Top Draft Needs for the Bears and Rest of NFC North

Gene Chamberlain

While the Bears were addressing three needs in free agency, they failed to adequately fill every hole.

It's debatable whether they even solved all the spots they attempted to solidify with the moves they made, particularly quarterback.

Nick Foles gives them an alternative to Mitchell Trubisky but not necessarily a proven, consistent quarterback. It's difficult to pin this tag on Foles when he started only 13 games in the last four regular seasons and has never started more than 11 games in a season.

At least both quarterbacks possess experience within the system and have succeeded in leading their team to success. Trubisky quarterbacked the 2018 team to a division title and Foles, of course, was Super Bowl MVP with a brief spurt of 2017 postseason brilliance.

While the Bears have been busy covering up areas they thought they had solved—quarterback, tight end and pass rusher—other teams in the NFC North made strides in free agency. 

Here are the greatest Bears needs heading into the draft after the bulk of the major portion of free agency, and what Sports Illustrated's Andy Benoit sees as the major needs of the rest of the NFC North.

Chicago Bears

1. Cornerback

You're not getting by in a division with Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford and Kirk Cousins by starting either Artie Burns, Kevin Toliver or Tre Roberson at a cornerback spot opposite two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Kyle Fuller. The Bears need a high-quality cornerback who is strongest in zone coverage but also can provide adequate man-to-man coverage. They don't put cornerbacks on an island much, although defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano will do it more than Vic Fangio did. They Bears were among the bottom 10 teams in blitz percentage each of the last two years. A problem at this one position could undo their entire defense if it's not fixed.

2. Guard

Siging Germain Ifedi, who struggled throughout his career as a tackle or guard, doesn't solve the guard problem created by the loss of retired Kyle Long. They're planning to put the best five offensive linemen on the field and Ifedi is competing with Rashaad Coward to be in this group, but a second-round pick could easily gain the upper hand on either of these two. Originally an undrafted free agent defensive lineman, Coward has started 10 NFL games. The Bears averaged 3.7 yards a carry last year, 29th in the league, and gave up more sacks (45) than any time since 2011. Putting Trubisky behind this type of line is dangerous enough. Putting a less mobile Nick Foles behind it would be inviting a stay on injured reserve.

3. Wide Receiver

The need for a speed receiver to take the top off defenses is great after losing Taylor Gabriel, but it's not as pressing as other needs because they do have one excellent receiver in Allen Robinson II. Anthony Miller made a major step forward last year wwith 52 receptions last year, just three less than Robinson had in 2018. Javon Wims and Riley Ridley have flashed promise, as well. All lack game-breaking speed, though. The bears use Tarik Cohen like a wide receiver and Cordarrelle Patterson has the deep speed even if he doesn't play the position well.

4. Safety

While there is a great need to draft a safety to compete with Deon Bush and Jordan Lucas for a starting spot, there is no reason to anticipate he needs to be taken with one of the top Bears picks. Pace has found starting safeties and backups in Rounds 4-6 in the past. Finding defensive backs in those rounds has been one of his great strengths.

5. The Rest

Remaining draft needs all deal with depth: a pass-rushing outside linebacker to relieve Khalil Mack and Robert Quinn; an inside linebacker to play behind Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan after the loss of reserves Nick Kwiatkoski and Kevin Pierre-Louis; a tackle to replace either Charles Leno Jr. or Bobby Massie; a legitimate running back to spell David Montgomery or start if he's injured, because Ryan Nall isn't really a backup plan.

Top-100 Targets  (The Bears own picks 43 and 50):  Ohio State CB Damon Arnette would make the best choice among likely cornerbacks here because of an ability scouts see to harass receivers throughout routes, a quality Amukamara possessed. TCU's Jeff Gladney would be another possibility at this range of the draft and has better speed, but is 2 inches shorter than the 6-foot Arnette and doesn't always use his better speed as well. The Buckeyes are known for producing outstanding defensive backs and Arnette will be another.

It's extremely likely GM Ryan Pace will trade down with at least one of these second-round picks because the Bears won't pick again until Round 5, after trading the third-round pick for Khalil Mack and fourth-round pick for  Foles. Georgia's 6-6, 350-pound tackle Isaiah Wilson is a potential pick in the second to third rounds with the muscle, size and athleticism to move from tackle to right guard and be a dominant run blocker. The ideal pick would be Michigan's Cesar Ruiz because he has worked with new Bears line coach Juan Castillo, but he's been rocketing up mock drafts into Round 1. If the Bears deal down, Kentucky's enforcer Logan Stenberg would be an ideal match.

Detroit Lions

When Darius Slay was shipped to Philadelphia, many penciled in Ohio State’s Jeff Okudah to the Lions at pick No. 3. And that’s probably valid. No defense plays more man coverage than Detroit and for that to work, you must have three quality corners. The Lions, right now, have two: Justin Coleman (who plays the slot in nickel) and Desmond Trufant (who is a downgrade from Slay).

Up front the Lions also lost NT Damon Harrison, DT A’Shawn Robinson and EDGE Devon Kennard. However, replacements for all three exist already, with ex-Patriot Danny Shelton now at nose tackle; deceptively deft-moving 320-pounder John Atkins ready to break out; and either recently acquired ex-Patriot Jamie Collins or last year’s second-round pick, Jahlani Tavai, primed to assume the EDGE duties, which, in this system, demands that the defender take on blockers and anchor in the outer lane. And so besides maybe additional depth at corner, the Lions don’t have as many pressing defensive needs as you’d guess for a team that just went 3-12-1. Some might argue they need a pass rusher—and indeed, a lethargic pass rush was often to blame for the big plays that Detroit’s 32nd-ranked pass defense surrendered in 2019. But Patricia, like his longtime boss Bill Belichick, seems to believe that a pass rush can be manufactured as long as you have fundamentally sound players to fill a five-man rush, and corners who can hold up in man-to-man behind them. Jamie Collins and Jarrad Davis can both prosper in a highly schemed rush, as can Trey Flowers and (granted, to a lesser degree) Romeo Okwara. That’s only four pass rushers—so yes, maybe the Lions could use one more (though Patricia, much more than Belichick, is often willing to rush only three). But most likely Patricia and GM Bob Quinn will find it more pertinent to use their early-to-mid-round picks on offense.

Departed right guard Graham Glasgow needs to be replaced. At wide receiver, vertical threats Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones are both in the final year of their contracts. Assuming Golladay is the priority, it could be difficult to re-sign Jones. Slot man Danny Amendola is also playing on a one-year deal. Last season Stafford threw deep on a greater percentage of his passes than any other QB. If the Lions want to continue this approach, they’ll need a wideout with the size and speed or stride length to consistently win downfield.

Top-100 Targets (Detroit owns picks 3, 35 and 67): Ohio State CB Jeff Okudah seems like a highly logical fit with the third pick. The 35th should present a number of solid options on the interior. Michigan’s Cesar Ruiz can play any of the interior spots, as can LSU’s Lloyd Cushenberry; Ruiz is the higher-ceiling option while Cushenberry brings the kind of football character this front office seems to prioritize. Clemson’s John Simpson has a chance to be plug-ang-play. Louisiana’s Robert Hunt, who some teams see as a tackle prospect, could be a fit as well. If they’re looking for a mid-Day 3 deep threat for the receiving corps, South Carolina’s Bryan Edwards and UCF’s Gabriel Davis would fit the bill.

Green Bay Packers

None of Green Bay’s needs are urgent or dire, which is probably to be expected of a team coming off a 13-win season and NFC championship appearance. It’d be nice to find another pass-catching weapon, be it at wide receiver (the Packers could use either a speedster or big-bodied target opposite Davante Adams) or tight end to replace Jimmy Graham. But we can also believe Green Bay’s brass if they claim to like their in-house replacements here. Wide receiver Allen Lazard is a favorite of Aaron Rodgers. Jake Kumerow has shown glimpses of route running acumen, fine-tuned body control and contested catch ability. And at tight end, some scouts believe that last year’s third-round pick, Jace Sternberger, has the potential to be a high-quality flex receiving weapon.

A running back could also be in store, given that Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams are both playing on expiring rookie deals and teams are as reluctant as ever to award second contracts at this position.

Defensively, the Packers play enough dime personnel (6 DBs, 1 LB) that linebacker cannot be considered any sort of priority position, but even after signing underrated and athletic ex-Brown Christian Kirksey it still might behoove Green Bay to find a classic run-thumper to fill the void of departed free agent B.J. Goodson. This season the Packers have seven games against teams that are capable of riding a smashmouth ground game: the Vikings (twice), Jaguars, Panthers, 49ers, Titans and Colts.

Still, a run-thumping linebacker will play no more than 30 snaps in those games and as little as five or fewer in other games. A nickel slot corner, on the other hand, is liable to get 45-50 snaps a game. Last season that role was filled by Tramon Williams, who recently turned 37 and is currently unsigned. Even if Williams is brought back later this spring or sometime this summer, Green Bay still needs to groom an heir apparent (with the understanding that said heir apparent might have to play down the stretch this season). Chandon Sullivan has gotten some reps here but is better suited to be a utility dime DB, capable of aligning at safety or linebacker. Same goes for 2018 second-rounder Josh Jackson.

Top-100 Targets (Green Bay owns picks 30, 62 and 94): They’ll have their pick of quality receivers at the end of the first round, where a gadget weapon like Colorado’s Laviska Shenault, TCU’s Jalen Reagor or Arizona State’s Brandon Aiyuk would all upgrade the offense. Clemson’s Tee Higgins and Baylor’s Denzel Mims are possibilities as well. (Or maybe they wait for Day 2 and try to recapture the old Randall Cobb magic with Kentucky QB-turned-wideout Lynn Bowden.) There will be some quality slot corners available on Day 2, including undersized Amik Robertson of Louisiana Tech, Josiah Scott of Michigan State and Javaris Davis of Auburn, or bigger, versatile options that might appeal to DC Mike Pettine, like Ohio State’s Damon Arnette and Penn State’s John Reid. That thumping linebacker could wait until Day 3. California’s Evan Weaver and Purdue’s Markus Bailey have limited ceilings but could probably contribute early in Pettine’s complex defense.

Minnesota Vikings

The implication of Cousins’ two-year contract extension is the Vikings believe their championship window is still open. But as it stands, this team has three gaping holes in its starting lineup on both sides of the ball.

Offensively, it starts at wide receiver, following the Stefon Diggs trade. In-house replacement options Olabisi Johnson and Chad Beebe can be serviceable contributors off the bench, but a veritable No. 2 target must be found. Otherwise, Adam Thielen will encounter every form of double-team coverage imaginable in 2020. The other two holes are at guard. On the right side, veteran Josh Kline was cut. On the left side, an upgrade is needed, as 2017 third-rounder Pat Elflein has struggled mentally and physically. Minnesota is fully committed to its foundational outside zone blocking scheme, so whoever the Vikings draft here must be nimble and quick.

Defensively, Xavier Rhodes’s decline and release, and Trae Waynes’s and slot man Mackensie Alexander’s defections to Cincinnati leave the Vikings without their top three corners from past years. 2018 first-round pick Mike Hughes can comfortably take one of the starting spots, and maybe—MAYBE—fellow third-year pro, undrafted man Holton Hill, can take the other. Still, the Vikings would in the very least need a third guy, and probably a fourth, if not fifth, given Mike Zimmer’s penchant for rotating at this position. Hughes’s ability to play inside or outside at least gives Minnesota some flexibility in who they take.

The last need is at defensive end, where the departures of Everson Griffen and top backup Stephen Weatherly leave a void on the right side. 2017 seventh-rounder Ifeadi Odenigbo is ready for a bigger role, but ideally that’d be as a nickel defensive tackle. Even if the Vikings are comfortable with Odenigbo outside, they need to spell him with someone more dynamic than ex-Bill Eddie Yarbrough.

Top-100 Targets (Minnesota owns picks 22, 25, 58, 89 and 105): They could certainly fill two of those needs late in the first round. Among the receivers, LSU’s Tee Higgins would give them a big catch radius target opposite Thielen, while LSU’s Justin Jefferson would provide a wily possession target who could move around the formation. But with such great depth at receiver, it might make more sense to wait until that 58th pick to address the need, when they could pick up a pro-ready option like USC’s Michael Pittman Jr. or Florida’s Van Jefferson. It isn’t a great interior O-line class, but Michigan’s Cesar Ruiz is an ideal fit in their scheme and would be worth what some would consider a minor reach in the top 25. If they go cornerback with one of those first-round picks, Utah’s Jaylon Johnson would be able to step in as an immediate starter and potential future shutdown corner, while TCU’s Jeff Gladney is undersized but ultra-competitive, likely able to play the boundary as well as the slot. Virginia’s Bryce Hall is also polished and can handle Mike Zimmer’s scheme, even if his lack of long speed is not ideal. If they wait, among the NFL-ready corners potentially available mid-Day 2 are slot guys Amik Robertson of Louisiana Tech, Auburn’s Javaris Davis and Josiah Scott of Michigan State.

Twitter: BearDigest@BearsOnMaven

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