By Adam Hoge-
This is the third of four mock drafts for the Chicago Bears leading up to the NFL Draft May 8-10.
(CBS) — A lot can change in a month, especially when that month is March in the NFL.
The Bears signed 14 free agents to their defense last month. Nine of those were newcomers, while five were re-signings of players that were on the team last season.
And a number of them were big signings. Guys like Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston, Willie Young, Jeremiah Ratliff, D.J. Williams, Charles Tillman, Ryan Mundy and M.D. Jennings are either immediate starters or players who will compete for a starting job.
So does that change the Bears’ draft strategy in May?
In some ways it might, and in others it won’t. Despite all the additions to the defense, the Bears could still make an argument to draft any defensive position with the No. 14 overall pick. Only outside linebacker would be a minor surprise.
However, the overall draft class almost certainly will be impacted by the additions made in the last month. And let’s not forget about the subtractions either. Needs on offense have arisen after the Bears released backup running back Michael Bush and No. 3 wide receiver Earl Bennett.
In Bears Mock Draft 2.0, I went defense with all seven picks, although the seventh rounder was a player who could convert to tight end. So, a month later, what are we looking at now?
Let’s get to the picks:
1st Round, No. 14: CB Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State (6-0, 202 lbs)
The Bears filled a glaring hole on their depth chart by re-signing Charles Tillman to a one-year deal, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t look for a future replacement in the first round. Tillman was only able to play eight games last season so the Bears would be wise to add depth at the position immediately. But even if Tillman is able to start all 16 games in 2014, a replacement would be needed next season anyway so why not address it now if a talent like Justin Gilbert is still on the board at No. 14?
At 6-0, 202 lbs., and a 4.37 40-time run at the NFL Combine, Gilbert has the best size-speed ratio among this year’s deep crop of cornerbacks. He’s also a playmaker. If the ball is anywhere near his 33 1/8 inch arms, he’s going to at least knock it down, if not intercept it. Gilbert is also best in press coverage, which the Bears figure to play more of in 2014. He tends to get beat more when he plays off the line and can’t get his hands on the receiver, but his technique can be corrected with coaching. Plus, he has the recovery speed to make up for the small mistakes.
One area of concern is his tackling, which needs to get better at the next level. He has to prove he’s more of a willing participant against the run. There’s also a minor disciplinary concern, as Gilbert was ejected after an on-field altercation against West Virginia this past season.
Another big reason why Gilbert might make sense for the Bears at No. 14 is that he’s a dynamic kick returner too, having returned six kicks for touchdowns in college. Even if he’s stuck behind Tillman and Tim Jennings at cornerback as a rookie, Gilbert could have an immediate impact in the return game after the Bears let Devin Hester go.
2nd Round, No. 19: DT DaQuan Jones, Penn State (6-4, 322 lbs)
Jones helped himself a lot as a senior, dropping weight and playing quicker with more stamina. He held his own at the Senior Bowl, proving he belonged among the top defensive tackles in the draft.
Jones has always had NFL size, but he finally started to look like an NFL player on the field in 2013. He has a wide base and possesses the strength to move blockers out of the way in the interior of the defense. He also has the speed to play multiple techniques along the line, making him very scheme versatile. For the Bears, he would fit right into the rotation, working either over the center at the 1-technique or off the guard at the 3-technique.
With only three defensive tackles currently on the roster, the Bears almost certainly will add one in the draft and Jones would be a valuable pick up in the second round if they address a different position in the first round.
3rd Round, No. 18: S Jimmie Ward, Northern Illinois (5-11, 193 lbs)
At first glance at Senior Bowl practices, Jimmie Ward looked like a cornerback to me. That’s partly due to his size, but also due to his quick feet and ball skills. However, he’s grown on me as an NFL safety, as he’s a reliable, willing tackler who can come up into the box and make plays. He’s too good against the run to play at cornerback. The question is, can he discard blockers at the NFL level? Ward was one of the best safeties in college football last season, but he was also playing in the MAC and the step up in talent will be big. Because of that — and recent foot surgery — I wouldn’t take him until the third round.
4th Round, No. 17: WR Jared Abbrederis, Wisconsin (6-1, 195 lbs)
As a former walk-on, Abbrederis is your classic overachiever type with outstanding football smarts. He also happens to be an outstanding wide receiver. He might be the best route runner in the entire draft, which helps make up for the lack of size. Also possesses sneaky speed. Turn on the Ohio State tape and you’ll see him torch Bradley Roby — one of the best corners in this year’s draft — for 10 catches, 207 yards and a touchdown.
Abbrederis is certainly not a No. 1 wide receiver in the NFL and he’s probably not a No. 2 on a playoff team either, but in a good offense with weapons around him, he’ll consistently beat opposing defenses in 1-on-1 coverage — not just on shorter routes, but over the top as well.
The Bears seem pretty confident in Marquess Wilson’s ability to step in as the No. 3 wide receiver this year, but releasing Earl Bennett without a competition makes that a risky proposition. The addition of Domenik Hixon adds to the depth a little bit, but the Bears are one Brandon Marshall/Alshon Jeffery injury away from being pretty thin at wide receiver. They could use another weapon and Abbrederis can also contribute in the punt return game.
5th Round, No. 16: LB Christian Jones, Florida State (6-3, 240 lbs)
You’re not going to find a sure-thing in the fifth round, but Jones does seem to fit what the Bears need in the middle. He ‘s also highly athletic, which is something general manager Phil Emery tends to gravitate toward. He has good length and footwork, which bodes well in coverage, but what impressed me a lot this season was his ability to blitz. Jones racked up 7.5 tackles for loss and two sacks out of the middle linebacker spot. He has experience at all three linebacker spots, which gives the Bears some fallback options, but he played middle linebacker his senior year as the Seminoles won the BCS National Championship.
6th Round, No. 7: RB Storm Johnson, Central Florida (6-0, 209 lbs)
Johnson doesn’t have the lateral quickness to project as an immediate No. 1 running back in the NFL, but he does possess sneaky speed and the ability to catch passes out of the backfield, which makes him an intriguing target as a possible backup to Matt Forte in Marc Trestman’s offense. Johnson is mainly a between the tackles runner and he has the frame and the strength to excel in that style in the NFL. He could improve his balance and gain some elusiveness at the second level, but he figures to be an immediate contributor as a complementary back with some promise to be a future starter. That’s pretty good value in the sixth round.
6th Round, No. 15: C Bryan Stork, Florida State (6-4, 315 lbs)
Stork has played both center and guard, but doesn’t seem to be a mauler in the run game, which is why I think he’ll stick at center. He has tremendous size for the position and good feet, which makes him a solid pass protector. Stork needs to clean up his technique to be a more effective run blocker and he’s probably a year away from being able to seriously compete for a starting job. That makes him a viable target for the Bears, however, who brought Roberto Garza back on a one-year deal. In fact, Chicago seems like a great landing spot for Stork, who would really benefit from a year of development behind a veteran like Garza and a coach like Aaron Kromer.
Adam Hoge covers the Bears for CBSChicago.com and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamHoge.