LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The Chicago Bears arrive at the NFL combine with multiple roster holes to fill and modest resources available to do so.
General manager Ryan Pace will no doubt attempt to address certain problem areas in free agency – where Chicago currently sits near the bottom of the league in salary-cap space -- but building through the draft will be paramount.
The Bears have missed the playoffs eight of the last nine years for a variety of reasons, but draft miscues rank near the top. The Bears had four straight top-10 picks from 2015 to '18 and just one postseason appearance (2018) to show for it.
Wide receiver Kevin White -- the seventh overall pick in 2015 -- is out of the league.
Linebacker Leonard Floyd -- the ninth overall selection in 2016 -- is a full-time starter but not the kind of impactful player you’d expect from someone taken that high.
Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky -- the second overall pick in 2017 -- regressed last season and is at the crossroads of his career in Chicago.
Linebacker Roquan Smith -- chosen eighth overall in 2018 -- followed up a solid rookie season with an up-and-down second year that included a one-game benching for personal reasons and ended with a trip to injured reserve because of a torn pectoral muscle.
For every Alshon Jeffery (second round, 2012), Kyle Fuller (first round, 2014), Eddie Goldman (second round, 2015), Cody Whitehair (second round, 2016), Nick Kwiatkoski (fourth round, 2016), Eddie Jackson (fourth round, 2017), Tarik Cohen (fourth round, 2017) and Bilal Nichols (fifth round, 2018), there have been as many, if not more, forgettable picks such as Shea McClellin (first round, 2012), Brandon Hardin (third round, 2012), Jon Bostic (second round, 2013), Ego Ferguson (second round, 2014), Will Sutton (third round, 2014), Hroniss Grasu (third round, 2015), Jonathan Bullard (third round, 2016) and Adam Shaheen (second round, 2017).
The Bears are still without a first-round draft choice because of the Khalil Mack trade, but Pace presently has seven picks, including No. 43 and No. 50 overall in the second round. Chicago could also be awarded a compensatory draft pick for losing safety Adrian Amos in free agency last spring.
The Bears have several areas of need -- tight end, quarterback, offensive line, safety, wide receiver and cornerback.
Here are a few prospects the Bears should be looking at this week:
QB Jalen Hurts, Oklahoma: ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. put a fourth-round grade on Hurts, who finished second in the Heisman voting. After starring at Alabama for two years, Hurts lost his job to Tua Tagovailoa in 2018 and then transferred to Oklahoma, where he finished his collegiate career in spectacular style by throwing for 32 touchdowns and rushing for 20 touchdowns. Hurts, who will work out strictly at quarterback during the combine, will likely be a developmental player as a rookie. By the time the draft rolls around in April, the Bears are expected to have already signed a proven quarterback to push/compete with Trubisky, whom Pace previously endorsed as the club’s 2020 starter. Why not take a chance on Hurts as a developmental guy? He’s a proven winner. Plus, teams like the Baltimore Ravens, Houston Texans and Buffalo Bills have found success drafting mobile, super-athletic quarterbacks. To put it bluntly, the Bears had the opportunity to draft a national champion quarterback -- Deshaun Watson -- with incredible college credentials three years ago. Instead, Chicago moved up -- bypassing Watson and Patrick Mahomes -- to draft a one-year starter (Trubisky) who turned the ball over three times in a Sun Bowl loss to Stanford.
TE Cole Kmet, Notre Dame: ESPN ranks Kmet as the No. 1 tight end in the 2020 draft class. At 6-foot-5½, 250 pounds, Kmet caught 43 passes for 515 yards and six touchdowns last season. Kmet, who attended St. Viator High School in the northwest suburbs of Chicago, could be in play near the top of the second round, where the Bears currently have those two picks inside the top 50.
WR KJ Hamler, Penn State: Hamler could easily be off the board before the Bears are on the clock, but Hamler would be a great fit in Matt Nagy’s offense. Hamler is listed at only 5-9, 176 pounds, but he has blazing speed. Hamler was a serious playmaker in college as both a receiver and returner and would play in the slot in the NFL. The Bears released wide receiver Taylor Gabriel, and Anthony Miller had yet another offseason shoulder surgery. The good news for Chicago is that it’s a deep draft at wide receiver. ESPN ranks 11 wide receivers in the top 60 draft-eligible players.
DB Shyheim Carter, Alabama: The Bears have found value at safety in later rounds and seem to covet former Alabama safeties. Carter makes sense in that he’s an experienced player -- 23 career starts -- who can hit. Jackson is the ultimate center fielder, so the Bears could use more of an in-the-box safety if Ha Ha Clinton-Dix isn’t re-signed.
OG John Simpson, Clemson: Simpson is ESPN’s highest-rated guard in the draft class and is likely to be taken in the first few rounds. He started 29 career games for one of the nation’s best programs. The Bears have a clear need at right guard after Kyle Long’s retirement. In fact, the entire offensive line is under pressure to perform better in 2020. Chicago needs one starter and maybe more, depending on how the front office views starting tackles Charles Leno and Bobby Massie.