Chicago Bears' 7-Round Mock Draft Following Week 1 of Free Agency
With a week of free agency under the NFL's belt, the Chicago Bears' draft needs are coming into clearer focus. Prior to free agency, with the expectation that Julius Peppers would be released and no guarantee that general manager Phil Emery would sign a reliable replacement, defensive end was looming large as an area of need.
Instead, Emery signed two starting-caliber defensive ends: a run-stuffer in Lamarr Houston a pass-rusher in Willie Young. While both bring risks with them to Chicago—Young has only one year of meaningful playing time, while Houston has questions about his ability to get to the quarterback as a right end—they come with enough expectations to indicate that defensive end likely won't be a targeted position early in the draft.
The fuzziness of the pre-free-agency offseason period is slowly dissipating as roster holes are being filled and intentions of the front office are being gleaned from impact signings (or in some cases, failed negotiations). This also means that the holes that remain are more glaring.
For the Bears, those areas include the interior of the defensive line and the secondary at large, with depth needed across the board. With that in mind, let's take a realistic, non-wishful-thinking, no-Aaron Donald-in-the-second-round look at what a full seven-round draft for the Bears could look like come draft weekend.
Round 1, Pick 14: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, FS, Alabama
The Bears signed Ryan Mundy, who likely figures to be the starting strong safety in 2014, but neither Chris Conte nor M.D. Jennings is likely to excite too many people about the free safety position heading into the draft. While Conte graded out as the NFL's 82nd-ranked safety out of 86 qualifying in 2013, according to Pro Football Focus (PFF) (subscription required), he finished a far more respectable 56th out of 88 in 2012.
The impact of poor defensive line play on the safety positions cannot be overemphasized, and a similar trend could be seen with the New Orleans Saints' Malcolm Jenkins and Roman Harper during the team's similarly pathetic defensive output a year prior to the Bears' meltdown.
Jenkins and Harper ranked as the league's worst two safeties of all 88 in 2012, per PFF, but they bounced back in an improved defense this year to finish 65th and 54th, respectively. That's not great, but the point is that Conte isn't necessarily as hopeless as his 2013 grading would indicate.
Still, the Chicago brass likely won't put much faith in a bounce-back effort from him, meaning a free safety has to be one of the biggest areas of need for the team entering the draft. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Calvin Pryor are the unanimous top-rated safeties, but Clinton-Dix is better in coverage between the two.
Mundy was brought into the box safety for the Bears, and Pryor may be too similar to him. Clinton-Dix offers the Bears a chance to shore up at least one safety position for the foreseeable future, and after the putrid play at the position in 2013, that opportunity is too good to pass up.
Round 2, Pick 19: Ego Ferguson, DT, LSU
With Henry Melton still without a contract, there's hope for Bears' fans that he could return to Chicago. His presence on the open market after the first week suggests that he is overpricing himself, and teams may not want to meet his asking price considering his knee injury in 2013 and recent headlines about his December bar altercation.
Though it doesn't seem likely he will return, it easy to imagine a Charles Tillman-like scenario where he returns to Chicago on a one-year contract in an effort to prove his value before next offseason.
Whether he returns on a long-term deal, a one-year deal or not at all, the Bears are still going to be in need of help on the interior of the defensive line. Enter Ego Ferguson. Though he underperformed during the second half of his 2013 season, he is a quick-twitch, athletic tackle with power and speed to spare.
He also has the ability to play nose tackle or the 3-technique in a 4-3 defense, so he would provide flexibility along the defensive line for a team in serious need of retooling. He comes with risk but provides far more upside than anyone on the roster. He offers solid value in the second round for the potential he brings to the table.
Round 3, Pick 18: Bashaud Breeland, CB, Clemson
Even with Tillman coming back, the cornerback position is murky. After a down 2013 season, he signed a one-year contract with the Bears. The likely outcome of this marriage of convenience is that either he regresses even further, in which case he almost certainly won't be back, or he performs well and likely prices himself out of Chicago's checkbook.
In either scenario, the Bears are going to need a developing young talent on the depth chart.
Bashaud Breeland probably isn't one of the best-known cornerbacks in the draft, but he is arguably a top-10 talent at the position. He is a physical corner who plays with a tenacity that befits the Chicago secondary. Though he needs some development in reading routes and reacting more quickly, he fights for the ball, plays solid man and zone and is among the better tacklers at the position in the draft.
Round 4, Pick 17: Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia
The Bears cannot be happy with the thought of Jordan Palmer as the team's primary backup. With Josh McCown reuniting with Lovie Smith in Tampa for a shot at a legitimate starting job, Chicago's depth at the position is shallow, which is a real concern considering Cutler's injury woes over the past two seasons.
Aaron Murray is being undervalued in this year's draft, largely due to concerns about injury and his size. However, after a highly prolific college career in a pro-style offense in the highly competitive SEC, he looks like the type of quarterback that Marc Trestman would like to develop.
Decently athletic and mobile, Murray has all sorts of arm talent, putting velocity on his passes and releasing the ball quickly (a big plus in Trestman's offense). He has the talent to be a quality starter in the NFL, and his presence in Chicago could potentially provide options after Cutler's three guaranteed years are up.
Round 5, Pick 16: Aaron Lynch, DE, South Florida
One of the biggest boom-or-bust picks in the draft, Aaron Lynch is an enigma to the scouting community. Two seasons ago at Notre Dame, he looked like a surefire first-round pick. His athleticism is off the charts, and as a freshman at South Bend, he appeared ready to put his game together quickly.
Two years later, after one year off from football and one year at South Florida, Lynch's stock has fallen into the late rounds of the draft due to inconsistent play, questions of motivation and a regression of technique from his freshman year.
In the fifth round, the Bears can afford to take a chance on a player like him. With Willie Young signed for only three years, Lynch could be an interesting player to bring in to learn behind the newly signed veteran as a potential successor if he reaches his potential.
If he busts, there's minimal long-term damage to the Bears. David Bass and Cornelius Washington have shown flashes of potential for the Bears, but neither presents the crazy upside of Lynch.
Round 6, Pick 7: Isaiah Crowell, RB, Alabama State
While Chicago's offense was highly productive in 2013 and looks set to repeat its success in 2014, depth is a concern. As at quarterback, the Bears will want to add depth at running back, with only Michael Ford on roster as a backup to Matt Forte. A free agent like Knowshon Moreno might appeal to fans and would make for a scary tandem, but Emery is more likely to look for a cheaper free agent or a runner in the draft.
Isaiah Crowell is a supremely talented runner who possesses the dual threat of quick feet and the power to run over a defender. He has also shown an ability to catch the ball out of the backfield, which is an important component of the Bears offense.
His stock has plummeted after a standout freshman season at Georgia due to off-the-field issues, but he has seemingly turned it around with no problems over the past two years at Alabama State. He's a low-risk option who could prove to be an impact player in the NFL.
Round 6, Pick 15: Tyler Larsen, C, Utah State
Emery made a smart move by bringing back Roberto Garza for another season. Even at 34 years old last season, he graded out as the 12th-best center in the league, according to PFF. He won't last forever, though, and Chicago may want to bring in some competition for Taylor Boggs for the chance to be Garza's successor.
Recent drafts have undervalued centers, with only four being picked in 2012 and five in 2013. Tyler Larsen is a strong, physical blocker who has the speed to get to the second level in the run game. He is better than a sixth-round pick but likely won't be picked before the fifth at the earliest.
Considering the solid work that Aaron Kromer did to whip the offensive line into shape last season, Chicago could have hopes of developing Larsen into a solid NFL backup and real candidate for a starting gig. If he's still available in the sixth, he could potentially provide more value at his position than any player who is left on the board.