As we approach the 2017 NFL Draft starting on Thursday night, the Chicago Bears are prepared to draft 3rd overall, their highest pick since 1972. What will Chicago and General Manager Ryan Pace do? Will they keep the 3rd pick? Will they try to trade it? How does Pace help Head Coach John Fox improve as he moves into his 3rd year? It will take more than one pick to help the Bears climb out of the hole they dug for themselves over the years. Let’s face it, this roster has needed much turnover and improvement since Pace was first hired prior to the 2015 Draft. It takes years of stacking picks to improve as much as the Bears roster needed prior to this administration. Ever heard the phrase, “the cupboard was bare”? When Phil Emery was fired at the end of the 2014 season, the Bears cupboard was not only bare, it had a hole in it where rats could enter and feed on whatever food was stored in the cupboard.
Therefore, when you need to replace virtually all of the 53 spots on the roster, it takes years of drafts in which you find 4-5 quality football players each year. Adding in free agents as the “patchwork to fix the holes in the cupboard”, in a few years you might actually have a cupboard that can store quality ingredients to satisfy the masses. Hopefully someday it’s good enough to prepare a feast for the kings (a championship……..get it?).
Therefore, not only is the first round pick important but all the picks from the 2nd rounder on down to the 7th rounder are all paramount. All play a vital role if the Bears are going to eventually challenge for league supremacy. Believe it or not, Pace actually had a very good/great draft last year. He mined the college ranks for 9 players overall last year, starting with OLB Leonard Floyd in the 1st round (#9 overall). Add in 2nd rounder OL Cody Whitehair and 5th rounder RB Jordan Howard and the Bears have three excellent building blocks already. Throw in possible good players in DE Jonathan Bullard, ILB Nick Kwiatkoski, S Deon Bush, CB Deiondre’ Hall, and DB DeAndre Houston-Carson and we’re looking at 3-8 good picks out of 9.
It’s too early to say with all of these guys but especially with Bullard, Hall, and Houston-Carson. The one pick that doesn’t look like he’ll be a contributor is 7th rounder WR Daniel Braverman. To be honest, I think Deon Bush will be a bust too. Obviously, it’s too early to write him or anyone else off, while at the same time it’s too early to predict Hall of Fame busts for the 3 starters. Nonetheless, it looks probable that Pace was successful in bringing in some solid NFL starters in the least. Now he’s got to do it again in 2017, and then again in 2018.
Here are the “Dutch Lion’s” projections for the Chicago Bears for the 2017 NFL Draft, beginning with the top picks in Thursday night’s 1st Round.
#1 Cleveland Browns – Myles Garrett/DE/OLB/EDGE/Texas A&M (NFL comparison: Von Miller/Denver) – Everyone expects the Browns to take this year’s clear-cut #1 pass rusher. The Browns will indeed take him. Even Cleveland won’t screw this up. Bank on it.
#2 San Francisco 49ers – Solomon Thomas/DL/Stanford (NFL comparison: Aaron Donald/L.A. Rams) – Most mock drafts have San Francisco taking Solomon from their home territory in nearby Stanford. Could they take a QB here? They might.
#3 Chicago Bears – DeShaun Watson/QB/Clemson/6-2/215/4.61 (NFL comparison: Dak Prescott/Dallas/6-2/226 with similar mobility)
The time is now to pick that long sought after quarterback. I strongly believe the Bears have to take a shot with Watson. If they skip on a quarterback with this #3 overall pick, four or maybe even five QB’s will probably be picked before the Bears pick again with the #36 overall pick in the 2nd round. If they don’t get one of the top 4-5 QB’s, is it worth it for the Bears to pick any QB in this entire draft? If not now…..when? I think Watson fits the profile that Ryan Pace wants in a QB. Like Prescott at Mississippi St., Watson lifted his program to new heights as he led Clemson to back-to-back Championship game appearances including his dramatic game-winning TD drive against the nation’s #1 defense, Alabama. Don’t be worried about Watson’s level of competition. He faced the stiffest competition in the ACC, and beat Ohio St. and Alabama to win the 2016 National Championship. As his college head coach Dabo Swinney once said, “DeShaun is Michael Jordan”.
Is it “overpaying” to take Watson 3rd overall?….maybe. If he ends up being good or great, who cares where he was picked, right? If they take a more “sure thing” by using the pick on a defensive player and that guy ends up being a bust, then everyone will trash Pace and he’ll be excoriated for not picking a QB……AGAIN…..for the 3rd consecutive year. Do the Bears need help on defense? Sure, but they need help almost everywhere. Honestly, the Bears have already improved on defense the last couple years under Vic Fangio and the many free agents gathered by Pace for their new 3-4 defensive scheme. Of bigger need is offense, especially the game’s most important position, quarterback. So let’s do it! Take Watson! This guy is the best chance at a successful QB in this year’s Draft. Sure it’s possible that he doesn’t work out. If that’s the case, then the Bears might not be very good over the next few years. But where will they be without a quarterback anyway, even if their defense improves by taking Jonathan Allen or Malik Hooker or Jamal Adams? If they take a defensive player and he’s good…..or not…..then they better hope new free agent acquisition Mike Glennon is the real deal. If he’s not, then it doesn’t matter if the defensive player is a Hall of Famer or a bust. Either way, the Bears aren’t going to the Super Bowl. So what’s the point in waiting? Take Watson. Keep picking QB’s every year until one of them is the real deal, a Pro Bowler, or a superstar. Let me quickly recap the Bears history at QB: You’ve got Sid Luckman, Jim McMahon, Jay Cutler, and a whole bunch of nobodies that didn’t really matter. Why has this franchise won only two league Championships since 1946?……because of my previous sentence.
STOP it Bears! Get a QB. Keep searching until you find one. It’s like being trapped in a cave or a coal mine. Would you stop until you found a way out? NO! You’d keep searching, right? As Bears fans, we deserve Pace and his scouts searching for the way out of the cave. We can hear the chisels and pick axes in between the shouting. Will they hear us? Will they be able to break through the rocks and save us? We pray for Ryan Pace to help us, to find us, to save us. Pick Watson. He’s our best hope, maybe our only hope.
Back up plan – DeShone Kizer/QB/Notre Dame/6-4/230/4.76 (NFL comparison: Jameis Winston/Tampa Bay/6-4/227)
If Watson is gone, I’m sticking with my plan of taking a potential difference making quarterback. There’s little chance both Watson AND Kizer would be picked in the top two picks, so if Pace likes both Watson and Kizer, I highly suggest he takes one of these QB’s at #3 overall. Again, trusting that the Bears GM and his scouts have done all their homework on Kizer, go ahead and take a chance on him. He needs seasoning, but what quarterbacks DON’T need work as they transition into the NFL? Even Peyton Manning of all players threw more interceptions than touchdowns in his rookie year in Indianapolis in 1998. Trust me…..look it up! And we all know how Peyton Manning’s career panned out. Of course, Manning was an obvious #1 overall choice. Oh wait, check that! Plenty of “experts” thought Ryan Leaf was the better prospect going into that Draft too. So what’s my point? My point is it’s all a crapshoot in a way, but you “gotta do your homework”. It’s not as much dart-throwing if you can interview these guys and get to know them. Of course, maybe that just makes it harder. From my perspective, Kizer seems like a great kid with all the boxes checked. But then again, I’m a Notre Dame fan so maybe I’m biased. Nonetheless, I would suspect Kizer has as good a chance as anyone at NFL success…..behind only Watson. As for Mitch Trubisky, I don’t trust him. I think it’s that he only started for one season in college. How many successful NFL quarterbacks do you know that had only one season of starting in college? I can think of one…………Cam Newton. I bet there’s more but I can’t think of any. If you can, please let me know in the comments section. One final thought, rumor has it that the Bears have stayed in close touch with Kizer. Interesting.
Friday: 2nd Round, #36 Overall
Bears select…….WR Zay Jones/East Carolina/6-2/202/4.63 (NFL comparison: Dez Bryant/Dallas/6-2/220)
Chicago’s coaching staff met Zay Jones at the Senior Bowl and should know all about him. He had a great Senior Bowl week of practice and Senior Bowl game, leading all receivers with 6 catches, 68 yards, and a TD. My biggest fear is that other teams took notice and will draft Jones before the Bears 2nd round selection at 36th overall. I’ve seen some mock drafts with Jones going 30th to Pittsburgh. With Alshon Jeffery moving on to Philadelphia, the Bears need to find more playmakers on the outside to complement Cameron Meredith and former 1st round pick Kevin White. It won’t hurt to add Jones to the mix. He’s the FBS all time career leader in receptions with 399. Don’t get me wrong, I still believe in Kevin White. However, the Bears could use three starting quality WR’s nonetheless. I really love Zay Jones and I’m willing to bet the Bears do too.
Back-up Plan – Cooper Kupp/WR/Eastern Washington/6-1.5/198/4.47 (NFL comparison: Jordy Nelson/Green Bay/6-3/217)
If Jones is gone, how about Kupp? He’s the most prolific receiver in FCS history. He too dominated at the Senior Bowl. I would think the Bears noticed and will take one of these two similar receivers.
“Those two have had a really impressive week,” Bears offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said, during the NFL Network broadcast, of [Zay] Jones and fellow North receiver Cooper Kupp. “They’re really football-smart guys and they’ve shown up (on game day) and showed up all week. It wasn’t a surprise to us that they’ve played the way they have.”
Back-up Back-up Plan – Tre’Davious White/CB/LSU/5-11/191/4.52 (NFL comparison: Morris Claiborne/Dallas/5-11/192)
If both receivers are gone, don’t reach for one if you can get someone like stud cover corner Tre’Davious White. He looks like a potential NFL star after starting for 4 years for LSU against top SEC competition. White led LSU with 14 passes broken up last year. He also intercepted 2 passes and returned one for a touchdown. In his four-year career starting 49 games, he intercepted 6 passes, had 34 PBU’s, and made 112 tackles. Running between a 4.47-4.52 40 yard dash, White was also an excellent punt returner, returning 3 punts for TD’s over the last 3 seasons. What does it all mean? It adds up to a great fast athlete that has potential to help the Bears beleaguered secondary. Mock drafts have White going as high as 14th overall or dropping all the way to the 3rd round. IF he’s available, Pace might want to take White over any WR’s no matter WHO is available. I’m betting White is long gone by #36 anyway, but who knows?
Friday: 3rd Round, #67 Overall
Bears select………..Dawuane Smoot/EDGE/OLB/Illinois/6-3/255/4.83 (NFL comparison – Robert Quinn/L.A. Rams/6-4/265)
The Bears could use more OLB’s that rush the passer. I believe Leonard Floyd will be a superstar but the veterans at the position are getting up in age (Pernell McPhee & Willie Young). Why not pair Floyd with Smoot from Illinois? Last year Smoot was 2nd in the Big Ten with 43 QB pressures according to PFF. They came up with the Robert Quinn comparison which is a bit of wishful thinking in my opinion. He’s probably not THAT good. Another issue could be that he played as a 4-3 DE at Illinois under Lovie Smith. Can he transition to 3-4 OLB? Can he drop into coverage?
Back-up Plan – Jordan Willis/EDGE/OLB/Kansas St./6-4/255/4.8 (NFL comparison – Whitney Mercilus/EDGE/DE/Houston/6-4/254)
Like Smoot, Jordan Willis played 4-3 DE in college. While at Kansas St., Willis had a great senior season with 11.5 sacks. The downside, once again, is can Willis transition to the 3-4 where he may be asked to drop into pass coverage from time to time? Also, PFF noted that Willis graded out poorly at the Senior Bowl (in which the Bears coaches had close contact) despite grading out as their #1 EDGE rusher last season!
Saturday: 4th Round, #111 Overall
Bears select…………….Dalvin Tomlinson/DE/Alabama/6-3/312/5.1 (NFL comparison: Akiem Hicks/Chicago Bears/6-5/324)
Tomlinson was only a one-year starter at ‘Bama. He played DE in their 3-4 scheme. Think of Tomlinson as a poor man’s Jonathan Allen, who manned the other DE spot. Allen is getting all the hype, and deservedly so, but Tomlinson had 62 tackles, 5.5 TFL’s, and 3 sacks for the nation’s best defense in 2016. The Bears need to fill that “other” DE spot opposite Akiem Hicks and so far both Jonathan Bullard and Mitch Unrein (he’s just a “guy”) haven’t done enough. At least Tomlinson could push Bullard or learn from Hicks, as his backup, how to be a massive DE in Vic Fangio’s scheme.
Saturday: 4th Round, #117 Overall
Bears select……………..Jordan Leggett/TE/Clemson/6-5/258/4.73 (NFL comparison: Julius Thomas/Jacksonville/6-5/247)
Chicago has struggled at TE since they gave away Greg Olsen in a horrible, insufferable move with Carolina in July of 2011. The reasoning was OC Mike Martz didn’t really use tight ends in his offense. So of course Martz left after the ’11 season and the Bears were left with nothing after giving away one of the best young TE’s in the NFL. That’s so Bears! After a failed experiment with clubhouse cancer Martellus Bennett, the Bears are now left with Zach Miller. I like Miller but he’s already 32 years old and injury prone. Time for a new TE! Grab Leggett here as he’s an underrated explosive TE who caught 15 TD’s over the last two years from DeShaun Watson. Are you seeing a theme here? I like guys from winning college programs. They know how to win and expect nothing less.
Saturday: 5th Round, #147 Overall
Bears select…………Nathan Gerry/SS/Nebraska/6-2/214/4.55 (NFL comparison: Harrison Smith/Minnesota/6-2/218)
As a Nebraska fan, I’ve been following Nate Gerry for the last four years. It’s almost eerie how similar Gerry is to Harrison Smith of the Minnesota Vikings, formerly of Notre Dame. They are both almost the exact same size and have similar skill sets. Both thrive as in-the-box safeties. Gerry showed a lot of improvement in his Senior year, intercepting 4 passes and missing less tackles than in his Sophomore or Junior seasons. Over his college career he intercepted 13 passes, a point of emphasis for a Bears squad that hasn’t been able to grab takeaways since Love Smith left town. Gerry’s a great athlete, winning South Dakota state track championships in the 100 and 200 meters, and even setting the state record in the 200 meters! Gerry is big, strong, and physical. The Bears need more safeties and in my opinion Gerry has room to improve. With some solid NFL coaching and in Vic Fangio’s scheme, I highly recommend the Bears take Nate Gerry with a late round pick. Not a big name, Gerry has earned some praise from the scouts at Pro Football Focus. In their list of best safety prospects, Gerry earned the #12 spot. If Chicago could land the 12th best safety this late in the Draft, they might have a steal in Gerry.
Saturday: 7th Round, #221 Overall
Bears select…………WR Jordan Westerkamp/WR/Nebraska/6-0/194/4.54 (NFL comparison: Danny Amendola/New England/5-11/198)
As one of my all-time favorite players, Jordan Westerkamp had to be on my list of Bears draft picks. Sure I’m biased, but don’t worry about Westerkamp’s skills. He is a tantalizing slot receiver prospect in the mold of Danny Amendola, Wes Welker, Julian Edelman, Cole Beasley, or any number of successful difference making slot receivers in the NFL. You don’t have to be huge or the fastest player on the field. What you need is quickness and good hands. Westerkamp has both, along with an extremely positive mindset. According to Pro Football Focus, Westerkamp graded out as the 26th best WR last season despite injuries limiting him to just 10 games. At one point entering the 2016 season, PFF had Westerkamp as the nation’s #1 returning WR according to their grading system.
If the Bears miss out on Westerkamp, a smart team like New England will grab him and make him their next star for Tom Brady. A native of Lombard, Illinois, Westerkamp holds several IHSA records including 4,548 career receiving yards (2nd place is 3,498) and 68 career receiving TDs (2nd place is 43) at the prep level while winning three consecutive State Championships at Montini from 2009-2011. At Nebraska, Westerkamp proved his toughness and provided many memorable moments including catching the game-winning Hail Mary touchdown pass at my son’s first Nebraska game on his 7th birthday. There’s just something special about Jordan Westerkamp. If the Bears take him he will be a fan favorite right away. Trust me! Take him or you’ll be sorry.
To recap, here are the Dutch Lion’s Bears projections:
- 1st Round #3 Overall: DeShaun Watson/QB/Clemson
- 2nd Round #36: Zay Jones/WR/East Carolina
- 3rd Round #67: Dawuane Smoot/EDGE/OLB/Illinois
- 4th Round #111: Dalvin Tomlinson/DE/Alabama
- 4th Round #117: Jordan Leggett/TE/Clemson
- 5th Round #147: Nathan Gerry/SS/Nebraska
- 7th Round #221: Jordan Westerkamp/SLOT WR/Nebraska
With 7 picks overall, I suggest the Bears will take 4 offensive players: 1 QB, 2 WR’s, and 1 TE; and 3 defensive players: 1 DE, 1 OLB, and 1 SS. I would love to throw in a CB or an OT as well if they had more picks. I have Pace focusing on gathering players from winning programs with two players from Clemson, two from Nebraska, and one each from Alabama, Illinois, and East Carolina. Depending on time and situation, they could change course over the three days. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither will these Bears be built in a day, or even a year.
In conclusion, the Chicago Bears need to have a successful NFL Draft this weekend. If they take the players I suggest, I believe they will return to the NFL Playoffs at the end of the 2018 season. For this upcoming season, they need to groom and mold their young guys, giving them the experience they need to make a sustained run in the proceeding years. It all starts with drafting a quarterback. Like I wrote above, if not now…..when?
- Thanks go to NFL.com, Pro Football Focus, Pro Football Weekly for their 2017 Draft Guide, and Lindy’s Sports Pro Football Draft 2017 magazine for their information which contributed to this article.