Finally — football is back (well, sort of). With sports around the globe shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, fans were able to receive a nice bit of nostalgia with the NFL Draft taking place as originally scheduled — albeit in a different fashion than we’re all used to.
Nonetheless, the Monsters of the Midway came into this year’s selection process with limited draft capital but plenty of holes to fill (CB, S, OL, WR, TE, RB) following a handful of roster cuts and departing free agents from last year’s squad.
So, how did Bears’ General Manager Ryan Pace fare in addressing these needs?
Round 2 (No. 43 overall) – TE Cole Kmet, Notre Dame
For many fans, along with myself, the common instant reaction was … really? Another tight end? Pace hasn’t had much luck finding a tight end to stick in Matt Nagy’s offense (Adam Shaheen, Trey Burton, Dion Sims, etc.), which is enough reason for concern. The fact is — this was a draft class that was historically deep at WR and OL, two positions of need for Chicago. Not to mention, two of the top safeties in Grant Delpit and Antoine Winfield Jr. were still on the board.
Cole Kmet, as a player, is a fine pick, but it’s hard to justify using your first pick on a TE after signing Jimmy Graham to a handsome multi-year contract in free agency. The good news? Kmet has a ton of upside and is a home-grown talent. He possesses plus traits both as a blocker and pass catcher. He could eventually develop into a Pro Bowl-caliber player, but it’s rare that rookie tight ends make a big on-field impact. With the Bears in win-now mode, they’ll need him to hit the ground running.
Round 2 (No. 50 overall) CB Jaylon Johnson, Utah
Pace managed to do his first selection some justice by getting an absolute steal with Utah cornerback Jaylon Johnson. He was able to fill a gaping roster hole left by Prince Amukamara and selected an individual who should be able to fill the starting role from Day 1. At 6-foot, he isn’t the biggest corner but makes up for it with his length, physicality and elite ball skills.
If not for his injury history (has had three surgeries on his shoulder, most recently after the combine), Johnson would have been a sure-fire first-rounder. Between 2018-2019, he received the sixth-best coverage grade amongst all FBS outside cornerbacks by Pro Football Focus, who also ranked him as a top-25 overall player on their draft big board. The tandem of Johnson (health permitting) and Kyle Fuller should wind up being a problem for opposing offenses, and the two should lock down Chicago’s corner spots for years to come. Make no mistake about it, Johnson has all the tools to become an all-pro caliber player down the line.
Round 5 (No. 155 overall) – EDGE Trevis Gipson, Tulsa
Pace lasted all the way up until the fifth round before he could no longer help himself, making a trade to acquire another pick in the fifth round, where he selected the still-raw but physically-gifted Trevis Gipson out of Tulsa. In his final collegiate season, Gipson managed to collect eight sacks and 15 tackles-for-loss. Another player who slipped further than he probably should have, PFF ranked him as their No. 92 overall player on their big board.
At 6-foot-3, 260 pounds, Gipson has both the burst and hand placement skills to be a successful pass rusher at the next level. He’s still a bit raw, but he is a good developmental piece with a high motor who can provide value on passing downs right out of the gates.
Round 5 (No. 163 overall) CB Kindle Vildor, Georgia Southern
It wouldn’t be a Bears’ draft without getting their proverbial small-school guy. This time, they were able to land a fantastic value in Georgia Southern CB Kindle Vildor. Like most small-school prospects, Vildor will have to endure a steep learning curve but brings grit and an ultra-competitive swagger to Chicago’s defense. While he’s only 5-foot-11, he plays bigger than his frame and is stingy in coverage.
He played on the outside in college but projects better in the slot as a pro. Vildor has shown above-average ball skills, managing nine interceptions and 24 passes defensed over his final three collegiate seasons. He brings plenty of physicality as well. An aggressive tackler, Vildor should be able to make an instant impact on special teams, although it may be tough for him to crack the rotation on defense in Year 1.
Round 5 (No. 173 overall) – WR Darnell Mooney, Tulane
It’s not too often you find players who can make an instant impact in the fifth round, but Pace very well may have found three of them in this year’s draft. Perhaps the most enticing of the bunch, Tulane’s Darnell Mooney brings one thing the Bears’ offense desperately needed heading into last Thursday — speed. A dynamic athlete, Mooney turned in a blistering 4.38 40 time at the NFL Combine.
He’s more than just a burner, however. Mooney plays bigger than his 5-foot-10, 175-pound frame would suggest, consistently making catches through tight windows. He may come from a smaller school but showed up big on several occasions while playing larger FBS programs. The last time Chicago drafted someone out of Tulane, it turned out pretty well …
Round 7 (No. 226 overall) – OL Arlington Hambright, Colorado
Coming into the offseason, offensive line was a glaring need for the Navy and Orange. Having limited draft capital, Pace waited all the way until the seventh round to make his move. Arlington Hambright, a 6-foot-4, 300-pound giant out of Colorado, will undoubtedly be a developmental project, but he carries some intriguing physical traits that could make him a valuable piece for the future.
In college, Hambright lined up as a left tackle and protected his quarterback’s blind side, showing plus agility for a player of his size. He portrayed good lateral quickness off the snap, beating edge rushers to their spot and keeping them off balance with his hand placement. He’s far from being a polished player, but the tools are there for the Bears’ coaching staff to work with.
Round 7 (No. 227 overall) – OG Lachavious Simmons, Tennessee State
With back-to-back picks in the seventh round, Pace opted to dip back into the offensive lineman pool, this time selecting small-school standout Lachavious Simmons. If you want to see a man amongst boys, just take a look at some of his college tape. Playing against lesser competition isn’t something he’ll get the benefit of in the NFL, but from a small-school prospect like Simmons, you want to see him excel against his peers. He did just that.
A nasty blocker who dominated in the run-game at Tennessee Tech, Simmons is still incredibly raw. He possesses plenty of sheer upper-body strength that allowed him to overpower defenders in college, but like Hambright, he’s going to take time getting adjusted to the next level. Don’t expect much of an impact from him for at least a couple of seasons.