By Robert Zeglinski
He likes to act like a covert agent, but Bears’ general manager Ryan Pace has never hidden his affinity for the draft. He’s often talked about the importance of building through it and “sustained success.” While this has been a process that hasn’t amounted to many wins yet, the foundation of his organization has firmly been attaining cost-controlled players to develop.
Entering year four of Pace’s tenure, he’s finally built a roster to be proud of thanks to the outlook of promising young players such as Eddie Jackson and Tarik Cohen. Hope, because of what second-year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky can potentially become under new head coach Matt Nagy. And a chance at relevancy, and so much more: provided Pace puts on the proper finishing touches.
That final spruce up comes with what the open of the 2018 NFL Draft on Thursday. At No. 8 overall, the Bears aren’t in as advantageous of a position as they were last year where they eventually picked second. As Pace espoused on Tuesday, they still have a “draft cloud” of players they like at their slot.
If all goes swimmingly in the top four, such as four quarterbacks going before the Bears’ selection, they’re going to have an opportunity at a franchise player. Even if four quarterbacks aren’t off the board, Chicago has a chance at an impact talent. The moral of the story is that it’s going to be difficult for Pace to miss on adding one of the last puzzle pieces to his team.
Let’s narrow down that draft cloud of options for the Bears at No. 8 overall.
Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech
The “Pace profile” is a player who isn’t a finished product, but can be transcendent when given time to develop. There’s no better example of someone that fits the Bears’ mold than the versatile Edmunds. With apologies to Nick Kwiatkoski, Chicago needs a stud inside linebacker. They need a Swiss Army Knife such as Edmunds that creates matchup issues.
At 19-years-old, Edmunds was one of the most productive linebackers in college football. He’s a dynamic athlete that can cover tight ends and running backs seamlessly. He can roam from sideline to sideline in the blink of an eye. With patience, a team like the Bears can even rush him off the defensive edge should they so choose. Pace himself said that Edmunds’ pass rush ability is a “feather in his cap.”
The malleability of what such a young player presents for a team like the Bears still rising, might be too much to pass up. Edmunds is the perfect fit to combat a high-paced offensive NFL.
If the Bears and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio are patient enough to work through Edmunds’ occasional lacking instincts, they could have the next great linebacker in franchise history.
Quenton Nelson, OG, Notre Dame
Nelson has been tabbed the ideal for Chicago, because he’s a plug-and-play front-line player. One of the most elite offensive line prospects in years, you’ll be hard-pressed to find someone with something bad to say about Nelson. The draft is an inexact science, but if there was ever a “gold jacket guy” meaning a future Hall of Famer, it’s Nelson. That’s because he’s such a technically refined athlete that prides himself on possessing a beyond intimidating mean streak.
The advantage the Bears have in Nelson in comparison to all 31 other NFL teams that would love to draft him, is the presence of his college offensive line coach in Harry Hiestand. If he falls and is selected by Chicago, the amount of obstacles in Nelson’s path to professional success would be limited. He’d have a coach that understands his weaknesses (if there are any), and he’d create a wall with center Cody Whitehair on the interior.
A pick of Nelson is one that puts a smile on Trubisky’s face, and sends a shiver down the collective spine of NFC North defenders.
Marcus Davenport, Edge, UTSA
In the last three drafts, the Bears have selected exactly one edge pass rusher: Leonard Floyd in 2016. They’ve instead relied on ailing veterans such as Pernell McPhee, Lamarr Houston, and Willie Young. If their ascending defense is going to take the next step, they can’t neglect the most important position any longer.
That’s where Davenport comes in, as he’s another “Pace profile” player. Coming from a small school, Davenport has to adjust to a major jump in competition. But the prospects of what he offered as a complete talent that’s always around the ball, knows how to violently set the edge in the run game, and of whom can make up a superb partnership with Floyd, is appealing. The idea of him being a reach at No. 8 washes away quickly.
It’ll take time for Davenport to come into his own. With a persistent program that refines his pass rushing and gets him used to the rigors of offensive maulers, he could be a terrorizing toy for Fangio and company.
Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame
The message the Bears have reverberated throughout the 2018 off-season is putting Trubisky in a position to succeed. That’s why they hired Nagy as head coach. That’s why they went out and signed Allen Robinson. That’s why, with Hiestand as their guiding light, they could draft McGlinchey to be their right tackle.
Taking McGlinchey in the top 10 means the Bears have completed their mission of locking in their offensive core for the near future. He’s the top tackle in this draft and has been since 2017 preseason proceedings. He’d be another reach, while keeping in mind that he could similarly make your offensive line elite. The No. 1 goal with this investment is keeping Trubisky upright for a sustained period.
The incumbent Bobby Massie isn’t going to be a starter for Chicago when or if they become a contender. The sooner they take someone like McGlinchey to be their right book end, the better.
Final pick: Edmunds.
At No. 8, with a crowded cloud of choices, you’re better suited to take the player with risk that could pan out down the line: provided you trust your coaches to develop him. The Bears assuredly more than trust Fangio.
Chicago needs an inside linebacker of the future. They need a guy that can tilt the field once he gets seasoning. For as much as the Bears have focused on the offense to start 2018, their defense requires only a little more tinkering to be a top-tier unit.
Edmunds is their man from that perspective. He’s that player who excels no matter what offenses roll out. Coordinators around the league will lose sleep at attempting to account for his athleticism and ability. He’s the player to carry on the Bears’ hallowed linebacking tradition, and take their defense to exceptional heights. R.
You can find Robert on Twitter: @RobertZeglinski.