After the first big wave of free agency, the Bears filled on of their biggest needs of the offseason at wide receiver with the signings of Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, and Trey Burton. Ryan Pace didn’t seem to care that I was halfway done with an article about wide receivers they can target in the draft. But I digress.
Pace should continue to sign players over the next month, but mostly for depth at this point. So while wide receiver is no longer a need, pass rusher and offensive line will look like they will need to be addressed in the draft. You can read about pass rushers they can draft here, but who are some of the offensive line talent they might be looking at come draft day?
First off, this is a weak offensive tackle draft class. An offensive tackle has gone top-10 every year besides one (last year) since 2005. I would be shocked if an offensive tackle went that high this year. We might not even see one be drafted in the top-15.
But while the offensive tackle class is weak, the offensive guard class makes up for it. Starting with perhaps the best offensive guard prospect to come into the league in a decade in Quenton Nelson, all the way through the mid-rounds, a team looking to improve the interior of their offensive line should be able to do so in this class.
This is good news for the Bears, who are still looking for a starter at one of the guard spots. So who are some players they might be targeting?
First Round: OG Isaiah Wynn, Georgia
Now, the obvious choice here is Nelson from Notre Dame. He’s the rare guard who is worthy of a top-10 pick. If he is on the board at eight, I believe he will be the pick. But he’s been discussed to death. If you want to read about Nelson, I wrote about him in my very first article for Da Bears Brothers.
So for argument’s sake, let’s assume Nelson is off the board when the Bears are on the clock, and thus they decide to trade down in the first round to accumulate more picks.
In this scenario, if the Bears still decide to draft an offensive lineman, Isaiah Wynn from Georgia would be well worth a mid-first round pick.
Wynn played guard for two years before moving to left tackle this past year for the Bulldogs. At the NFL level, he will have to move back to guard due to his lack of size and length. At just over 6-foot-2 and 313-pounds with 33 ⅜ inch arms, he doesn’t possess the length NFL teams want in their tackles. But a player with Wynn’s skill-set should have no issue making the transition inside.
Wynn is a three-year starter who earned first-team All-SEC honors and AP second-team All-American this past season.
One of the advantages of his versatility, Wynn possesses the power of a guard with the feet of a tackle. He is able to handle the quickness of 3-techniques, as well as the power of a nose tackle. The most impressive part of Wynn’s game is his ability get to the second level and wall off defenders to create giant holes.
In the example below, Wynn is lined up as the left tackle. First, he blocks down on the defensive tackle before getting to the second-level to take on the linebacker, turning his body to get in between the defender and the ball carrier.
The run game was a huge reason why Georgia made it to the national championship game this season, and Wynn is mostly responsible for their success on the ground. They often ran behind the All-SEC first team tackle, rushing for 258.4 yards per game and nearly six yards per carry in 2017.
Wynn rarely gets beat in one-on-one situations, but is most impressive when he is allowed to pull and get out in front of the play. While we won’t know for sure what Nagy will ask out of his offensive lineman in his new scheme, we do know one of the reasons they did not pick up Josh Sitton’s option was because they wanted to get more athletic at the position.
Wynn’s calling card at the next level is going to be his pass blocking. He is a good run blocker too, but a prospect with his athleticism and quick feet has a chance to be one of the better pass blocking guards in the NFL.
And he is already elite in this regard. In fact, according to Pro Football Focus, of his 1,104 pass blocking snaps since 2014, Wynn has surrendered only four sacks, two quarterback hits, and 20 hurries. That’s a pressure on only two percent of his plays
He routinely keeps his blocks centered to stay in front of his man and can handle both speed and power. At the senior bowl, he worked out at guard and consistently won in one-on-one matchups. This is especially impressive since these drills are usually slanted in the defender’s favor.
With quick feet and above-average athleticism, Wynn is able to maintain good positioning throughout the play, which allows him to counter a variety of pass rush moves. Although he is not the biggest offensive lineman in the draft, his strong lower body allows him to anchor and redirect even the strongest of bull rushes.
Wynn, like every prospect outside of Nelson, isn’t a perfect player. As mentioned above, he does not have great length. While his arms are adequate for a guard, he often lets defenders get into his body which allows them to control the point of attach. Most players with shorter arms make up for it with a strong initial punch but Wynn doesn’t always get his hands in position fast enough.
In the run game, he sometimes suffers from false steps, taking a step back before exploding forward. This causes him to be slow to reach the defender. He doesn’t do it every time, but will be something he will have to work through at the next level.
These are minor technique issues and nothing Harry Hiestand can’t iron out. Nelson gets all the hype, but don’t overlook Wynn for the Bears in a trade-down scenario.
Second Round: OG/C James Daniels, Iowa
If the Bears miss out on Nelson, and decide to address the defense in Round 1, then I would expect them to draft an offensive lineman in Round 2. There are a couple of different directions they could go in with this scenario including Will Hernandez from UTEP or one of the offensive tackles who falls out of the first round, but, if I am making the pick, James Daniels from Iowa would be the guy.
As they say, you can never go wrong drafting an offensive lineman from Iowa.
Daniels decided to forego his senior season and enter the NFL draft early. A two-year starter who saw the field as a true freshman is an intriguing option for any team looking to bolster their interior. An All-Academic Big Ten performer, Daniels has the smarts necessary to quickly adjust to the next level.
Daniels played center for the Hawkeyes, but has shown the traits to potentially move to guard in the NFL. But if the Bears decide to draft Daniels, look for him to stay at center and Cody Whitehair to move to guard. Either way, this would give the Bears some flexibility in case of injury.
At 6-foot-3 and 306-pounds, Daniels’ strength is always going to be his quickness. At this point in his career, he needs to use his quick feet to get into a favorable position in order to generate leverage in the run game. If he doesn’t get in a favorable position, he can struggle to stay with his assignment. Luckily for him, he is able to accomplish this more often than not.
In the clip above, Daniels starts the play shading the right shoulder of the defensive tackle. He uses his exceptional movement skills to get to the left side of the defensive lineman, and turns his body to create a seal and a huge hole for the running back. This is not an easy ask for an offensive lineman, especially a center who has to make sure the quarterback exchange goes flawlessly before securing his block.
Another area where Daniels excels is in space. Getting him on the move allows his impressive athleticism to shine. Iowa did a good job of moving the offensive line, and having Daniels pull to get him to the second level. Here he chips the defensive linemen before moving on to the linebacker.
Any team that drafts Daniels is going to value athleticism over power. We know this to be the case with the Bears. The three offensive linemen that Pace has drafted (Whitehair, Hroniss Grasu, and Jordan Morgan) have been undersized, but with enough quickness to succeed in the NFL.
One of Daniels’ most intriguing physical attributes are his long arms. He plays inside, but has the length of an offensive tackle. This allows him to keep defenders away from his body and control the point of attack with a strong initial punch.
The play below isn’t sexy by any means, but he shows how technically sound and advanced he is for someone his age.
He gets his hands on his man so quickly, the defender never has a chance to counter. He tries to hand fight to disengage, but Daniels’ long arms keep him at a safe and controllable distance.
Just like in run blocking, Daniels excels when on the move. Iowa often moved the pocket on play actions and rollouts. This allowed Daniels to use his movement skills to his advantage.
We can’t say for certain if the Bears will do this next season in their new offense, but one of Mitch Trubisky’s greatest assets is his ability to throw on the run. At North Carolina, they often moved the pocket, asking their offensive lineman to roll out. If Matt Nagy incorporates this into his offense (as he should) Daniels would be a perfect fit.
As mentioned above, Daniels excels when you match his quickness against small, quick interior defensive lineman. But where he struggles is when his quickness is faced with power. He can be walked back into the quarterback on good bull rush moves. He has the frame to get up to around 315 to 320-pounds without losing athleticism and once he does that he should greatly improve in this regard.
He also doesn’t hold blocks as long as you would like. Again, this could be an issue of him needing to put on more weight but you want your offensive linemen to play through the whistle so it is mildly concerning.
The biggest concern I have with Daniels is his ability to diagnose and recognize blitzes and stunts. In pass protection he will sometimes let rushers go free on a stunt as he double teams a defensive tackle with the guard. This is something NFL coaching will certainly help, but football instincts can’t always be learned.
One of the most important factors when evaluating a prospect is are they coachable. A good way to tell this is to see if they got better as the year went on. And Daniels certainly did. Some of the issues that popped up early in his career and even early this season did not happen as often late in the year.
Fourth Round: OG Braden Smith, Auburn
If Pace is drafting solely based on need, edge rusher and offensive line, or vice versa, should be Chicago’s first and second-round picks. But as we know, the draft isn’t always that simple. If the value doesn’t match up then Pace should pick the best player available. This could mean the first two picks are linebacker and cornerback for example. That doesn’t make them bad picks, but it would almost guarantee an offensive lineman in the middle rounds.
Luckily there are some good options here as well who can step in right away. One such player is Braden Smith from Auburn.
Smith has appeared in 53 games, making 41 consecutive starts to end his career. Although he plays guard, he’s built like a tackle standing 6-foot-6 and 312-pounds. But his shorter than average arm length make him no more than an emergency tackle at the next level.
He’ll earn his bread much differently than Daniels and Wynn as a mauling guard who overpowers defenders with brute strength rather than quickness.
Run blocking is definitely Smith’s strength. He is able to overpower defensive lineman with his above average strength as evidenced by his 35 bench reps at the combine. In the clip below, he is able to dominate Trenton Thompson, a good player in his own right.
When Smith is allowed to put his head down and drive his feet, he can level most defenders in his path. At times in the game against Georgia, he looked like a top-50 talent based on run blocking alone. Smith should do well in one on one opportunities if he’s not asked to do too much.
He can struggle when on the move, but if asked to block the man in front of him, he’ll win more often than not.
Smith is a better run blocker than pass blocker, but he has the tools to get better in this regard. When he is at his best, he can use his large frame to stay in front of defenders, neutralizing their counter moves with good hand placement. He flashes a strong punch to keep defenders at bay, even with shorter than average arms. His above average lower body strength allows him to anchor against bigger defenders and rarely get walked back into the quarterback.
When Smith struggles, it is because he tends to bend at his waist instead of his knees. This is common for taller offensive linemen. He gets out over his pads and reaches which throws off his center of gravity. This makes him susceptible to a variety of pass rush moves due to a lack of balance.
When he does bend at his knees instead of his waist, he has shown he has all the tools to be a better than average pass protector.
While he might fall below the minimum athletic threshold Pace likes in his offensive linemen, his value in the fourth round might be too great to pass up. He can step in Day 1 and be a serviceable right guard with the potential for more down the road.
Smith doesn’t have the same athleticism as other prospects in this list. This especially is evidenced when he is asked to pull. He has a hitch in his step and looks very robotic in space.
The biggest problem with Smith, and the reason I see him falling to the fourth round, is he’s just not consistent. He’ll have one quarter where he looks like a top 50 player, and then the next quarter he looks undraftable.
A good player comp for him coming out of college is someone Bears fans should know pretty well: Kyle Long. They are similarly sized, although Long was more athletic, Long struggled in pass protection while dominating in the run game when he was first drafted. He also struggled with consistency.
Long was drafted in the first round as we know, but Smith’s lack of athleticism and length make him more of a mid-round prospect. But with the right coaching, he could develop into a solid starter and maybe more down the road.
Earlier in the offseason, Pace mentioned they wanted to have a set position for Whitehair heading into training camp. Since they failed to add an offensive lineman in free agency, this leads me to believe they will be targeting an interior offensive lineman in the early rounds of the draft. Someone they can plug into a starting role without missing a beat.
All of the excellent additions at skill positions in free agency are meaningless if the offensive line is not addressed. This is why I would be shocked if a guard isn’t drafted in the first two rounds.
Over to you! Who are some offensive linemen you think the Bears should target?