Last year the Bears looked like they had all the pieces in place for new head coach Marc Trestman’s offense, but a shaky defense ended up keeping Chicago out of the playoffs. This year look for the Bears to make a concerted effort to get better on defense in the draft. We look at the Bears’ draft needs here:
Defensive back: There are question marks at both cornerback and safety for the Bears. Although they brought back Charles Tillman, who at his best was among the top cornerbacks in the NFL, Tillman is 33 years old and struggled through an injury-plagued 2013 season. But even as Tillman ages, he still may be the best player in a secondary that also includes cornerback Tim Jennings and safeties Anthony Walters and Chris Conte.
If the Bears are going to upgrade the secondary with their first-round pick, No. 14 overall, a good option could be Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, who would improve the Bears’ pass defense and their run defense. Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert could also be a first-round option for the Bears. Although Gilbert may need some time to develop, he’d provide secondary depth and could instantly step into the return man role that’s been vacant in Chicago since Devin Hester left for Atlanta.
And the Bears won’t be done drafting defensive backs on Day One. Expect the Bears to add depth to the secondary on Day Two or Day Three of the draft, when an intriguing option would be Lindenwood’s Pierre Desir, a Division II All-American who reportedly impressed the Bears at his Pro Day workout.
Linebacker: Last year the Bears used their second draft pick on linebacker Jon Bostic and their third draft pick on linebacker Khaseem Greene, but both of them struggled as rookies. Throw in the fact that Lance Briggs won’t be around forever, and that it still remains to be seen whether 2012 first-round pick Shea McClellin can make the switch from defensive end to strongside linebacker, and the Bears have a lot of question marks at the position.
C.J. Mosley, an inside linebacker from Alabama, would make a lot of sense for the Bears in the first round. Other than Khalil Mack, who definitely won’t be available when the Bears make their pick, Mosley is the best linebacker in this year’s draft. Great middle linebackers have been a staple of football in Chicago for decades, and Mosley could be the next one.
An option at outside linebacker could be Ohio State’s Ryan Shazier, who has excellent speed and would benefit from some time around Briggs before eventually developing into Briggs’s replacement.
Defensive tackle: The Bears’ run defense was rough last year, and they need a talented defensive tackle to add to the current rotation of Tracy Robertson, Stephen Paea and Jay Ratliff. The good news in Chicago? This looks like a good year to grab a defensive tackle in the middle of the first round.
Aaron Donald of Pittsburgh won the Outland Trophy as the best lineman in college football and the Nagurski Award as the best defensive player in college football last year. The knock on him is that he weighs 285 pounds, but if he falls to the Bears at No. 14, they’d probably take him.
Other potential first-round defensive tackles in this draft include Timmy Jernigan of Florida State, Louis Nix of Notre Dame and Ra’Shede Hageman of Minnesota. Nix, who had a pre-draft visit with the Bears, would provide a significant upgrade to Chicago’s run defense.
Later in the draft, Arizona State defensive tackle Will Sutton, who also visited Chicago, could be an option for the Bears. Sutton was outstanding in 2012 but gained weight and was less effective in 2013, and after a disappointing Pro Day his stock appeared to be on the decline.
Running back: The Bears are in good shape with Matt Forte as their starter, but finding a change of pace for Forte would be helpful. A running back has to be versatile in Trestman’s offense, and Oregon running back De’Anthony Thomas or Wisconsin running back James White are two who could make sense. The Bears won’t draft a running back in the first round (and neither will any other team), but keep an eye on Thomas and White as a potential mid- to late-round selection.
Quarterback: Last year, when Jay Cutler got hurt, the Bears’ offense didn’t miss a beat thanks to a very good season from backup quarterback Josh McCown. This year, McCown is in Tampa and the Bears would be down to Jordan Palmer or Jerrod Johnson if Cutler had to miss time. The big contract the Bears gave Cutler this year shows that they’re fully committed to him as the long-term franchise quarterback, but it would make sense for Chicago to draft a young quarterback who can learn Trestman’s offense, function as a capable backup and perhaps develop into a starter some day.
One quarterback to consider for the Bears is Tom Savage, who has all the tools but needs a lot of refinement as a passer. If there’s a coach who could turn Savage into a future star, it’s Trestman.