Hub Arkush: After scoring big early, Chicago Bears close draft with head-scratching Day 3
CHICAGO – The word around the NFL in recent months has been that the Bears are one of the league’s most improved teams.
The biggest reason folks are focusing on them is a growing belief the team has found its franchise quarterback, based on his 12 game audition in 2017 and the possibility that Mitch Trubisky’s ceiling is extremely high and gaining altitude as talent and weapons are added around him.
Additionally there is a prevalent perception that rookie head coach Matt Nagy is an upgrade over John Fox and the addition of assistants Mark Helfrich, Brad Childress and Harry Hiestand, along with the retention of Vic Fangio, Ed Donatell and Dave Ragone, makes for a dramatically improved coaching staff.
The Bears also appear to have accomplished the most of the four NFC North clubs in free agency, with the additions of Allen Robinson, Trey Burton, Taylor Gabriel, Cody Parkey and Aaron Lynch, and re-signing of Kyle Fuller and Prince Amukamara.
With that as the landscape, the Bears entered the 2018 draft this weekend looking to improve their pass rush and offensive line play, add playmakers on the back end of the defense, depth at receiver and confirm their ability to leapfrog the Lions, Packers and perhaps even Vikings in the division.
On Day One the Bears appeared to knock one out of the park, selecting the best linebacker in the draft, who happens to be a perfect fit in Vic Fangio’s scheme, perhaps even the best defensive player debuting in the NFL this year in Roquan Smith.
Day Two went swimmingly as well with the addition of one of the top three or four interior offensive linemen, James Daniels, and one of the best slot receivers in Anthony Miller, albeit at the significant cost of Chicago’s second-round pick next year.
But set to clinch their crown as NFC North runaway winners of the offseason, the Bears on Day Three instead became a bit of a head-scratcher and left some wondering just what exactly Ryan Pace had in mind.
If there is one unassailable rule in the NFL, it’s that you don’t ever try and judge a draft in less than two or three years. Perhaps the Bears’ fourth-, fifth-, sixth- and seventh-round picks will prove to be a jackpot.
But the selection of Joel Iyiegbuniwe in the fourth round out of Western Kentucky, a prospect from a tier-two FBS school unknown to many and considered a seventh-round pick or priority free agent by most who had scouted him significantly, slowed the Bears’ roll.
The kid may prove to be a steal, but the fact that he is a poor man’s clone of first-round pick Smith and is slated to compete at the same position while players rated by many significantly higher at other positions of need were still on the board was disappointing.
The fifth-round pick took the Bears back to the FCS, where they struck gold last year with Tarik Cohen, to select an intriguing interior defensive lineman in Bilal Nichols out of Nagy’s alma mater, Delaware, but a player who did not dominate at that level in nearly the fashion Cohen did.
Sixth-round pick Kylie Fitts is a desperately needed edge rusher from Utah, a player with some nice traits who Pro Football Weekly actually rated a round higher as a potential fifth-rounder, but a player who missed significant time each of the past two seasons to injury.
The Bears ended their 2018 draft with another receiver in the seventh round, Javon Wims out of Georgia, who is big at 6-4, 205 but over 4.5 in the 40-yard dash and an extreme longshot to make anything but the practice squad as he and 2015 seventh overall pick Kevin White will almost certainly be competing for the same roster spot.
Again, let me say as emphatically as possible that these kids deserve a chance to come in and compete before they are judged.
But Day Three of the draft feels like at best a speed bump for now and left few asking for more.