By Robert Zeglinski
The Chicago Bears didn’t “strike out” in March’s free agency; they just didn’t overreach on or overpay players they didn’t deem worthy of designating for their core. By doing that, general manager Ryan Pace made a statement about the vision of his team while filling out the roster with veterans.
This regime’s success will hinge on the hit-or-miss nature of the NFL Draft, bar none. It’s the ideal way of constructing your team, through homegrown players that is, and it’s a fashion of setting yourself up for proper long-term success.
In the third edition of the draft that Pace’s brain trust gets a shot at, it’s likely the most crucial.
The Bears organization has seen some bright lights in the last two years in the forms of running back Jordan Howard and Leonard Floyd, for a few examples, but has gone just 9-23 overall. Chicago doesn’t need to jump from a has-been at third overall to championship contender overnight, but Pace and company also have to have them start showing more positive results.
So in a way, the No. 3 overall pick that the Bears possess in the 2017 NFL Draft, is subjectively one that has the Pace era at a standstill. This is a player that will have to be a tone-setter, a franchise leader, and more. He’ll either make these Bears, or break this regime as a bust, especially given how he develops and his draft positioning.
That sounds like a lot of pressure for Chicago’s front office and well, because it is. There’s so much in play and the Bears really can’t go wrong, at least initially. Save for maybe Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett – the consensus No. 1 overall pick to the Cleveland Browns – there’s no such thing as a “safe pick” in the lottery of the draft. You can’t project how amateurs will translate their abilities to a game at a dramatically different speed built for full-grown men.
The Bears can only play the cards as they lie and trust their own due diligence in scouting reports from the Scouting Combine, Pro Days, and hours upon hours of these top prospects on tape.
Luckily enough, the months of pandering, rampant speculation and reports of “Team A wanting to trade down for quarterback B” are over. We’ll finally get answers as to what direction the Bears franchise is heading and which player they’ll pick in belief of him helping spearhead a new path to contention.
That glory starts or becomes the beginning of the end on Thursday.
Let’s take at some of the Bears’ possibilities with their first-round pick and narrow it down:
Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson
Watson is the most realistic possibility for Chicago and certainly seems like the kind of player Pace prefers in a quarterback. From all of the intangibles and leadership, to dynamic playmaking outside of the pocket and with his feet, he fits the bill of a guy that Pace would be perfectly fine in staking his career on. A natural-born leader the Bears offense could rally around.
Chicago needs someone to invest the franchise in and develop in the wings while free agent acquisition Mike Glennon holds the reins for now. Watson’s that guy as he works on fixing his mechanics and refining his talents for the professional level. With time, he might become the answer the Bears have been seeking under center for decades.
Jamal Adams, S, LSU
Outside of Garrett, Adams is considered the second-most ready NFL prospect in this draft class. This is a defensive back who you can likewise plug in and play from the outset and who will become the leader of whichever secondary he plays for.
With impeccable charisma, outstanding range and versatility in coverage, as well as a knack for physicality and quality in the box tackling, Adams is the best safety the Bears have never had. The last time Chicago possessed a safety of this caliber was Mike Brown in the early 2000’s. Adams, with his natural projections, would probably transcend as the best Bears safety ever.
The only problem in selecting him is positional value. In the modern era i.e. the last 40 years, only two safeties have gone in the top five – the Chiefs’ Eric Berry and the deceased Sean Taylor. The simple reason is that this isn’t a position of greater impact as say a pass rusher or quarterback. But in the modern NFL, where a safety is often the quarterback of the defense, times might have changed.
Adams who has said he “wants to make history,” could do that in being the highest ever selected safety by the Bears.
Solomon Thomas, Edge, Stanford
Thomas is a fascinating case because his body of work largely relies on his senior season at college. Scouts have compared him to the Texans’ All-Pro, J.J. Watt, but he has a lot to improve to reach that level. He’s getting a little bit too much hype in retrospect to other top prospects and current NFL players.
In the case of a fit with Chicago, with proper development, he could be an All-Pro pass rushing force while working with Floyd on the defensive front – you just have to take your time with him as he grows into his frame and adds to his technique.
If the Bears wanted to take the risk in Thomas’ selection, it’d be difficult to fault them given his upside.
Myles Garrett, Edge, Texas A&M
There’s a faint chance that Garrett falls to Chicago at No. 3 overall, but it isn’t likely. Recent reports have linked the Browns to North Carolina’s Mitchell Trubisky and how they’re afraid he might slip out of their hands if they don’t take him at No. 1, so anything is possible.
In Garrett, the Bears would get a generational pass rusher – yes, “generational” is apt to describe him. This is a guy you could play as a 4-3 outside linebacker, or as a defensive end in a 3-4 defense. He’d be the cornerstone for defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and who the Bears could on double digit sacks as well as building their entire defensive scheme around for a decade. Plus, Floyd would be an ideal complement to Garrett’s terrorizing force.
No one else in this draft comes even close to Garrett’s talent or ceiling. If the Bears should enjoy the tremendous fortune of him actually slipping to their slot at No. 3, look for a dance party at Halas Hall.
Final pick: Watson
Unless Garrett miraculously falls, I don’t think the Bears have too much of a query here. They need a quarterback they believe in to develop. It’s the most important position in sports. If they can get whoever under center is right, other questions on the roster are in turn mitigated. That’s how impactful a quarterback can be.
Watson is the best passer in this class and if they’re patient with him, the Bears can turn him into a true superstar quarterback unlike they’ve ever had. I believe Pace is enamored with Watson (as am I) and in this scenario, he pounces on the opportunity to invest in his substantial potential for the future.
Robert Zeglinski is a staff writer for SB Nation and managing editor at No Coast Bias. Follow Robert on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.