As the league heads into the third week of free agency, draft needs are becoming more transparent for every team, including the Chicago Bears, who have likely done the bulk of their off-season spending already.
As of last week, GM Ryan Pace had spent over $43 million in cap space, the most in the league.
Even after missing out on top targets such as CB Stephon Gilmore, OT Ricky Wagner and CB A.J. Bouye, the Bears still found a way to spend “smart” money to fill the team's numerous roster holes.
While needs were met through free agency, Pace has since re-enforced his belief that the bulk of his impact additions will come through the draft.
QB Mike Glennon, S Quintin Demps, CB Prince Amukamara and CB Marcus Cooper all project to be Week 1 starters, while TE Dion Sims, WR Kendall Wright and WR Markus Wheaton are all expected to play prominent roles as well.
That said, none of the new veterans should be considered top-tier additions and, most importantly, none of these players will deter the Bears from taking the best player available at each pick, particularly Glennon.
The roster is still far from complete but with some clarity moving into the draft season, the table is now set for Pace to land top-tier talent in April’s draft.
DL/Edge Solomon Thomas (Stanford)
Pace can go many different directions with his first-round pick, including a trade down. Yet, for the sake of not over-complicating the situation, we'll assume Pace uses the third overall pick to add an elite player.
Picking this high is all about value and while another pass rusher isn’t exactly a top need, it’s still a need and Thomas is likely the best player available here.
At 6-3, 273, Thomas is labeled a “tweener” but limiting him to one position is simply not doing him justice. He’ll have the ability to play 5-technique in Chicago's base front but can also slide inside to 3-technique or outside to 7-technique in nickel packages.
If an NFL defensive coordinator cannot find a way to get a supremely talented player like Thomas on the field for more than 70 percent of the unit’s overall snaps, he shouldn’t be in the league.
Pace may opt to select a quarterback or defensive back with this pick, but assuming he doesn’t view any of the top passers as worthy of a top-three pick, a pass rusher’s value will always be more than a defensive back, even if safety is a bigger need.
Alternate Pick: QB Deshaun Watson (Clemson)
QB Patrick Mahomes (Texas Tech)
Arguably the Bears biggest need moving into the draft process will be finding a long-term solution at quarterback. If the team’s scouts deem no quarterback worthy of a top-three selection, the Bears run the risk of missing out on the consensus top four talents at the position.
They could opt to trade back into the tail end of the first round to ensure they get their quarterback of the future but for the sake of this mock, I’ll keep it simple.
Mahomes is the most polarizing quarterback prospect in this draft. He possesses the best arm in the class, along with some of the best overall ability seen in quite some time, yet his downside comes from his poor mechanics and college system.
Mahomes is a project but one with an incredibly high ceiling. If Chicago's offensive staff feels safe enough to take him on, the former Red Raider could reap massive rewards for Pace and company.
There’s going to be multiple first-round talents available at the start of Round 2 but if the Bears don’t take a quarterback in the first round and one of the top four passers is still on the board, Pace needs to invest in his signal caller of the future.
Alternate Pick: S Budda Baker (Washington)
CB Kevin King (Washington)
The Bears plan to try last year’s fourth-round pick Deiondre Hall at safety this year. While there’s no telling where that experiment will lead, it allows the team's decision makers to keep their options open at defensive back and take the best player at either safety or corner.
King is a tall, rangy cornerback that profiles as a Vic Fangio-type pick. There’s speculation whether the Washington product would be better off moving to safety but he has the speed, coverage ability and overall “goods” to make for a top-end corner at the next level.
With the recent combine injury of King's teammate Sidney Jones, the cornerback class is somewhat in limbo right now but there’s no denying the top-end depth this class holds at the position, meaning the Bears could land a potential starter like King in the third round.
Alternate Pick: WR Carlos Henderson (Louisiana Tech)
Round 4 (Pick #111)
TE Jordan Leggett (Clemson)
Since the departure of Martellus Bennett, depth at the tight end position has been scarce. Zach Miller is on the wrong side of 30 and continues to struggle with health and, even with the addition of Dion Sims, the Bears could use another reliable target up the seams.
Leggett boasts good size (6-5, 260) and has reliable hands. He’s a former high school wide receiver and shows good athletic ability, as well as a willingness to block.
Jake Butt could be another option here if he’s still on the board but will likely have to sit the entire 2017 season out due to a torn ACL.
With such a deep draft, the Bears could land another potential starter in Leggett in the fourth round.
Alternate Pick: OT Julien Davenport (Bucknell)
Round 4 (Pick #117)
OLB Derek Rivers (Youngstown State)
Lamarr Houston is coming back from his second torn ACL in three years and Pernell McPhee has lingering health issues, which makes a developmental pass rusher a need.
There’s a strong chance Houston has played his last game as a Bear but without a suitable replacement, the team is in no hurry to cut ties. Enter Rivers.
A very impressive pass rusher from a small school, Rivers has good size and a lot of upside.
Alternate Pick: S Lorenzo Jerome (St. Francis)
WR Kenny Golladay (Northern Illinois)
The Bears could use another big-bodied possession receiver and Golladay fits that bill. The local product is an upside grab in Round 5 and while the team’s first four receiver spots on the depth chart are currently spoken for, Golladay will have every chance to carve out a role for himself in a Glennon-led offense, and beyond.
Alternate Pick: K Zane Gonzalez (Arizona State)
RB T.J. Logan (North Carolina)
Running back isn’t a big need for the Bears but speed and a dynamic skill set still has plenty of value regardless of the position. Logan is a bit undersized but is a speedster with the ability to be a weapon out of the backfield and a contributor on special teams.
Pro Bowl RB Jordan Howard’s job is set in stone but every spot on the depth chart behind him is still up for grabs.
Alternate Pick: P Austin Rehkow (Idaho)