Now & Later: Projecting The Bears’ 2017 Draft Class

By Chris Emma–

(CBS) In the recently completed NFL Draft, Bears general manager Ryan Pace made a series of picks in a five-player class that surprised many outsiders.

His maneuvers in building the Bears could pay great dividends — in the form of a team constructed to contend down the road — or fail miserably and create a mess for another general manager. The Bears drafted the players they believed were the best on the board, in turn taking players more likely to contribute in the long term instead of this season.

Friday brings the beginning of rookie mini-camp at Halas Hall, set to run all weekend. It’s the beginning for this draft class looking to get established with the organization.

Let’s look at how the five draft picks project for 2017 and beyond:

1st round, 2nd overall — Mitchell Trubisky, QB, North Carolina

Overview: Much of the shock factor from the Bears’ selection of Trubisky came simply because their interest was so well concealed. It was a concerted effort by both parties to hide how intrigued Pace and his brass were, and the Bears made the bold move up to ensure Trubisky would be theirs.

2017: Mike Glennon is the Bears’ starting quarterback for 2017, as the team has made clear now on several occasions. He was signed to a three-year, $45-million deal in March, but just $18.5 million was made guaranteed. Glennon will lead the team this season while Trubisky develops behind the scenes. It will be an interesting and potentially difficult situation for the team, with Trubisky splitting reps with Glennon throughout the season.

Beyond: Trubisky will be the Bears’ starting quarterback at some point after 2017. If the Bears have their way, Glennon performs well this season and Trubisky develops well, creating a difficult decision entering the 2018 season. But the Bears didn’t draft Trubisky second overall to be a backup for Glennon for long.

2nd round, 45th overall — Adam Shaheen, TE, Ashland

Overview: Did the Bears reach for Shaheen? If he becomes what they hope, it won’t matter. As you’d expect, Shaheen looks like a man among boys in his film from Division-II Ashland. He stands at 6-foot-6 and 278 pounds in an athletic body. His adjustments to this level will be fascinating.

2017: Every practice rep will be critical for Shaheen as he gains a feel for NFL competition. The move from Division-II to this level is dramatically different. Ultimately, Shaheen could make an impact in the Bears’ passing game if he plays with confidence that he belongs. The offense also has Zach Miller, Dion Sims and several others at tight end if Shaheen needs time to develop.

Beyond: Shaheen wasn’t projected to be a second-round pick, but the Bears had to have him. He may not make a considerable impact this season as more than just a mismatch in certain packages, but the team is confident with his potential after a season of growth.

4th round, 112 overall — Eddie Jackson, S, Alabama

Overview: Finally, the Bears addressed needs in their defense by selecting Jackson in the fourth round. He’s coming off a broken leg suffered last October and likely won’t be healthy until training camp.

2017: Jackson’s chances to play this season rely first on his ability to recover from the injury. But the opportunity will certainly be in play for Jackson at safety. The Bears signed veteran Quintin Demps this offseason, and Jackson should be ready to compete with Adrian Amos, Deon Bush and Harold Jones-Quartey at the other safety position. Jackson could also serve in the return game, though his injury occurred in a punt return.

Beyond: In 2015, Jackson was an All-SEC pick after recording six interceptions and returning two for a touchdown. He has abilities in coverage that the Bears have long coveted. Ideally, Jackson can emerge as a starting safety for the Bears, if not this season then 2018.

4th round, 119 overall — Tarik Cohen, RB, North Carolina A&T

Overview: Rather than looking to a position of need, the Bears instead found a potential role player in Cohen, the all-time leading rusher in the MEAC. He stands at just 5-foot-6, which could serve as an advantage in elusiveness.

2017: If all goes as the Bears hope, Cohen’s speed and athleticism can translate well to this next level and he can be an asset in the offense. The Bears are of course set with Jordan Howard as their starter, and he appears to be their running back for many years to come. They would love to see Cohen work as a complement to Howard.

Beyond: The Darren Sproles comparison has been mentioned with Cohen, and it’s not just because of his size. Pace saw the impact of a Sproles while working with the Saints. A change-of-pace back can make an offense much more dynamic. Cohen has potential to be a key role player in the backfield, giving an offense versatility and forcing defenses into tough decisions because of his speed. The Bears can get creative with Cohen.

5th round, 147th overall — Jordan Morgan, OL, Kutztown

Overview: Completing a unique draft class, the Bears went with Morgan, who was honored as the Gene Upshaw Award winner as the nation’s top Division-II lineman. The Bears got a good glimpse of Morgan while coaching him at the Senior Bowl in January.

2017: Morgan will likely require a redshirt season to adjust. The Bears are set on the interior with Cody Whitehair, Kyle Long and Josh Sitton. There could be competition at the tackle positions with Charles Leno and Bobby Massie, though Morgan wouldn’t seem likely to compete unless he has a tremendous offseason and camp.

Beyond: The Bears like the upside and versatility of Morgan, who could potentially play tackle or inside. Development will be the key, much like Shaheen. Once the Bears figure out what they have in Morgan, they can get a greater sense of where he fits. Perhaps he could eventually replace the veteran Sitton.

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670 and like his Facebook page.

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