What an exciting draft weekend.
The Chicago Bears found key contributors that instantly improved this football team. Here’s a pick-by-pick analysis of what each rookie brings to the table.
Round 1, Pick 8: LB Roquan Smith, Georgia
Roquan Smith’s name is one that seemingly became attached to the Chicago Bears first-round pick as the draft inched closer. With the eighth pick, Ryan Pace and the Bears took who many believed was the best defensive player in this year’s draft and I couldn’t be more ecstatic.
Coincidentally, this is the first time the Bears have selected the Butkus Award winner, given to the nation’s top linebacker in college football. I have an enormous amount of faith and confidence that Smith will continue the legacy of Chicago Bears linebackers for years to come.
Bears fans, it’s time to get excited.
At 6-foot-1 and 236 pounds, some think his size may be a weakness at the pro level, but the former Bulldog succeeded in college with elite athleticism and instinct. These are two traits that just can’t be coached. He’s explosive, intelligent and was coveted as an excellent leader during his career at Georgia.
With the ascension of pass-heavy offenses and dual-threat running backs, Smith’s set of skills will be extremely valuable for Vic Fangio and the Bears’ defense. He has the ability to run sideline-to-sideline and handle man or zone coverage responsibilities. Wherever the football is, you’re going to find Smith. He takes great pursuit angles which prevents him from being engulfed by offensive linemen trying to stand in his way.
Before the draft, my pro comparison for Smith was Atlanta Falcons linebacker Deion Jones.
Both players have similar athletic traits, which helped Jones accumulate over 100 tackles in each of his first two seasons in the NFL. I believe we will see the same production from Smith in a Bears’ uniform.
Another comparison for the Bears’ first-round pick is a player that Fangio coached in San Francisco – Patrick Willis. Both are almost identical in size and were known for leadership and relentlessness on the field. Fangio must be losing sleep over the thought of coaching a possible replica of his former defensive superstar.
Pace went with the best available player with their first pick, rather than selecting another project. The Bears are getting a day-one starter next to Danny Trevathan who instantly makes the front seven better.
Round 2, Pick 39: OL James Daniels, Iowa
Coming into the second day of the draft there were a number of talented names that remained on the board. The Bears were still in need of a pass rusher opposite Leonard Floyd, depth at wide receiver and someone to fill the void in the interior offensive line.
At the top of the second round, three interior linemen were taken within the first five picks. Regardless, the Chicago Bears selected a first-round talent in Iowa’s center, James Daniels. His selection presumably solidifies the offensive line for Harry Hiestand and the Bears’ offense.
Daniels has the ability to play either center or guard, but Pace already stated that he will be a guard and Cody Whitehair will remain at center.
This is not a sexy pick, but it shows Chicago is committed to protecting Mitchell Trubisky and letting Jordan Howard carry the load in the running game. Daniels is an instant starter who has quick feet and great technique inside. He is another player that doesn’t possess outstanding size at 6-foot-3 and 306 pounds but makes up for it with intelligence and athleticism.
This selection has me excited for Howard and Tarik Cohen. Howard is a one-cut runner who benefits from a zone blocking scheme and will be given an even greater chance to succeed with a talented interior line.
Last season, the Bears led the NFL with 37 runs that resulted in negative yards and 27 of them were runs up the middle. Daniels will fortify the offensive line and be an impact player for Matt Nagy’s scheme.
Round 2, Pick 51 (Draft Day Trade with the Patriots): WR Anthony Miller, Memphis
By trading away a 2019 second-round pick and one of two fourth-round picks in 2018, the Chicago Bears were able to select one of my favorite players in this draft with the 51st pick.
At the time of the trade, I had only two players in mind: Georgia outside linebacker Lorenzo Carter and Memphis wide receiver Anthony Miller. The Bears decided to bypass the pass rusher in favor of another weapon for Nagy’s offense.
Miller is a playmaker who comes from a high-scoring, fast-paced offense in which the receiver did a ton of damage, especially off RPO’s.
He plays with a huge chip on his shoulder because he didn’t receive any Division I offers and was a walk-on at Memphis. He then went on to set almost every receiving record in school history and was a consensus All-American in 2017.
The former Tiger will be lightning in a bottle for Chicago.
He’s a fantastic route runner with quick, explosive ability after the catch and can play in the slot or outside. The 5-foot-11, 200-pound receiver has laser-sharp focus when tracking deep passes, but his concentration wavers on shorter throws.
Lance Zierlein’s NFL comparison for Miller happens to be former Bears’ receiver Kendall Wright, who led the team in receiving a year ago. Trubisky’s chemistry with Wright was apparent, but Chicago now has more than just a replacement. Nagy has a legit wide receiver to pair with Allen Robinson.
I’m in love with this pick and I’m fully content with the Bears offense. The Bears may have just drafted their own version of Odell Beckham Jr., but it came at the cost of going another round without an edge rusher.
Round 4, Pick 115: LB Joel Iyiegbuniwe, Western Kentucky
Good luck pronouncing this one. Luckily for us, the Bears fourth-round selection also goes by the name “Iggy.”
I had a lot of questions regarding this pick. Iyiegbuniwe had a late-round grade from a lot of scouting reports, so It seems like a big reach to select him in the fourth round.
On the bright side, he is a very athletic, high-energy player who played both inside and outside linebacker at Western Kentucky. The story of the Bears’ draft to this point was the lingering need for an edge rusher. The Western Kentucky linebacker did play on the edge, but his size translates better as an inside linebacker in the NFL coming in at 6-foot-1, and 229 pounds.
I honestly have no clue what’s in store for the fourth-round pick in Chicago. At the very least, he’ll be an athletic special teams contributor, but his versatility could earn him some playing time in sub packages as a coverage linebacker.
As the draft progresses, teams are typically looking for players who have potential. None of these late-round picks are guaranteed starters, but if they fit the system and possess the intangibles Pace is looking for, then we should trust the decision.
Round 5, Pick 145: DT Bilal Nichols, Delaware
I see a trend being set dating back to last year’s draft. Pace is not afraid to draft kids from FCS schools. Bilal Nichols is yet another selection with unique athletic ability, but may not possess the greatest football talent. Not yet at least.
The Bears are looking for a complimentary defensive lineman to play next to Eddie Goldman and Akiem Hicks. Nichols will be given a chance to compete with Jonathan Bullard, Roy Robertson-Harris, Nick Williams and John Jenkins over the course of training camp and into the 2018 season.
While briefly watching film on Nichols, he clearly lacks the ability to produce a pass rush, but he commands double teams and has a motor that never stops churning. He also has extremely active hands and bats a lot of passes at the line of scrimmage. Nichols has a lot of learning to do to fix fundamental issues, but he can certainly be a rotational player for Chicago in the near future given his natural athleticism.
The selection, to many, seems underwhelming, but it makes sense. The Bears add depth to the defensive line in order to prevent fatigue over the duration of a football game. Additionally, this pick will benefit first-round pick, Smith, as Nichols will eat up blockers and allow the linebacker to roam free at the second level, which is where he thrives.
Pace wouldn’t make the final decision to draft someone if there wasn’t a way for his coaches to utilize their talents.
Round 6, Pick 181: EDGE Kylie Fitts, Utah
At long last, Chicago finally selects an edge defender by way of Utah’s Kylie Fitts in the sixth round of the draft. Better late than never, I guess.
Fitts is a strong player who has experience playing with his hand in the dirt or as a standing outside linebacker. He possesses one huge downside in the form of durability issues, which really frightens me as a fan. The sixth-round pick battled a ton of injuries during his time at Utah including a foot injury in 2016.
But Fitts had an impressive 2015 campaign where he tallied 41 tackles, eight tackles for loss and seven sacks. As long as he can stay healthy, Pace may have selected a major steal with the 181st pick in the draft.
The Bears need players to battle for reps as a rotational pass rusher behind Floyd, Aaron Lynch and Sam Acho. Fitts is a possible replacement for Pernell McPhee, who also has battled injuries throughout his career. Just for comparison, McPhee is listed as 6-foot-3, 269-pounds. Fitts measured 6-foot-4, 263-pounds at the combine.
If the Utah pass rusher wants to play a significant role at the next level, he needs to improve his power when setting the edge due to a lack of lower body strength. I hope the sixth-round pick has the chance to elevate his game and get an opportunity to be the strong-side outside linebacker the Bears envisioned when they signed McPhee.
Round 7, Pick 224: WR Javon Wims, Georgia
Chicago starts the draft with a Georgia Bulldog and ends the draft with a Georgia Bulldog. Javon Wims is a talented, project wide receiver for the Bears in round seven.
For Wims, he has only been playing football since 2014 and didn’t heavily contribute to a college program until his senior season before the NFL draft.
His strengths come from size and jump ball ability. He’s 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds but lacks elite speed and the ability to separate from defenders. Wims is a natural hands catcher which is a something I think is very important in the NFL. Bears fans should remember the strength of Alshon Jeffery’s hands during his time in Chicago and I think Wims fits that mold.
Speed, route running and separation are all things that Wims does not possess, but his natural ability to leap and catch the football at its highest point helped him succeed last season at Georgia. He’ll struggle in the NFL if he can’t hone his ability to create space from fast, physical corners.
I personally wanted to see a name like Simmie Cobbs here, but Wims is a player with loads of potential.
If Nagy and the Bears can tap into the potential inside Wims within the next few years, we may have a player that can compete for a starting spot down the road. That doesn’t sound too bad, and it’ll be an interesting storyline to follow over the next couple of seasons and heading into training camp.
Pace put together a solid draft class that included a dominant first two rounds. He was aggressive, but also smart and sought out players with the intangibles that best suited the team’s needs.
The additions of Smith, Daniels and Miller will provide significant impact to the Bears’ roster while Iyiegbuniwe, Nichols and Fitts get the opportunity to carve themselves a niche role in Chicago.
Wims is not guaranteed to make the 53-man roster, but if the coaching staff sees past his flaws and works with him, he can have value that supersedes his seventh-round grade.
Overall, it’s easy to be pleased with this year’s draft class and Bears fans should be excited about this core group of young players that will write the next chapter of the franchise.