bradford and Mike Glennon signed for next year, and with a last-place finish in the NFC West a good bet, the guess here is they wait until next year, when they’re drafting in the top five, to take one.
16. Ravens: Christian Kirk, Texas A&M WR
Who drafts a 5-10 slot receiver this high? A team that has patched its receiving corps with Michael Crabtree and John Brown, and has kicked the tires on Bears restricted free agent Cam Meredith.
Picks 17-20: Perfect fits
With the top choices gone, the second half of the draft is all about finding the right flavor for your team. The following four do that expertly:
17. Chargers: Mike McGlinchey, Notre Dame OT
The Chargers’ line is set everywhere but right tackle, which is precisely where McGlinchey, a former tight end, slots in the NFL.
18. Seahawks: Derwin James, Florida State S
The two seem made for each other — if James, who has been mocked as high as the top 10, lasts this long. James’ physical style sets the tone for the next generation of the Legion of Boom.
19. Cowboys: Da’Ron Payne, Alabama DT
Rod Marinelli’s defense needs a 3-technique defensive tackle. Can Payne, who played straight-up nose in college, pull it off?
20. Lions: Harold Landry, Boston College edge rusher
We’re suckers for college coaches who jumped to pro teams drafting their pupils — see the Bears and Raiders — so we’ll live Landry to Lions defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni, who coached him in college.
Pick 21: Of course they do
This one fits the team’s reputation:
21. Bengals (via Bills): Arden Key, LSU edge rusher
There are questions about Key’s attitude after he left LSU for a four-month span last year, only to return and post underwhelming results. What team in the league takes chances the most often with those kinds of players? (Put your hands down, Raiders).
Pick 22: QB5
A landing spot for the fifth quarterback:
22. Bills (via Chiefs): Lamar Jackson, Louisville QB
In a perfect world, the Bills would use their 12th pick to move up and grab a quarterback. In this case, they don’t have to trade future draft assets and still land an intriguing prospect. Whomever takes Jackson will probably have to build the offensive scheme around him. The Bills would be silly not to.
Picks 23-26: The Missing Piece
If this teams want to return to the playoffs, they’ll have to fill voids created when they made other roster moves:
23. Rams: Rashaan Evans, Alabama LB
After trading Alec Ogletree to the Giants, the Rams could use an inside linebacker to round out a nasty unit alongside newcomers Ndamukong Suh, Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters.
24. Panthers: Courtland Sutton, SMU WR
Having dealt Kelvin Benjamin to the Bills at the trade deadline, the Panthers have patched a hole by acquiring 29-year-old Torrey Smith. The speedster isn’t the long-term answer, though.
25. Titans: Taven Bryan, Florida DT
One year after signing him to a three-year deal worth $16.5 million, the Titans cut nose tackle Sylvester Williams last month. After parting with defensive lineman Karl Klug, too, they need some beef up front.
26. Falcons: Maurice Hurst, Michigan DT
An electrocardiogram at the NFL Scouting Combine caused concerns about Hurst’s heart, but he’s since been cleared by Wolverines doctors. He’ll fill a hole left by the departures of Dontari Poe and Derrick Shelby.
Picks 27-29: A run on TEs
There were three tight ends taken in the first round last year, but none in each of the previous two years. Two will be taken this time around:
27. Saints: Hayden Hurst, South Carolina TE
Hurst, who turns 25 in August, is the tight end most ready to contribute this season. That’s huge for a team with a star quarterback, Drew Brees, who just turned 39.
28. Steelers: Leighton Vander Esch, Boise State LB
They need someone to fill the hole left by Ryan Shazier. That’s an impossible task, but the Boise alum’s versatility is a big plus.
29. Jaguars: Dallas Goedert, South Dakota State
They signed Austin Sefarian-Jenkins, but the position is still a huge area of need: the Jaguars’ other four tight ends on their roster totaled 32 catches last year.
Picks 30-31: Block for me
The NFC runner-up and the AFC champion need starting offensive linemen:
30. Vikings: Connor Williams, Texas OL
A college left tackle, Williams’ reach makes him more of a guard. The Vikings can plug and play him there.
31. Patriots: Kolton Miller, UCLA OT
The Patriots have a lot of needs — seriously — but none more than finding Nate Solder’s replacement.
Pick 32: The champs
The Eagles don’t need much:
32. Eagles: Derrius Guice, LSU RB
The ultimate luxury pick, Guice will have a year to convince the Eagles not to re-sign Jay Ajayi, who becomes a free agent next March.