With new head coach Matt Nagy in place, ready to leave a footprint on the organization, general manager Ryan Pace set out to give him some tools to accomplish his goals with the installment of the Chicago Bears’ 2018 draft class.
The Bears had clear needs at linebacker — where Jerrell Freeman, Pernell McPhee, Willie Young, and Christian Jones all departed this offseason — as well as along the offensive line and at wide receiver.
Pace aggressively sought to plug those holes with this year’s draft picks.
Who did the Bears draft in 2018?
Round 1, Pick 8 (8th overall) — Roquan Smith, LB/Georgia
The Bears took the best player on the board with the eighth overall pick, and that was Georgia inside linebacker Roquan Smith. Many fans wanted the Bears to address the outside ‘backer position, where the team could use help rushing the passer, but Smith was too good a football player to pass up. With his speed and athleticism, he’s one of the new breeds of linebackers in the NFL today who can cover plays sideline to sideline. His ability to quickly read and react to play calls is going to help this defense play faster and more aggressively in 2018 and beyond.
Round 2, Pick 7 (39th overall) — James Daniels, OL/Iowa
Veteran guard Josh Sitton did not have his contract option picked up and departed in free agency. Kyle Long will turn 30 in December and has not started more than 9 games in each of the past two seasons. The Bears have Cody Whitehair anchoring the center position, but they badly needed to upgrade the interior of the offensive line. Iowa center/guard James Daniels accomplishes that. Daniels is a bit of a swift offensive lineman who can get out and move, ideal qualities for a guard to have. Pace said that the initial plan is for Whitehair to stay at center and for Daniels to play guard, and I think that is the right move.
Round 2, Pick 19 (51st overall) — Anthony Miller, WR/Memphis
The Bears only had one Day 2 draft pick — which they used on Daniels — but when they saw Memphis wide receiver Anthony Miller sliding down the board, they aggressively traded up into the back half of the second round to nab him. The Bears sent one of their two fourth-round picks, plus a 2019 second-round pick to swap with the New England Patriots. Miller is the latest addition to a remodeled offense, which also saw the additions of Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel and Trey Burton via free agency. Miller has often been compared to former Carolina Panther and Baltimore Raven Steve Smith. He’s a tough, supremely confident player who goes out and battles every day. He plays with a chip on his shoulder, makes incredible catches, and is an invaluable tool for what Nagy is trying to accomplish on offense.
Round 4, Pick 15 (115th overall) — Joel Iyiegbuniwe, LB/Western Kentucky
It’s pronounced “ee-yay-boo-nee-way” but you can just call him “Iggy.” The Bears selected Joel Iyiegbuniwe, the quick, agile linebacker out of Western Kentucky, with their fourth-round pick. For starters, Iyiegbuniwe is extremely intelligent — he will graduate pre-med in May. He has versatility and good range of motion, the perfect fit for a defense that wants to play fast and aggressive. Whether Iggy can become a full-on starter someday, or at best is another strong special teams player who can play situational defense like Nick Kwiatkowski, remains to be seen. But he adds strong depth and flexibility to a linebacking corps that sorely needs it.
Round 5, Pick 8 (145th overall) — Bilal Nichols, DL/Delaware
The Bears went “small school, big man” with their fifth-round selection of Delaware defensive lineman Bilal Nichols. Veteran Mitch Unrein departed via free agency and the Bears were looking to add depth to a defensive line that likely will start Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman and Jonathan Bullard. Nichols has the ability to penetrate into the backfield as he recorded 5 1/2 sacks and 6 1/2 tackles for loss in 2017. He plays with a high motor and can chase down running backs on plays off-tackle and to the outside.
Round 6, Pick 7 (181st overall) — Kylie Fitts, EDGE/Utah
The Bears finally addressed the Edge position in the sixth round when they selected Utah pass rusher Kylie Fitts. Fitts played defensive end but also worked out of the two-point stance and will make the conversion to outside linebacker. He’s actually a very dynamic pass rusher with higher-round talent and ability, but slid all the way to the sixth-round due to durability concerns. He redshirted in 2014, was limited to just two games in 2016 due to a foot injury, and missed a bit of time in 2017 because of various injuries. In short, he is not a guy that the Bears should be pinning their hopes on — much like was the case with Kevin White last season and, if he stays around, this season as well. However, if Fitts starts out in a limited role as a situational pass rusher — and doesn’t get hurt in that limited playing time — he could be an incredibly solid addition to the team. Just temper enthusiasm and expectation for the time being.
Round 7, Pick 6 (224th overall) — Javon Wims, WR/Georgia
With their final draft pick, the Bears selected another wide receiver and another Georgia Bulldog, Javon Wims. The Bears have seriously retooled their wide receiver corps, but I wouldn’t expect Wims to make a huge impact — at least not right off the bat. Wims is a big-bodied receiver at 6-3 and 215 pounds, which is about the same listed height and weight as Robinson and White. But Wims lacks the ideal quick-twitch speed and separation that good NFL receivers possess. What Wims has, however, is strong possession receiver qualities, a role in which he could eventually thrive if he’s able to hone those skills at the NFL level. Among these traits are his ability to catch the ball at its highest point — thus, winning jump balls — snag back-shoulder throws, use his big body to shield smaller corners, and can make last-second adjustments to snag errant throws. If he makes the team, Wims will start on special teams but has the ability to grow into a Josh Bellamy-type player (except with better hands).