There’s no question the Chicago Bears have specific draft needs. The team made important strides in level of play on the field under head coach John Fox last year, but much work remains to be done.
The Bears added some key pieces to their defensive puzzle through free agency this offseason. Inside linebacker Danny Trevathan was the prized pickup, but the Bears also re-signed cornerback Tracy Porter, and added linebacker Jerrell Freeman and defensive lineman Akiem Hicks — four starters who figure to have a big impact on defense in 2016.
But there is only so much you can do through free agency. To build a successful franchise, you have to have a string of solid drafts that produce consistently productive players.
Chicago Bears 2015 draft class
He scored a solid building block on defense in the second round with Eddie Goldman at nose tackle.
In the third round, Pace selected center Hroniss Grasu, who wound up getting some valuable playing time, starting eight games after Will Montgomery went down with an injury.
Pace got good value with his fourth-round choice in Jeremy Langford, who could be the team’s running back of the future.
Pace’s fifth-round choice could be the best pick of the draft for the Bears in safety Adrian Amos, who started 16 games for the team a season ago.
It’s too early after one year to say if a draft was successful, but all looks good for the Bears’ 2015 draft class.
Chicago Bears 2016 draft needs
But one successful draft class isn’t enough. The Bears are going to need to land on a number of their picks in the 2016 draft, beginning with Thursday night’s first round pick.
Here’s a look at a position-by-position breakdown of the Bears’ draft needs, ranked by importance.
2016 Key Pieces: Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman
Outlook: Switching from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4, as the Bears did prior to the 2015 season, is perhaps most taxing on the defensive line. A team can always find athleticism at the other two levels of the defense, but it takes a special kind of player to line up as a 3-4 lineman. The Bears drafted a potential long-term option in nose tackle Eddie Goldman and signed a solid playmaker in Akiem Hicks this offseason. But Hicks is only on a two-year deal and the Bears will not only need a third starter but will need long-term depth.
2016 Key Pieces: Zach Miller
Outlook: Fed up with Martellus Bennett’s personality and work ethic, the Bears shipped him to the New England Patriots. How do you replace Bennett’s talent, though? The team liked what it saw out of Zach Miller, but Miller’s age and injury history are a concern. They re-signed him in the offseason, but only to a two-year deal. Miller is more of a pass-catcher than a run-blocker, and the team would like to find a more well-rounded option.
2016 Key Pieces: Tracy Porter, Kyle Fuller, Sherrick McManis
Outlook: Re-signing Porter this offseason was key. He was a solid playmaker last season, covering some of the tougher wide receivers in the league and making some big plays in key situations. After struggling early in the season and being demoted, Fuller regained some confidence and turned into a contributor. McManis is more of a special teams player and can’t be relied upon if called into defensive duties. After that, the Bears have big question marks and will need some young talent for the future.
2016 Key Pieces: Adrian Amos, Antrel Rolle, Omar Bolden
Outlook: Amos turned out to be one of the better finds in the 2015 draft, selected in the fifth round and starting all 16 games. Antrel Rolle was supposed to be the veteran leader in the secondary but exited the season early with an injury. His roster spot might not even be 100% secure, to be honest. The Bears signed a familiar John Fox player from the Denver Broncos in Omar Bolden, but he’s mostly a special teams player. The Bears have some other players to look at such as Harold Jones-Quartey, who started four games and played in 13 a season ago, but they will be looking for a long-term partner to team up with Amos.
2016 Key Pieces: Jay Cutler
Outlook: The Bears were quite pleased with Cutler’s performance last year under former offensive coordinator Adam Gase. Can he keep that momentum going under Dowell Loggains? That’s the million-dollar question and for one in which the Bears will have to have a contingency plan in place. Most of Cutler’s huge salary — from the contract he signed under former general manager Phil Emery — has already been paid so the Bears can look at Cutler as a year-to-year option until they nab their long-term solution at the position. This could be the year they are aggressive and take a quarterback in the first couple rounds. If not then, they will likely entertain the idea later in the draft as Pace knows the importance of finding and drafting quarterback talent.
2016 Key Pieces: Jeremy Langford, Ka’Deem Carey
Outlook: Langford showed a lot of promise as a rookie and split carries with Matt Forte, which began the writing on the wall that the Bears were not going to bring back Forte in 2016. Langford possesses many of the same characteristics that Forte has, but needs to work on his pass-catching ability. Carey is a John Fox guy. He’s a little spark plug that will get a handful of carries in a game, usually in short yardage situations. But I’m not so sure — and I don’t think the Bears are either — that he’s a bonafide second option at the position. There have been rumors that the Bears could give a look at Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott in the first round if he slips to No. 11. If the Bears went aggressive in that approach, it would halt the Langford “heir apparent” talk and suddenly give the Bears a dynamic backfield. But if they don’t take one that early, they could find an option later in the draft.
2016 Key Pieces: Alshon Jeffery, Kevin White, Eddie Royal
Outlook: Assuming health for all these guys, the Bears will have a solid wide receiver corps for 2016. Only problem … all three of them missed time last year due to injuries. The Bears definitely could use insurance for White, who has yet to play an NFL snap, and would like an upgrade over Marquess Wilson, Joshua Bellamy, and Cameron Meredith — all of whom played significantly in 2016 due to injuries. This is not as great a need as some of the other offensive positions, but if the Bears find value at the position during the draft, they won’t hesitate to go get one.
2016 Key Pieces: Charles Leno, Matt Slauson, Hroniss Grasu, Kyle Long, Bobby Massie, Ted Larsen
Outlook: The Bears are pretty set at offensive line, but there are concerns about how consistently Leno and Grasu can play. The team is moving Long back to right guard, where he could be one of, if not the best player in the league at the position. Massie is a beast in the run game, although has admitted struggles in pass blocking. Langford and the running backs will find much room to gallop behind the combination of Long and Massie on the right side of the line. The team added Larsen in the offseason, who adds good depth and competition. I wouldn’t rule out the Bears drafting an offensive lineman, but they’ve got several key pieces already solidified.
2016 Key Pieces: Pernell McPhee, Danny Trevathan, Jerrell Freeman, Lamarr Houston, Willie Young
Outlook: What was a terrible weak spot for the Bears a season ago has suddenly become a position of strength. McPhee was the Bears’ top free-agent prize a year ago and showed how dominant he could be, but he needed some help from his positional teammates. The Bears upgraded the middle of the linebacking corps with Trevathan and Freeman, and the combination of Houston and Young showed some promise in 2015 — and should be even better with the upgrades made around them. I can’t imagine the Bears spending a pick at the linebacker position unless they find a stud for good value.