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From my point of view the Bears current needs going into the draft are as follows:
Running Back, Edge Rusher (rotational quality), Tight End, Corner depth, Offensive Line depth, Safety depth, (I leave Kicker off as I don't think they should spend a draft pick on a kicker with so few picks this year). My question is: Based on the free agent talent left on the market, are there positions that the Bears would be better off passing on this year?
OK, so looking first at your list the only thing I’ll take issue with is the Bears biggest single need is at placekicker — think about what might have been last year had Cody Parkey been as advertised — and that being the case you can’t rule out acquiring the best option available regardless of whether it’s via the draft, free agency or trade.
The top PK prospect in the draft is LSU’s Cole Tracy, who could go as early as the fourth round or be a priority free agent. Depending on how strong the Bears scouting report is on him, I would definitely consider a sixth- or a seventh-rounder.
Austin Seibert of Oklahoma and Matt Gay of Utah are next and while they should probably be priority free agents, if the Bears really love one of them, I’d definitely say pull the trigger in the seventh round.
To your main question, yes, there are still some good players available in free agency, but there’s a reason for every one of them still being free.
Ryan Pace has been clear he intends to build his team through the draft. He is absolutely correct that is the best way to go for long-term success, and fortunately the Bears needs aren’t that great at any one spot that there is any position they can’t afford to try and upgrade through the draft.
Bottom line is they are finally, for the first time since 2006, in the position you’d like them to be in every year. Draft the best player available with every single pick, regardless of position.
Then after the draft, take a look if there’s an area you want to add depth via free agency because the right guy is still out there.
Which Bears players are your top candidates for most improved in 2019?
If No. 1 isn’t Mitch Trubisky, the team is in trouble, but I think there are many reasons to believe the young QB can be most improved again this year — as he probably was last year if it wasn’t Leonard Floyd.
I love Trubisky’s work ethic, competitiveness and leadership skills — and those are all traits that lead to regular and continued improvement.
I also think he has a lot more arm than we’ve seen yet and he grows in confidence, we’ll see more of that arm talent. I also think Matt Nagy will have a better sense of how to use him and get more out of him and I expect the weapons around him to be better.
If they move him to center — which I suspect they will — I think James Daniels can become a perennial Pro Bowler and be the second-most-improved player on the team.
Number 3 has to be Bilal Nichols. He was an interesting pick last year at 5, and the fact that he flashed such unique skills and traits as quickly and as often as he did in spite of the huge step up in class from Delaware to the NFL tells me his ceiling is a lot higher than I thought it was and he could make a huge leap this year.
Anthony Miller was very impressive last year playing with just one sound shoulder. I can’t wait to see what he does this year with two.
Although Leonard Floyd and Roquan Smith were both very good — and very productive — last year, they're two more guys to watch, with Pro Bowl skills and perfectly positioned to reach their peaks this season.
What is your boldest Bears draft prediction this year?
Even though they have limited picks and almost have to draft a running back, cornerback and tight end at some point, my gut is telling me Ryan Pace is going to draft a quarterback somewhere between the fourth and sixth rounds if the guy he wants is there.
Pace told us when he first arrived at Halas Hall that he thought teams should draft a quarterback every year. But in his first four drafts, all he has to show at the position is Trubisky in 2017.
I am at this point unclear on exactly what the eligibility rules are for the practice squad but since Tyler Bray is getting close to having grandchildren, I don’t see how he can stay there forever and a spot on the 53 is wasted on him as long as you have Chase Daniel.
I know it may not sound like anything anyone’s focused on right now, and this is strictly from my gut, nothing I’ve gotten from any sources or anyone with the Bears, but I can’t escape the feeling if Clayton Thorson is still on the board in the sixth or seventh round that he becomes a Bear.
Which NFC North team is the biggest threat to the Bears this season?
I don’t think there is any question it’s the Minnesota Vikings, who were a game away from the Super Bowl two seasons ago and should have been much better last season.
Perhaps Kirk Cousins will be a bust, but he’s just too good when the pressure isn’t on to be as shaky as he’s been when it is. The Vikings defense still has the potential to be world class, and while I’m surprised Dalvin Cook hasn’t been better, he still scares the hell out of me every time he touches the ball and Thielen and Diggs may be the best pair of starting wideouts in the league.
The Vikings O-line still stinks, but if they can upgrade it and keep their heads on straight, they can be a huge threat.
I think the Packers troubles run deeper than anyone realizes and it has nothing to do with the Bleacher Report article or Aaron Rodgers.
I don’t want to get into the article, but riddle me this: If the situation between Rodgers and McCarthy was that bad, and the front office has or had all the other issues suggested, how were they easily the second most successful franchise in the league over the past decade other than the Patriots.
My concerns are the offensive line needs upgrades at guard and Bryan Bulaga is rarely healthy, they have a bunch of nice backs but no starters or bellcows, Jimmy Graham is just a guy at this point and while there are a bunch of interesting young receivers, Davante Adams is still the only sure thing.
On defense it’s great and exciting for Packers fans that they finally made a deep dive in free agency, but I think they badly overpaid for Za'Darius Smith and Adrian Amos, and while Preston Smith s a really good linebacker, he won’t offer much to the pass rush.
The Lions may be better, but is there anything about them that scares you? Maybe they catch the Packers and climb to third place, but I doubt it.