— Chicago Bears (@ChicagoBears) April 30, 2022
Washington, CB, Kyler Gordon
From NFL.com: “Cornerback who comes with an elite, high-performance engine but a GPS still in the process of loading. Gordon’s dynamic athletic qualities will show up in testing, but more importantly, they are all over his tape. His blend of play strength and explosive burst affects the passing game from press, off-man and zone coverages. He plays with an alpha demeanor and hitting is definitely part of his overall package. Gordon lacks polish and needs to play with better route recognition and anticipation, but if those elements click, his ball production could be near the top of the league as one of the top playmakers in the game.”
Penn State, S, Jaquan Brisker
From NFL.com: “Athletic safety prospect whose versatility and toughness will endear him to coaches during the evaluation process. Brisker continued to pick up elements of the defensive scheme and his play has steadily transformed from hesitant in 2019 to downright instinctive in 2021. He has the versatility to become a moving chess piece in a variety of coverages and has the size and talent to match up with both “Y” and “F” tight ends. He played with a banged-up shoulder in 2021 so his 2020 tape is a clearer indicator of his run support acumen. Brisker is an ascending talent with the NFL traits to become a long-time starter as a Day 2 draft pick.”
Tennessee, WR, Velus Jones Jr.
From NFL.com: “Special-teams specialist with good size. Despite spending six seasons in college between his time at USC and Tennessee, Jones has very modest production as a wideout, but flashed potential in that area in 2021. He’s fearless with the ball in his hands after the catch and as a kick returner. He’s not a very fundamentally sound route-runner but might not need to be if teams view him as a catch-and-run specialist in the quick game underneath. Jones has a chance to ride his special teams versatility into a specialist spot on a roster.”
Let’s look at historical trends to see where the Bears can expect to find positional value at various points in the draft. This builds very closely off work I’ve done each of the last two years, and here’s a quick recap of the approach:
This is my third year applying this approach to the draft, and I was a bit hesitant about it at first, because it seems risky to rely on draft rankings from people who don’t work in the NFL. It’s quite possible that people in the NFL view these players entirely differently. However, I think the track record has been pretty solid over the last two years. For instance:
This is definitely an inexact science, and we don’t want to put too much stock in it, but I think it’s a useful exercise to see what positions might have more good players than usual, and thus possibly value for the Bears.
Here is the data for players drafted in the top 50.
A few thoughts:
It’s no secret that the Bears need a WR, but I would take it even further; they should enter the weekend with the goal of drafting two wideouts they think can contribute right away.
One of those has to be a bigger-bodied WR, which they are sorely missing right now, but my draft crush does not fit that bill.
In fact, Memphis WR Calvin Austin III comes in at the other end of the spectrum for WRs. He stands only 5’7″ and weighed in at the Combine at only 170 pounds. If you’re going to be that small, you need to be an athletic freak to make it at the NFL level, and Austin certainly fits the bill.
This is Austin’s Relative Athletic Score, or RAS, based on his Combine performance. RAS scales everything against historical players at your position from 0 (worst) to 10 (best). As I’ve already said, Austin is tiny, but he scores in the top 8% amongst WRs in literally every athletic testing metric (credit to Kent Lee Platte for RAS data), placing him in the top 6% overall in total athletic ability.
That athleticism certainly shows up when you watch Austin play. He’s both fast and quick, and his change of direction abilities are noticeable in tight spaces. This speed and acceleration lets Austin excel after the catch, as he had the 5th highest yards after the catch/catch mark of all WRs in the 2022 draft.
The Bears have limited resources to improve their team this offseason, and a lot of attention is going to be focused on using those resources to fix the offense. On the surface, this makes quite a bit of sense; as you can see in the table below, which looks at a variety of all-encompassing stats for each side of the ball, the Bears had an average to below-average defense and one of the worst offenses in the NFL.
However, the Bears would be wise not to ignore the defense, either. For starters, that unit has several key contributors from 2021 who are scheduled to be free agents, including five players who spent the bulk of the season as starters (Akiem Hicks, Bilal Nichols, Alec Ogletree, Artie Burns, Tashaun Gipson). Those players will need to be re-signed or replaced, and none of them have obvious in-house replacements already on the roster.
But Chicago has to be careful not to overspend on defense, because the offense definitely needs investment as well. The table below shows the veteran players currently under contract for 2022 on both offense and defense with a cap hit of at least $3 million. The offense is shown on the left in blue, and the defense on the right in orange. As you can see, it’s quite lopsided (data from Over the Cap).
The 2021 NFL draft starts tomorrow, so I want to take a look at historical trends to see where the Bears can expect to find positional value at various points in the draft. This builds very closely off a study I did last year, so here’s a quick recap of the approach:
I looked at every draft from 2010-20 to see how many players at each position were drafted in the top 50 (their 2nd round pick is #52), top 85 (their 3rd round pick is #83), and top 175 (their 5th round pick is #164). I didn’t bother looking at their 1st round pick because the top of the draft is more about a small pool of individual players as options, and the heavy focus in draft media on the 1st round means most fans are already pretty familiar with those names.
I then used The Athletic’s composite big board, which averages rankings from a number of different draft sources, to compare to historical trends. I focused especially on positions which I identified as needs for the Bears. The idea here is that positions with more players than usual ranked in a given range are more likely to have somebody highly rated slip through the cracks, while positions with fewer players than usual ranked in a given range are more likely to have somebody reach for them to fill a need.
Here is the data for players drafted in the top 50.
A few thoughts:
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.