The Chicago Bears are a rebuilding franchise, but their new coach quickly put his stamp on the team in the 2016 NFL Draft. With additions to the defensive front seven as well as the secondary, Jay Cutler and company should be able to get some breathing room. Justin Twell looks at the Chicago Bears draft fits to determine how quickly the team can compete in the Black and Blue Divison.
Entering the 2016 NFL Draft the Chicago Bears were in a rebuilding phase after the short lived and disastrous Phil Emery and Marc Trestman era. The 2015 season saw new general manager Ryan Pace and head coach John Fox begin rebuilding, and it is fair to say expectations are low given the current talent level. After this year’s draft, however, there is reason for optimism, so let’s look at what the Bears accomplished and where they can expect to go in 2016.
Round 1, Pick 9, Leonard Floyd, OLB, Georgia
Coming into the offseason and looking ahead to the 2016 season and beyond, the Bears certainly needed to beef up their pass rush after generating only 35 sacks in 2015 – tied for 22nd in the NFL – and Floyd should add much needed help.
The Bears traded up from the 11th spot to get their guy, leapfrogging the New York Giants in the process, who were heavily rumored to take Floyd themselves. Now Floyd has to prove that trading up two spots and giving up a fourth-round pick to acquire him was worth the cost.
Floyd comes into the NFL measuring 6’6” and weighing 244 pounds. He possesses elite speed with an inside spin move that is very difficult to defend; much has been made, though, of his lack of size, and he’ll likely struggle at times to matchup with the stronger players of the NFL. Look for Floyd, who has been compared to Aldon Smith and Jamie Collins, to be a situational pass rusher in his rookie season.
Round 2, Pick 56, Cody Whitehair, G, Kansas State
Whitehair is a solid pick for the Bears, who need offensive line reinforcements. He was a four-year starter at Kansas State and can fit right in and compete for the left guard spot immediately. He actually played left tackle last season, but he is expected to kick inside in the NFL and stay there for the majority of his career.
Whitehair will be competing with veterans Manny Ramirez and Ted Larsen in training camp for a starting role, and while he should certainly push for a starting spot, we may not see him straight away. However, the Bears would not have invested a second-round pick on a guard if they didn’t think he could contribute in 2016.
Whitehair is projected to grow into a solid starter. He is very athletic for his size (6’4” and 304 pounds) and if he can become anything close to Kyle Long at the guard position, the Bears will have a strong interior presence for years to come.
Round 3, Pick 72, Jonathan Bullard, DE, Florida
In the third round, the Bears continued to address their pass rush needs by grabbing Bullard, who had a solid season last year in registering 66 tackles – 17.5 for a loss – and 6.5 sacks. The Bears were smart to nab Bullard here, as the defensive line is thin after Eddie Goldman, Akiem Hicks, and Mitch Unrein.
Bullard is great at getting off the snap and had some impressive performances against top opposition last year, most notably against Alabama where he recorded eight tackles, including two for a loss, and a sack. He’s disruptive and can play at both the outside and inside positions along the defensive line.
He should come in and contribute in 2016 as a rotational player on the defensive line which is looking young and strong, and Bears fans should be confident in defensive coordinator Vic Fangio’s ability to bring Bullard along nicely.
Round 4, Pick 113, Nick Kwiatkoski, ILB, West Virginia
The Bears seemingly went for a depth pick here, as Kwiatkoski will very likely compete for a reserve role behind Jerrell Freeman and Danny Trevathan.
However, Kwiatkoski played three different linebacker spots last year, so he could not only add depth but versatility to the linebacking group. He plays with an aggressive style which could see him contribute on special teams right away while waiting for an opportunity to get some defensive snaps.
Round 4, Pick 124, Deon Bush, S, Miami
This pick makes a lot of sense when you consider the secondary is a big weakness for the Bears. He could form a young tandem with second-year safety Adrian Amos, who played 16 games as a rookie.
Bush is a big hitter (forced nine fumbles during his time with Miami) who can come up to provide run support and punish receivers cutting across the middle of the field. He is another player, in a worst case scenario, who will be featured on special teams to start 2016 where he should impress coaches enough to think about giving him defensive snaps.
Round 4, Pick 127, Deiondre Hall, CB, Northern Iowa
Once again the Bears added to the secondary with their selection of Hall with the hopes of strengthening the back end of their defense moving forward. Hall has very long arms, which will help him immensely with contesting balls against just about any receiver, and could rack up decent tackle numbers. However, he lacks top-end speed and, if beaten off the line, will find himself in trouble.
Hall will need time to adjust to the NFL and could move to safety if he can add bulk. But he represents yet another potential contributor on special teams to start his NFL career.
Round 5, Pick 150, Jordan Howard, RB, Indiana
Howard is a great pick at this spot for the Bears. With the loss of Matt Forte, the Bears needed to add to the backfield where Fox is a known fan of a strong running game, so Howard could sooner, rather than later, figure consistently in the Bears’ rushing attack.
Howard has good size (6’0” and 230 pounds) and possesses very good vision, using his strength to shed tackles and gain extra yards after the first hit. Howard has had a few injury issues, but if he can stay healthy he could carve out a nice NFL career.
Round 6, Pick 185, DeAndre Houston-Carson, S, William and Mary
Chicago went safety once again in Houston-Carson, a player with good size (6’1” and 201 pounds) who shows a lot of intensity to get to the ball. He is another player who figures to be a special teams contributor straight away and has potential to be a nice rotational defensive back, given time.
Inside the Pylon’s Dave Archibald did a great job of scouting Houston-Carson a few months back.
Round 7, Pick 230, Daniel Braverman, WR, Western Michigan
It’s usually difficult to get excited about a seventh-round pick but this selection should have Bears fans on the edge of their seat. Braverman, a 5’10” slot receiver, has been compared to the likes of Wes Welker and Julian Edelman and represents a potentially great value for the Bears
Last year, he put up extraordinary numbers, hauling in 108 catches for 1,371 yards and 13 touchdowns. Those are great numbers at any level, especially against the likes of Michigan State and Ohio State in 2015 where he had a combined 23 catches for 231 yards. If he can have a strong training camp, he could stick around on the 53-man roster throughout 2016.
What to expect in 2016
The Bears had a good draft and addressed clear needs in the pass rush, the secondary, and the ground game, by picking up a nice running back in the fifth round in Howard. The Bears moves in free agency also were a positive, bringing in depth along the offensive line in Ramirez and Larsen and solidifying the linebacking core with Freeman and Trevathan.
For the Bears to improve in 2016 they’ll need solid contributions from their top three picks at least, especially considering how strong the Packers and Vikings figure to be. In 2015, the Bears lost five games by four points or less. With the expected improvement in 2016, the Bears should continue to show they are building a playoff contender.