(670 The Score) After failing to fortify their roster in free agency, the Bears have added pressure to hit in the NFL Draft, which starts April 29.
While the draft serves as the primary tool to address long-term roster needs, the jobs of Bears general manager Ryan Pace and coach Matt Nagy are on the line in 2021. Their Bears need to show improvement after consecutive 8-8 regular seasons, and the team's salary cap crunch didn't allow for improvement in free agency.
The Bears have several considerable voids on their roster. The draft offers a chance to address those. Here's a look at the Bears' top five positional needs in the draft and how they could be addressed.
What else did you expect at the top?
The quarterback position has haunted the Bears for much of their existence in the NFL's modern era, as the franchise still doesn't have a 4,000-yard passing season from anyone. By comparison, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has accomplished that feat nine times since 2008.
The Bears signed veteran quarterback Andy Dalton to a one-year deal in March and named him the team's starter, but the possibility still looms that Chicago drafts a quarterback early. Even Dalton realizes that.
"We’ll see if that’s the case and what we do in the draft," Dalton said. "But I’ve got no problem with that.”
The Bears hold the No. 20 overall pick in the first round. Pace has never been shy about making bold moves in the draft. If he wants one of the first-round quarterback talents, the Bears would need to move up and mortgage future draft capital -- likely a first-round pick in 2022 or several of the team's eight picks this year.
Quarterbacks are expected to be taken with the first three picks in the draft, and as many as five could go in the top 10 selections. Some combination of Mac Jones (Alabama), Trey Lance (North Dakota State) and Justin Fields (Ohio State) should be available outside the top five and within the top 10 or 15 picks.
Florida quarterback Kyle Trask is projected to be the sixth quarterback selected and would almost certainly be available for the Bears at No. 20. Absent of a major move up in the first round, Pace and the Bears could look to a quarterback in the second round, where they own the No. 52 overall pick.
Trading up to grab Trask in the second round is a possibility, or the Bears could turn their focus to Kellen Mond (Texas A&M) or Davis Mills (Stanford) on the second day of the draft.
Quarterback prospects expected to be selected on the third day of the draft include Ian Book (Notre Dame) and Sam Ehlinger (Texas). The Bears notably hired Ehlinger's former college coach, Tom Herman, as an offensive analyst.
2.) Offensive tackle
The Bears believe they've addressed their interior offensive line for 2021 and beyond, but the tackle positions remain a concern.
The Bears have filled their tackle positions with temporary solutions, with right tackle Germain Ifedi returning on a one-year deal and the team standing pat with left tackle Charles Leno Jr. and his complicated contract. It's likely that neither Ifedi nor Leno is with the Bears in 2022.
The Bears may address the need in this draft, which could see six or more offensive tackles selected in the first round. In fact, tackle feels like the position most likely to be filled by the Bears if they hold onto the No. 20 pick.
Rashawn Slater (Northwestern) and Penei Sewell (Oregon) are seen as potential top-10 picks. Beyond them, there are first-round talents in Alijah Vera-Tucker (USC), Alex Leatherwood (Alabama), Teven Jenkins (Oklahoma State) and Christian Darrisaw (Virginia Tech).
Liam Eichenberg (Notre Dame), Jalen Mayfield (Michigan) and Sam Cosmi (Texas) are among the tackles who could be available on the second day of the draft, when the second and third rounds are conducted.
It all sets up the interesting possibility of the Bears selecting a quarterback and tackle, in some order, with their first two picks.
Three different starters have lined up alongside Eddie Jackson at safety for the Bears over the last three years.
The departure of Adrian Amos to the Packers after the 2018 season has led to a revolving door at the position, which welcomed in Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in 2019 and Tashaun Gipson last season. While the depth chart also includes reserves like Deon Bush and DeAndre Houston-Carson, it's time for the Bears to address the other safety position for the long term.
The Bears still intend to address the safety position, Pace said recently, and perhaps that comes in the draft.
This draft class isn't top-loaded with safety talent like in years past, so it's possible the first safety goes off the board late in the second round. Trevon Moehrig (TCU), Jevon Holland (Oregon) and Richie Grant (UCF) lead this class of safeties and should all be options in the middle rounds. There are also a pair of Syracuse safeties in Andre Cisco and Ifeatu Melifonwu who offer upside.
Pace has hit on safeties on the third day of the draft twice in his Bears tenure, taking Amos in the fifth round in 2015 and Jackson in the fourth round in 2017. It'd be helpful if he strikes again at this spot.
In Darnell Mooney, the Bears finally found a complement to star receiver Allen Robinson. But their depth at the position is questionable beyond the top two.
Anthony Miller, Javon Wims and Riley Ridley have each failed to assert themselves on the depth chart, and the Bears are still seeking a viable third target. They didn't add a receiver in free agency, leaving a void at the position. The Bears really need to draft a receiver -- not only for depth purposes in 2021 but also as a potential replacement for Robinson after this season.
Fortunately for the Bears, this draft class is deep at receiver. It's part of the reason why the free-agent market was slow at the position. Beyond the top talents like De'Vonta Smith (Alabama), Ja'Marr Chase (LSU) and Jaylen Waddle (Alabama), there will several difference-making receivers available on the second day of the draft.
Kadarius Toney (Florida), Terrace Marshall Jr. (LSU), Elijah Moore (Ole Miss), Rashod Bateman (Minnesota) and Rondale Moore (Purdue) represent the next batch of receivers. There will be many other options available in the third round and down.
The Bears got worse by releasing cornerback Kyle Fuller in a salary cap crunch.
Veteran cornerback Desmond Trufant was added in free agency and could be the immediate starter alongside Jaylon Johnson. The Bears are also excited to see what growth could come from Kindle Vildor, a fifth-round pick in 2020 who has displayed potential, but cornerback remains a position of need.
There should be strong cornerback options for the Bears at No. 20. Caleb Farley (Virginia Tech) would be a top-10 pick if not for a recent back procedure, so he could make sense for Chicago. Patrick Surtain (Alabama), Jaycee Horn (South Carolina) and Greg Newsome (Northwestern) are also names to watch.
If the Bears want to get creative, they could draft Melifonwu, who has the potential to swing between safety and cornerback. There's also a familiar name who should be available on the third day in Florida State's Asante Samuel Jr., the son of four-time Pro Bowl cornerback Asante Samuel.
Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for 670TheScore.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.