Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Pace’s fourth draft class is now in the books, and for perhaps the only time during Pace’s tenure, the city of Chicago is generally upbeat about the club’s future.
The consensus is that the Bears will be better in 2018. How much so depends -- partly -- on contributions from a rookie class that looks to feature two immediate starters: Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith (first round) and Iowa guard/center James Daniels (second round).
But Memphis wide receiver Anthony Miller (second round) also figures to have a prominent role on offense, and Delaware defensive tackle Bilal Nichols (fifth round) and Utah defensive end Kylie Fitts (sixth round), while late picks, both play positions in which the Bears use a rotation.
We enlisted the help of ESPN NFL Insider Matt Bowen, who scouted the 2018 class extensively leading up to the draft, to help figure out how (if) the Bears can use the rookie class in the upcoming season.
Bowen’s take: “I don’t think Roquan Smith ever comes off the field. I think in the base package, he’s an inside 3-4 linebacker because his natural instincts to find the football are excellent. But I think his biggest impact might come in passing situations. [Bears defensive coordinator] Vic Fangio likes to play a bunch of nickel. Roquan can run sideline-to-sideline and track running backs out of the backfield. He can also trail tight ends in coverage. When you watch Smith’s tape, there are times when you think he moves like a strong safety.
“I think he’s going to be an instant impact player. It’s one of my favorite picks in the draft. The Bears filled a need, and they got the best player on the board at the same time. I really didn’t think Smith was going to be there at No. 8. That’s an excellent pick and a guy Fangio should love to coach. He plays at a different speed against everyone else on film. Remember, he’s doing this against Alabama, Auburn and Oklahoma -- the best competition you can get in college football. You won’t find better tape.”
Bowen’s take: “I think Daniels has the most upside of anyone in this Bears' class. He’s only 20 years old. He can get stronger. I think everyone would admit that he can get stronger at the point of attack, but you can’t teach that athleticism. Iowa offensive linemen are fundamental-based. They are taught extremely well at Iowa. He’s great with his hands and has excellent footwork.
“I think he was the most athletic center in the draft. Daniels is capable of moving to guard [as the Bears said initially he would]. It doesn’t mean he can’t move to center later in his career or if Cody Whitehair [Chicago’s starting center] gets banged up. If I’m Matt Nagy, and I have that interior of Daniels, Whitehair and Kyle Long, I’m running inside zone 25 times per game. You have the guys up front now. There was a question whether Jordan Howard would fit … he’s going to fit behind those three guys, I’ll tell you that.”
Bowen’s take: “I like his tape. Now, there’s some inconsistency there in terms of drops and catching the ball cleanly at times, but he’s sudden. He can just get up and go. I think he’s a better fit as an inside receiver [Nagy said Saturday that he envisions Miller as a slot receiver] where you can throw him option routes and seam routes up the middle of the field. He can run a quick, shallow cross and operate in space.
“I think he’s a really good route runner. I don’t think they have a 40 time on him because he had an injury at the combine, but [he] plays in the 4.4s on film. He has explosive play ability. He gives you some formation flexibility. You can move him around.”
Bowen’s take: “Someone who weighs 230 pounds and runs a 4.6 40-yard dash should help you immediately on special teams. I think he eventually projects to be an off-the-ball linebacker. But you can never have enough defensive players that run, hit and play in space. His ceiling is probably as a starting nickel defender for you, but right now, they drafted him as a developmental prospect who can dominate for me on special teams in the kicking game as he develops on the defensive side of the ball.”
Bowen’s take: “You’d like for him to find a way to fight for a spot in the defensive line rotation. He’s not a pass-rusher. To me, he’s an early down-and-distance guy that can play against the run. That doesn’t mean he can’t get up the field or create a push in the pocket. But you always look for big men that can move. It’s important to have those guys.”
Bowen’s take: “Anyone with durability concerns is going to slide on draft day. You take a shot late with a guy like Fitts later in the draft because he projects as a future 3-4 edge rusher. Another guy that can play for you on special teams immediately as a rookie. Maybe they’ll find something here they can use in the future because the Bears need edge rushers.”
Bowen’s take: “You’re talking about a seventh-round pick that is 6-foot-3, 215 pounds. He’s not a burner. He ran in the 4.5s at the combine in Indianapolis and dropped down to 4.47 at his pro day. Great catch radius. Strong hands to the point of attack. The key for him to secure a roster spot is showing that he can tackle. Late-round wide receivers have to tackle on special teams. You have to cover punts, compete for a spot at jammer on punt return, cover kickoffs and make tackles. You have to do things that are not usually associated with playing the wide receiver position, but that’s how Wims can make the roster and develop. He’s not a guy right now that creates great separation. There are only so many 50-50 plays you can make at the NFL level.”