For all the gains made on defense in recent years under coordinator Vic Fangio, the Bears have not had a player reach double-digit sacks since Willie Young (10) accomplished the feat back in 2014.
To put into perspective how long ago the 2014 season feels in football years: Young, who played outside linebacker the last three seasons before the Bears released him in March, was still lining up at defensive end in a 4-3 scheme coordinated by Mel Tucker.
A lot has changed since the end of the Marc Trestman era (playoff appearances notwithstanding, unfortunately) but the Bears’ need to collect more quality pass-rushers remains a priority.
Defensive mainstays Akiem Hicks and Leonard Floyd (if healthy) are talented enough to challenge for 10 sacks, but Chicago could really use another edge-rusher to complement Floyd. The Bears signed veteran Aaron Lynch in the offseason, but Lynch, who agreed to a one-year deal, hasn’t played in more than seven regular-season games since 2015.
The problem is that this NFL draft class isn’t expected to yield a ton of quality pass-rushers. But there is one guy who's at the top: NC State’s Bradley Chubb.
Chubb is considered by most draft analysts to be the best defensive prospect in the draft.
The Bears are in great shape, regardless of whether they move up. With four quarterbacks possibly coming off the board before Chicago picks at No. 8, general manager Ryan Pace is likely to have the chance the draft prospects such as Notre Dame’s Quenton Nelson, Alabama’s Minkah Fitzpatrick or Ohio State’s Denzel Ward. And although Chicago did spent a lot of money at cornerback in free agency, Georgia’s Roquan Smith and Virginia Tech’s Tremaine Edmunds, among others, may be available as well.
It would be a big upset, however, if Chubb lasts until the eighth pick. There’s a good chance Chubb doesn’t make it past the Indianapolis Colts, who need pass-rushers, at No. 6, if he even falls that far.
So for the Bears to get serious about landing the best defensive player on the board, Chicago would have to trade up for the third consecutive spring. Two years ago, Pace jumped up two spots from 11 to 9 to take Floyd out of Georgia. Last season, he swapped spots with San Francisco to draft quarterback Mitchell Trubisky out of North Carolina.
Moving up this year could be tricky. Teams hoping to draft a quarterback definitely don’t want to miss out on the likes of Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, Josh Allen or Baker Mayfield. ESPN has all four quarterbacks gone before the Bucs pick at No. 7 in their latest mock draft. Can a general manager afford to move back to No. 8 if he truly wants one of those quarterbacks?
Chubb and Penn State running back Saquon Barkley figure to be the first two non-quarterbacks selected. So, teams picking in the top 6 that don’t need a quarterback -- Cleveland (presumably)with their second first-round pick (No. 4) and Indianapolis -- are in the driver’s seat, especially if the New York Giants grab a quarterback at No. 2 overall.
The Bears also don’t presently own a third-round pick because of the Trubisky trade. Chicago does have a pair of fourth-round selections this year (No. 105 and 115). Trading up from No. 8 to No. 6 (just as an example, because there’s no guarantee that Colts GM Chris Ballard would be willing to swing a deal with his former team) typically requires compensation in the form of a third-round pick (plus swapping first round choices). The Bears appear better positioned to use one of their fourth-round choices to move back into the third-round round.
Pace, however, has never been shy about going up to get the player he wants.
If the Bears truly think they are ready to win now -- that seems to be the theme at Halas Hall -- Chubb is the ideal player to add to the mix. Nelson seems like a good fit, too, but in terms of positional value, there’s no comparison between a guard (no matter how talented) and a pass-rusher.