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Sunday, March 31, 2019

Bears glaring holes going into the NFL Draft

After winning the division and making the playoffs last year with one of the hottest teams in the NFL, the Bears entered the off-season with very few glaring holes in the roster.  2 of the most obvious were addressed quite early on by the signings of HaHa Clinton-Dix and Buster Skrine to replace Bryce Callahan and Adrian Amos.

So after about a month into the NFL free agency period, where are the Bears still lacking?  All starter and pseudo starter (ie nickel corner) spots are currently claimed.  However, scanning through the depth chart, there are two spots that, to me, stick out like a sore thumb as positions where GM Ryan Pace will need to address before the opening of training camp. 

The first is depth at edge rusher.  Risk of injury aside, the starter spots are locked here with All-World talent Khalil Mack and former first-rounder Leonard Floyd.  In 2018, Leonard Floyd led the position with playing 75% of the snaps, followed closely with Mack taking 72% of the snaps.  Once the new league year started, two players accounting for over 1/3 of the defensive snaps were no longer under contract with the Bears: Aaron Lynch (33%) and Sam Acho (3%), leaving the only depth as Kylie Fitts and Isaiah Irving. 

I was certain that the Bears would strike at the rare surplus of of edge rushers that made their way to the market in free-agency.  They had their choice of Trey Flowers, Preston Smith, Za'Darius Smith, Ziggy Ansah, Dante Fowler, Brandon Graham, Markus Golden, Nick Perry, Terrell Suggs, Clay Matthews, etc to fill the void in edge snaps.  But the days went by and more and more players signed contracts with other teams, but the Bears have not moved at the position.

Are the Bears confident that Irving and Fitts can fill the void?  Will they look to re-sign Lynch (who remains a free agent)? Or a raw talent that hasn't reached potential like Kony Ealy or Shane Ray?  Or maybe a former double-digit sack artist that might benefit from situational rushing like Connor Barwin?  Or do they utilize some of their limited draft capital to fill the void.

The concern with drafting a player is that edge rusher is typically a position where have to draft early on.  If you look at the top-10 players in sacks each year for the past decade, 39% are former very high picks in the first round, 60% are first rounders, 10% fall into 2nd/3rd/and 4th rounders, 3% are 5th rounders, 2% are 6th rounders (although one was a highly rated player that fell due to character concerns), and 5% were undrafted.  With the Bears not having a 1st or 2nd round pick, the remaining talent is likely slim pickings when the they are on the clock. 

The other glaring position of need is running back.  With the recent trade of Jordan Howard, the Bears roster is left with Tarik Cohen, Taquan Mizzell, former undrafted rookie Ryan Nall, and newly acquired Mike Davis.  Honestly, Mizzell isn't a qualified NFL running back.  Nall can catch the ball, but is ultimately a between-the-tackles RB.  Cohen is fantastic, but doesn't possess the frame to be a featured back.  And Mike Davis fits what Matt Nagy is trying to do, but he's a third back, not a feature.  Ultimately, this means RB is a position of high priority.

While the middle/late round draft capital that the Bears have in the upcoming 2019 draft are not ideal for drafting a quality edge rusher, they are prime position to pick up a quality running back.  Miles Sanders (Penn State), David Montgomery (Iowa State), Bennie Snell (Kentucky), and Karan Higdon (Michigan) are some names to keep an eye on in the draft.  But there are some interesting names still available in free agency to fill the void: dual running/catching threat TJ Yeldon (25) and Spencer Ware (27) who played under Matt Nagy in KC are still available.

While the Bears are fully expected to remain a dominant team in 2019, Ryan Pace still has quite a bit of work left in front of him before the start of training camp in July.  And judging by history, Pace will not leave these positions to chance.  Look for them to be aggressive to fill the holes.