It’s that time of year again. With the 2016 NFL Draft just under a month away, all 32 teams will look to round out their rosters with young, ascending talent.
It will be GM Ryan Pace’s second draft with the Chicago Bears but his first with his handpicked group of scouts. Last year, Pace was able to find starting talent as late as the fifth round with safety Adrian Amos and had four draftees start at least one game - which didn't include WR Kevin White, the club's first-round pick who didn't play a snap his rookie season.
This year, the Bears are in a much better state in terms of talent and overall roster depth, but this is Pace’s biggest draft to date, as he looks to turn the corner from “rebuilding” to “contending."
As of this week, the Bears will have nine picks at their disposal, with five of those coming in the first 127 picks.
With that in mind, here are my projections for each of Chicago's nine selections.
1st Round (11th): CB William Jackson III (Houston)
This pick will be labeled by most as a “reach” but when watching Jackson play, he’s a Top 15 talent to me.
Outside of the top six-to-eight prospects in this draft, the next 20-25 prospects all grade out very similar in my opinion.
Jackson has good size (6-0, 189) and he proved to be a playmaker with great coverage skills during his time at Houston. Florida's Vernon Hargreaves is projected to be off the board by the time the Bears pick but even if he was still on the board, I prefer Jackson, a big, faster prospect.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter where a player is picked as long as he plays at a high level and that is the stance I am taking on Jackson.
2nd Round (41st): DE Robert Nkemdiche (Ole Miss)
Once projected as a Top 5 talent, Nkemdiche has fallen down draft boards and many consider him a second-round gamble due to his recent off-the-field issues. Widely considered a boom-or-bust prospect, he was arrested this past December on marijuana charges after falling out of a hotel-room window. He was suspended for the team's 2015 bowl game due to the incident.
Nkemdiche's production was never consistent at Ole Miss but his overall makeup and athletic ability is undeniable. The Bears could very much use another high-upside 5-technique and as long as he keeps his nose out of trouble, his talent and the team’s coaching staff could take care of the rest.
3rd Round (72nd): S Karl Joseph (West Virginia)
Joseph is one of my favorite safeties in this draft and would be a first-round pick if it hadn’t been for his season-ending knee injury.
He doesn’t have ideal size but that’s about the only knock on Joseph. He’s a playmaker in every sense of the word, especially when you look at his position. Whether it’s his highlight-reel hits or his ability to create turnovers, he flies around the field and would be an instant upgrade as part of the Bears’ last line of defense.
Joseph is capable of playing either safety position, which will be key for defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, who likes versatility in his defensive starters. He’s a full-speed player that doesn’t take plays off and although he may need to refine his tackling technique to avoid flags, he’ll instantly become a fan favorite in Chicago.
4th Round (106th): QB Dak Prescott (Mississippi State)
It only took five picks but the Bears are finally taking an offensive player, and it's a quarterback.
It’s really no secret that the NFL is in dire need of talented quarterbacks and although Prescott is raw, he projects well as a developmental passer with starting upside.
Like most teams, the Bears lack depth at the position but this is a move that would help the problem.
Prescott knows how to win and at 6-3, 226, he has enough size to succeed at the next level. Somewhat of a dual threat, Prescott owns 38 school records and has potential not only as a mobile quarterback but also as a thrower than can deliver strikes.
4th Round (127th): OLB Yannick Ngakoue (Maryland)
Ngakoue is one of the more interesting prospects in this year’s class. He doesn’t possess the ideal size that a team would look for in a three-down rush outside linebacker but many, including myself, feel like he has a high ceiling that has not yet been touched.
He set a new school record with 13.5 sacks in 2015. Known primarily as a speed edge rusher, that would be added value for the Bears, as they currently don’t have a player with that skill set on the roster.
In order for Ngakoue to become an every down player he must improve against the run but, for the time being, he is more than capable of being a part-time speed rusher.
5th Round (150th): OT Willie Beavers (Western Michigan)
Much to the dismay of many Bears fans, I fully expect Charles Leno to be the team’s starting left tackle come Week 1. With that being said, the Bears could add a strong insurance policy in Beavers in the late stages of the draft.
Beavers is an athlete who projects well at the next level to stay at left tackle. He looked good against Shilique Calhoun and has shown promise as a developmental prospect. He projects as a better run blocker than Leno with higher upside as a long-term starting left tackle.
6th Round (185th): FB/TE Dan Vitale (Northwestern)
Vitale is a valuable grinder. Somewhat undersized at 6-1, he played a “superback” role for Northwestern, which involved fullback, tight end and receiver.
Vitale won't wow you with athletic ability but he’s intelligent and versatile.
At the next level, Vitale won’t be a full-time player but he's reminiscent of a poor man’s Dallas Clark, who can also lead block out of the backfield.
6th Round (206th): WR Bralon Addison (Oregon)
Addison is a speedster and although he’s undersized at 5-9, he could play a role similar to that of De’Anthony Thomas, with flashes of Tavon Austin.
Due to his size, Addison is hard to project. I’ve seen him anywhere from bottom-third round to early-seventh. He’s a very nice option as a slot receiver or out of the backfield and he can contribute on special teams as well.
He’s the prototypical Oregon “offensive weapon."
7th Round (230th): ILB Antonio Morrison (Florida)
Morrison is your typical mid-round talent that has fallen due to injuries. At 6-1, 233 he has enough size to fit Fangio’s scheme.
As most late-round picks go, Morrison is somewhat of a gamble but he has higher upside than most this late in the draft. He was a two-year captain at Florida, so he has the leadership skills and physical traits to be a quality special teams contributor, while potentially providing good defensive depth.