The Chicago Bears signed multiple front-line players in free agency, but offensive line remains an area of need, particularly at left guard, where a hole was created when they declined the team option on veteran Josh Sitton, who has since moved on to the Miami Dolphins.
Although left guard appears to be the Bears’ most immediate need, there are other issues percolating up front.
Three-time Pro Bowl selection Kyle Long is recovering from multiple surgical procedures, and while general manager Ryan Pace said recently that he’s pleased with Long’s progress, Chicago has yet to announce any sort of official timetable for Long’s return.
Right tackle Bobby Massie, who just collected a $1 million roster bonus, is entering the final year of his contract. The Bears made no secret of the fact they looked to upgrade at right tackle last offseason, but they failed to do so.
Because the Bears have decisions to make on their highly paid offensive line, ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. believes it makes sense for Chicago to consider using their top pick on the 2018 draft classes’ best offensive line prospect.
Kiper projects the Bears to take Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson at No. 8 overall in his 2018 NFL Mock Draft 3.0 released Wednesday. That would reunite Nelson with his college offensive line coach, Harry Hiestand, who joined Matt Nagy’s staff in Chicago back in January.
“It would definitely be a good thing to be with Coach Hiestand,” Nelson said at the NFL scouting combine. “He’s developed me into the player that I am today, and it would be awesome to continue that development at the next level.”
It’s rare for NFL teams to draft guards in the top-10, but Nelson also has the size (6-foot-5, 330 pounds) to play tackle.
“In high school I played tackle my whole career, and college my freshman year when I was redshirting I was right tackle, left tackle, second-string scout team,” Nelson said. “I played right tackle, left tackle second string going against good defensive linemen and got worked a couple times when I was younger by them, but yeah, I believe I could play every position. I feel just as comfortable in a right-handed stance as I do in a left-handed stance.”
The Bears have coveted positional versatility in the past. Three of Chicago’s projected offensive line starters in 2018 (Cody Whitehair, Charles Leno and Long) have all played multiple positions for the Bears. Nelson’s value is greater if the Bears think he can one day kick outside to tackle. And Hiestand should know Nelson’s potential and limitations better than anybody.
In the short-term, Nelson is a no-brainer to start for an NFL team at guard as a rookie.
“I’m definitely more comfortable at guard,” Nelson said. “That’s the position I played in college for three years. But what I do have is the fundamentals and characteristics to play any position on the offensive line.”