I want to start off by apologizing. We are only 22 days away from the NFL Draft, and I am just now publishing my first mock draft.
So, again, I’m sorry.
However, with waiting after free agency, the Jordan Howard trade to the Eagles and Aaron Lynch re-signing on a one-year deal, these events did help me project how general manager Ryan Pace could approach the 2019 NFL Draft.
For the first time in what seems like forever, the Bears don’t have a multitude of holes on their roster. This bodes well for Pace, who is entering his fifth draft with Chicago, because he is, unlike previous years, without a first- or-second-round pick.
There isn’t much flexibility for Pace, but he has proven he can still find quality players later in the draft. Check out who I have the Bears drafting in my first mock draft.
Round 3, Pick 87: David Montgomery, RB (Iowa State)
Everybody seems to have their own take as to when the running backs in this draft class will start to come off the board: mid-to-late first, early second, sometime in the third or possibly later. Since nobody actually knows what NFL organizations’ draft boards look like, I have Montgomery being available when the Bears pick at No. 87.
The 5-foot-10, 222-pound back proved at Iowa State that he is a nightmare to tackle. According to Pro Football Focus, Montgomery forced the most missed tackles per rushing attempt among running backs (0.39) last season. He is also a capable receiver out of the backfield, as he caught 22 passes for 157 yards in 2018.
The biggest knock on Montgomery, though, is his speed. He ran a 4.63 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine. But he did improve by six-hundredths of a second at his Pro Day (4.57). Overall, Montgomery’s ability to make tacklers miss while being a receiving threat is what makes him a great candidate to replace Howard and to be the feature back in Matt Nagy’s offense.
Round 4, Pick 126: D’Andre Walker, Edge (Georgia)
Despite the Bears bringing back Lynch on a one-year deal, there should still be depth added at the edge rusher position. That is where Walker comes in. Although he was a top 100 overall recruit from Fairburn, Ga., he did not start for the Bulldogs until his senior year.
At Georgia, however, Walker showcased his versatility by rushing the passer from a standup position or in a three-point stance and, at times, was asked to drop back into coverage, where he looked — surprisingly — fluid. He also does well playing against the run and is able to set the edge. A big part of that is due to the pop he generated on opposing blockers and how he utilized his hands to free himself from engaging linemen.
Still, Walker must become more consistent overall.
At times he is completely taken out of a play when linemen are able to win their one-on-one matchup, and he doesn’t possess a variety of pass-rushing moves. When Georgia ran stunts, that is where Walker was most effective. He will need time to develop all the details that are required to be an efficient pass rusher, and as a result, he is best suited to contribute on obvious passing downs early in his career.
Round 5, Pick 162: Khari Willis, Safety (Michigan State)
Other than Eddie Jackson, none of the other safeties on the roster (Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, DeAndre Houston-Carson and Deon Bush) are a lock to be on the Bears after the 2019 season. So, Pace would be wise to add another safety in the draft.
Last season, Willis was a captain his senior year at Michigan State, and the 5-foot-11, 213-pound safety provided the Spartans’ defense with a variety of options. At times he would lineup in a two-deep look, alone in the middle of the field or on the line against a tight end or slot receiver. This plays in Willis’ favor because in the NFL safeties need to be interchangeable with their responsibilities, especially when opposing teams utilize motion, thus changing the assignments for the strong and free safety.
Another plus to Willis’ game is his physicality. Whether he was jamming tight ends as they went out for passes or delivering a big hit on the ball carrier, Willis made his presence felt.
But that physicality also hurt him.
Sometimes he was too aggressive with his hands, which can lead to pass interference calls. And he occasionally missed tackles because he was looking for the knockout blow instead of breaking down and making a secure tackle. Additionally, Willis didn’t fare well when anticipating routes and diagnosing plays pre-snap. This could be due to him only being a two-year starter at Michigan State.
Still, Willis has the ability to contribute on special teams and the potential to develop under defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano, who has a history of coaching defensive backs.
Round 7, Pick 222: Anthony Ratliff-Williams, Wide Receiver (North Carolina)
Since Pace became the GM of the Bears, he has drafted a wide receiver every year except for 2017. One could argue that Tarik Cohen, who led the team in receptions last season with 71, could be an exception for that draft.
Regardless, Pace has a tendency to draft receivers.
In 2019, Ratliff-Williams could be his next prospect to add to his list. At North Carolina, the 6-foot-1, 205-pound receiver lined up all over the field: the outside (primarily to the left and on the line of scrimmage), in the slot, as the wildcat quarterback and as a kick returner, where he was first in the ACC in return yards in 2017.
Ratliff-Williams’ versatility will help him in the long run to make an NFL roster. He did do a good job last season coming back to the ball and was able to find the soft spot in zone defenses, which gave his quarterback high-percentage completions. Also, he is a willing blocker and will carry out a block until the whistle is blown.
As for a drawback with Ratliff-Williams, he doesn’t possess elite speed, and that affected his ability to create separation on vertical routes.
Round 7, Pick 238: Kicker
Honestly, I am not confident in Redford Jones or Chris Blewitt. I’m just not. The Bears on the hand could feel differently, but that doesn’t mean the organization should be content with who they have.
Most likely there will be more competition brought in to solidify the position. Whether the Bears decide to draft LSU’s Cole Tracy, Oklahoma’s Austin Seibert or Utah’s Matt Gay, I’m sure Bears fans will be pleased with any of those prospects if one of them is the answer to the Bears’ kicking problem.