Analyzing Pre-Draft Roster Needs and Resources

| April 12th, 2021

The NFL draft, which begins on April 29, is just a few weeks away, and free agency has quieted down significantly. That means we know roughly what the Bears’ roster will look like heading into the draft, which can be seen in their current presumed depth chart below.

With that depth chart in mind, let’s look at Chicago’s biggest needs as they prepare for the draft. I’m going to start with immediate needs, spots where the Bears need to find somebody who can step in and start on day 1.

  • Cornerback. Teams need 3-4 good CBs, and right now the Bears might have 0. Sure, Desmond Trufant was good in 2018, and Jaylon Johnson played well for a few games in his rookie year before falling off hard down the stretch, but there’s not a single CB on the roster you can confidently rely on. This is easily the biggest immediate hole on the team. The bad news is that a rookie is unlikely to help much in the here and now, as the adjustment to the NFL is a steep one. Still, Chicago should be looking to invest a premium pick in this premium position to make up for the loss of Kyle Fuller.
  • Offensive Tackle. Charles Leno is nothing special, but he’s an adequate left tackle, especially when the guard playing next to him is good (his play noticeably improved in 2020 after Cody Whitehair moved back to left guard). Germain Ifedi is ideally suited to be a swing tackle, just like current swing tackle Elijah Wilkinson. This is a group that looks like a weakness right now, but could easily be a strength if the Bears draft a tackle somewhere in the early rounds in what is supposed to be one of the best OT draft classes in years. Given that Leno, Ifedi, and Wilkinson are all free agents after 2021, double-dipping with a developmental prospect on day 3 wouldn’t be a bad idea either.

  • Wide Receiver. Allen Robinson is a stud. Darnell Mooney is a promising young player. Behind that, though, things get dicey in a hurry. Anthony Miller is reportedly being shopped and seems unlikely to be on the roster by training camp. Javon Wims, the current top backup, is one of the worst WRs to get significant NFL playing time in the 21st century. Riley Ridley wasn’t good enough to play over Wims last year. Chicago needs at least 2 new WRs on the roster, and at least 1 of them should come in the draft. One trait to look for here is speed; Darnell Mooney is the only WR currently on the roster who is faster than the average NFL WR. Another is special teams ability; backup WRs need to be core special teams players, and the loss of Cordarrelle Patterson leaves a clear need at both kick returner and punt gunner. Javon Wims and Riley Ridley don’t play much on special teams, so their roster spots could (should) be taken by new players who do.
  • Safety. Eddie Jackson is locked in as one starter, but all the other main guys on the roster are more good backups than starters. They need to add another starting-level player, but I didn’t rank this any higher because they could probably find one for cheap in free agency, like they have in each of the last two years. Even if they do add sign a veteran, spending a day three pick on a young player to develop would be a good idea.

Now let’s take a look at long-term needs. These are positions where the Bears can probably get by for 2021 with what they currently have, but there clear holes when you look beyond that.

  • Quarterback. Neither Andy Dalton nor Nick Foles are good starters, but this is less of an immediate hole than some other spots on the roster. However, I would argue this is still their #1 overall roster need because of how important the quarterback position is. You need a good quarterback to have a chance, and right now the Bears don’t have that guy, or even a young quarterback who might develop into one. All they have on the roster are two old guys who aren’t terrible, but are better suited to backup roles than starting spots at this point in their careers. I don’t know if it will come in round one, but the Bears are going to invest in a quarterback at some point in the draft.
  • Tight End. Cole Kmet looked like an adequate Y (in-line) TE last year, but his lack of receiving chops makes it unlikely he can man the U position. Jimmy Graham is currently the guy there, and he was ok last year, but he’s also 35, clearly on the decline, and a free agent after 2021. The Bears have no potential replacement on the roster, so they should be looking for one in the draft this year, especially since TE is a position that usually takes some time to acclimate to the NFL.
  • Center. I debated whether to include this position or not, but ultimately decided to. Sam Mustipher seems to be the guy for the Bears heading into the season, but I think he’s more ideally suited as a top backup than a starter. The center depth behind him is basically nonexistent, but that’s because starting guards Cody Whitehair and James Daniels can both play center in a pinch. The Bears can probably get by without adding anything more here, but a day 3 pick on a center to compete with Mustipher would be a good idea.

Now let’s look at the draft capital the Bears currently have. Here’s a list of their picks, listed first by round and then total selection within the draft:

  • Round 1, pick 20
  • Round 2, pick 52
  • Round 3, pick 83
  • Round 5, pick 164
  • Round 6, pick 204
  • Round 6, pick 208
  • Round 6, pick 221
  • Round 6, pick 228

A quick note on changes from the normal 1 pick/round:

  • They have no 4th round pick from trading up to draft edge rusher Trevis Gipson last year.
  • They have no 7th round pick from trading for kicker Eddy Pineiro in 2019.
  • Pick 208 comes from the Dolphins in the Adam Shaheen trade.
  • Picks 221 and 228 are compensatory selections for losing Nick Williams and Chase Daniel in free agency last year.

There’s a big gap there from pick 83 to 164. Realistically, you can’t expect anybody drafted at 164 or later to be a day 1 contributor. It’s not impossible – look at Darnell Mooney, drafted with the 173rd pick in 2020 – but is not something you can count on happening. Thus the Bears have 3 draft picks that they hope can provide immediate value to the roster.

Chicago realistically won’t be able to fill all of their holes in the draft this year. No matter what direction they go with those first three picks, they’re going to have issues elsewhere that did not get addressed. With that said, here are my thoughts about what they are likely looking to do:

  • They basically have to pick a QB with one of those three picks, which will likely come by trading up in round 1 for whoever of the big 5 falls (most likely Justin Fields) or taking somebody from the Kellen Mond/Davis Mills tier in round 2 or 3.
  • That leaves 2 other high-value picks, and if you’re looking for maximum 2021 impact, OT and WR are the most likely spots to focus those selections on. A rookie CB is unlikely to significantly upgrade what they already have from day 1, and they can probably sign a cheap veteran at safety.
  • With that said, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them spend one of those first 3 picks on a CB, and bank on finding a WR later in the draft like they did with Mooney last year. They can also find a WR in free agency who’s fairly cheap and can contribute this year.
  • You also can’t rule out the possibility of a trade up, possibly involving a future pick. GM Ryan Pace has traded future picks away three years in a row. In 2018, he traded a 2019 2nd rounder to draft Anthony Miller. In 2019, he traded a 2020 4th rounder to move up for David Montgomery, and in 2020 he traded a 2021 4th rounder to draft Trevis Gipson. With more immediate needs than meaningful picks this year, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Pace dip into the future pool yet again.

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