When Roquan Smith was asked Tuesday, after being named the Bears 2018 Brian Piccolo Award rookie recipient, whether he’s keeping tabs on Chicago’s draft approach, his answer was what you might expect from an All-Rookie linebacker and centerpiece of the NFL’s top-rated ‘D’ less than a year removed from being the eighth overall pick.
“No. I haven’t really been following along. I’m just hoping they get the best possible teammate out there,” he judiciously said.
Even with few remaining holes on the Bears’ NFC North champion roster, however, not all of Ryan Pace’s draft picks enjoy the kind of job security of Smith. At least a few are likely to be paying closer attention to how the weekend unfolds and any new challengers it provides to their incumbent roles.
The only remaining member of Pace’s first draft class — impenetrable nose guard Eddie Goldman — is as locked in as any non-Pro Bowler on the Bears ‘D.’ But which member of Pace’s three subsequent draft classes are most in the crosshairs entering draft weekend?
DL Jonathan Bullard
The Bears seem a lot more likely to address their O-line than D-line, but we can’t discount the convergence of Pace’s flexibility to take the best players available and the fact that this draft is all about the big men on ‘D.’
So after falling behind both Roy Robertson-Harris and rookie Bilal Nichols on the Bears’ DE pecking order opposite Akiem Hicks last season, Bullard approaches his contract season potentially as the forgotten man altogether, if Pace picks a D-lineman with any type of plug-and-play ability.
TE Adam Shaheen
This is the big one — figuratively and literally. The 6-foot-5, 270-pounder was the 45th overall pick only two years ago, one of Pace’s three big swings to solidify a still-shaky TE position. Only a combined 11 starts and 17 catches later, the injury-riddled Shaheen could be pushed by a more polished pass-catching rookie.
Pace expressed confidence in Shaheen, whose “arrow’s up” after arriving for the offseason program in “phenomenal shape.” It’s also worth noting that tight end historically is a slower developmental position and Shaheen could be taking a Vance McDonald-like path to production.
But it’s also one of the deepest positions in the draft — one critical to Matt Nagy’s offense — and there are already a number of players who were selected after Shaheen over the past two years providing more.
EDGE Kylie Fitts
Perhaps we’re copping out here with last year’s sixth-rounder. It’s not like there was a clear path for Fitts onto the field as a rookie, when Khalil Mack was an All Pro, Leonard Floyd was a Pro Bowl alternate and Aaron Lynch gave great mileage prior to injury.
But the Bears last year bypassed some productive rookies — including WR Equanimeous St. Brown, TE Jordan Thomas, RB Justin Jackson and Pro Bowl PK Jason Myers — for Fitts’ intriguing pass-rush traits, which we rarely saw in 58 snaps across seven games. With Lynch on a one-year deal and Floyd’s 2020 salary guaranteed only for injury, Fitts likely will have company in trying to lock down the final OLB spot.