By Greg Gabriel–
(CBS) Going into the season finale Sunday, we know the Bears will select somewhere between third and sixth overall in the NFL Draft.
Fans are already making wish lists of who they would like the Bears to select, but reality is we don’t yet know all the players who will be in the draft. The reason for that is because underclassmen have until Jan. 16 to declare. As of Tuesday morning, fewer than 20 underclassmen had announced their intention to be included in the draft. In the past three years, the average number of underclassmen in each draft has been just under 100, so look for a number of players to announce soon after they finish their bowl games.
That said, we will have a good idea of which top players will be in this draft. If that’s the case, the Bears should be in position the select a really talented player at one of several positions.
My feeling is the Bears have important needs on offense at quarterback, tackle and perhaps receiver, depending on what happens with the Alshon Jeffery situation. On defense, Chicago could use a cornerback, a safety and a defensive lineman.
One of the strongest positions in the draft will be edge pass rushers. There are five and perhaps six players who could easily get drafted in the first round. There are two players who are worthy of top-five consideration: Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett and Tennessee’s Derek Barnett. Both would be good picks by any team selecting as high as the Bears.
Pass rushers always carry great value, but with the Bears having selected Leonard Floyd last year, they might pass on that position in the top round this year.
The odds-on favorite to be the first defensive tackle selected is Alabama’s Jonathan Allen. At about 6-foot-3 and 290 pounds, Allen can play anywhere along the line in any scheme. He’s a fantastic inside pass rusher and should become a future All-Pro.
There are two highly regarded safeties in Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers and LSU’s Jamal Adams. Peppers has experience at cornerback, safety and linebacker, while Adams has played only safety.
Peppers is a dynamic playmaker and excellent against the run, but scouts have a problem with the fact that he only has one career interception. Adams isn’t quite as physical as Peppers, but he may be better in coverage. He has five career interceptions.
The problem with selecting a safety as high as the Bears will be picking is that in the last 10 years, only one safety has been selected in the top five of a draft — Eric Berry of the Chiefs at No. 5 in 2010. The only other safety to be selected in the top 10 in the last decade was Mark Barron, whom the Buccaneers took at No. 7 in 2012. He busted as a safety and is now playing linebacker for the Rams.
At this time, there’s only one offensive tackle worthy of a top-five or top-six pick: Alabama’s Cam Robinson. His tape says he’s a no-brainer to take that high, but he has had some off-field issues with an arrest last summer. So do you take that gamble? It’s imperative that strong and deep research be done on Robinson.
At this time, I don’t see a cornerback or a receiver worthy of being selected in the top five. There’s talent and depth at those two positions, just not top-five talent. Those players would be taken in a trade-down situation.
That leaves quarterback. As of now, two underclassmen have declared for the draft: Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer and Clemson’s Deshaun Watson. North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky is also well thought of but has yet to declare.
While all three are quite talented, each also has some faults in his game. Kizer and Trubisky have prototypical NFL size and arm strength to go along with good athleticism. Watson is smaller than the other two (about 6-foot-1 1/2, 205 pounds) but is even a better athlete and a consistent big playmaker.
The offense Kizer played in at Notre Dame is an NFL-type system with full field reads, and he’s able to audible at the line of scrimmage. Watson and Trubisky play in much simpler half-field read spread offenses and haven’t been asked to do nearly as much as Kizer.
When you look at tape of Kizer, you can see that he was hurt by the inexperience of his receiver corps in 2016. In 2015, he had first-round pick Will Fuller and two other seniors to throw to. His 2016 was marked by youth, and the offensive line he played behind wasn’t nearly as good as the line in 2015.
Trubisky and Watson played with veteran teams, and that helped. The one big problem that scouts have with Trubisky is that even though he has exception physical traits, he’s just a one-year starter. History shows that few players with that little experience fare well once they get to the NFL.
Even though the quarterbacks have their flaws, there will probably be two selected in the top six. The value of the position and the lack of top quarterbacks in the league dictates that. Who the two are remains to be seen, and private workouts and interviews will be huge in figuring out who those two are.
Looking at who the best players will be in the draft, my guess is that the Bears pick will be a defensive player or a quarterback. If it’s a quarterback, they better have the right people in place to develop him, as that’s almost just as important as making the right pick.
Greg Gabriel is a former NFL talent evaluator who is an on-air contributor for 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter @greggabe.