With nine picks in the 2016 NFL draft, each one bringing his own unique skill set to the team, the Chicago Bears have a crop of rookies that assist in reestablishing hope.
Before the draft, I said that there was a good chance that this draft would make the Bears relevant again. Now that it’s complete, even though NFL.com pegs the Bears as the league’s fifth-worst team, I can’t help but feel the Bears are headed back in the right direction.
Here is a look at what each draft pick brings to the Bears:
The Bears first round draft pick will bring versatility to the defense. Not only is Floyd an exceptional pass rusher, he is also capable of dropping back into coverage. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio is going to find every way possible of getting Floyd on the field. The former Georgia Bulldog has no limit to what he can do and under Fangio, he will learn to play to his full potential, hopefully playing like his idol, Broncos defensive end Demarcus Ware – Floyd’s decision to wear No. 94 was to honor Ware.
Floyd should make a smooth transition into the Bears locker room with veterans like Pernell McPhee, Lamarr Houston, and Willie Young to help the rookie transition into his outside linebacker position. Floyd, McPhee, Houston, and Young will all get their fair share of playing time, but each player will look to improve one another throughout the offseason, training camp and, of course, the regular season.
Whitehair is another versatile player who played three different spots up front at Kansas State. With the departure of veteran guard Matt Slauson, the starting left guard spot is Whitehair’s to lose. With the former Wildcat playing multiple positions in college, he brings more athleticism to the line than Slauson. Look for Whitehair to be used on plays where the guard pulls and becomes a lead block for the running backs.
Whitehair will be around some good company, especially with three-time Pro Bowler Kyle Long being the leader of the offensive line. Long isn’t afraid to show his emotions and will undoubtedly push Whitehair, as he takes him under his wing. With Whitehair learning from one of the best linemen in the NFL and bringing his hard-nosed mentality to the left side of the line, the Bears should have no worries at left guard for the foreseeable future.
Bullard was a steal for the Bears in the third round. The former Gator brings physicality and versatility to the Bears defensive line. Bullard had 18 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks playing both inside and outside in his senior year at Florida. The defensive end is a question mark going into the season and Bullard has the ability to compete and should win himself a starting spot.
If all goes according to plan, the starting line for the 2016 season should be Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman, and Bullard. Hicks (26), Goldman (22), and Bullard (22) is a formidable young starting line. It will take them some time to build chemistry. Bullard fits perfectly in this hungry group, look for him to make an impact for a defense that is on the rise in a multitude of ways.
Kwiatkoski is the physical, old-school type of player that head coach John Fox loves to have on his roster. The former Mountaineer will bring that hard-work mentality and provide depth to the Bears’ defense. He will be a key contributor in the third phase and compete for the backup inside linebacker position behind Danny Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman.
Just like Trevathan, Kwiatkoski is a bit undersized at inside linebacker; therefore, as a backup under Trevathan, the fourth round draft pick will be able to learn from the veteran who has the techniques to shed off blocks when going up against bigger interior linemen. Also, with a Polish surname like Kwiatkoski, he was a perfect pick for the Windy City.
Bush will bring fear to opposing teams. The former Hurricane made a name for himself in college by delivering big hits to his opponents. With veteran Antrelle Rolle being let go, Bush will have an opportunity to earn himself a starting spot. Bears’ fans remember the days that teams feared the Monsters of the Midway, and Bush is a guy that can bring that same nastiness and attitude to a resurging defense.
Whoever becomes the starting strong safety will have a good mentor to learn from in second-year player Adrian Amos. Amos knows what it is like to be a rookie competing for a starting spot, and he can pass down some lessons to Bush since he went through the entire experience just a season ago.
The former Panther was the second of three defensive backs drafted by the Bears. Hall is a lengthy, tall corner who knows how to take the ball away. The former Missouri Valley Defensive Player of the Year led the conference with six interceptions. Hall brings height to the Bears’ secondary (6’2) and is capable of deflecting and intercepting the ball at its highest point.
Hall could be utilized in goal line situations when the opposing team throws a jump ball to a big receiver. The fourth round draft pick models his game after former Bear Charles Tillman and with cornerback Kyle Fuller having played with Tillman, Fuller can pass down some of the techniques he has learned to Hall.
Hopefully, one of the two corners can learn how to do the “Peanut-Punch.”
The Bears added a player who is capable of wearing down a defense. Howard is a north and south runner who will lower his shoulder to finish off plays. The former Hoosier will be a good compliment to running back Jeremy Langford, who uses his speed more than power when he runs. Howard at 6’0”, 230Ibs will use his power running during short-yardage and goal line situations, where yards are hard to come by.
Houston-Carson brings a special talent to the Bears – blocking kicks.
In his career at William & Mary Houston-Carson blocked nine kicks. Blocking a kick can make a huge difference in a football game, and with so many in his career, the former Griffin will be a good asset to the team. He was also a sure tackler, evident by his 109 tackles last season. As aforementioned, the strong safety position is open for grabs. So, look for Houston-Carson to compete for a starting spot and to be a contributor on special teams.
The Bears added a competitive slot receiver who is not afraid to perform in big games. Against Ohio State and Michigan State last season he had 23 receptions for 232 yards and a touchdown. The former Bronco has a shot to earn himself some playing time this season due to the fact that so many Bears’ receivers went down a season ago. If the injury bug bites again, he will find himself having to consume a bigger role than is slotted for him.
Braverman also will compete to be a return specialist, another position that is up for grabs. He will find guidance from veteran players Eddie Royal and Marc Mariani, who have experience in the slot. Last season, Jay Cutler looked to his slot receiver in critical situations, which means Braverman could develop into a go-to target underneath. If the Bears receivers can remain healthy, and if Braverman finds his role to contribute, the offense will be much more versatile than a year ago.
Each player has the potential to be a key contributor from the get-go, which will allow the Bears to continue their march in the right direction.