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Every week during the 2021 NFL season, we’re going to — just being honest here — overreact to what we’ve seen on the field for a different NFL team and begin projecting NFL draft prospects at positions of concerning need.
Think of it as a mini one-team mock draft, with early (Rounds 1-2), middle (Rounds 3-4) and late (Rounds 5-7) prospects at each team’s respective position of concern.
This week’s NFL draft makeover is for the Chicago Bears.
Monday's loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers was the Bears' fourth straight, dropping the team's record from 3-2 to 3-6 and into third place in the NFC North, four games back of the first-place Green Bay Packers.
There were three main takeaways from the loss through a Bears-centric viewpoint:
Justin Fields can play in this league.
The referees had a rough night.
The Bears need help at many other positions not named quarterback.
The Bears traded their first-round pick in 2022 when they moved up to take Fields. That certainly will hinder their rebuild in the short term, even while the deal still looks good for the long haul.
Allen Robinson and Akiem Hicks lead a 22-man crop of Bears players due to hit unrestricted free agency next March. Of that group, you can call at least a dozen of them starters or significant contributors. The team currently has in the range of $50 million under the projected 2022 salary cap, but some of that money will be earmarked for keeping their own players.
Plus, there's the matter of the fates of head coach Matt Nagy and GM Ryan Pace. Will both be back? Both gone? Nagy's 31-26 record and two playoff appearances in three-plus seasons help his cause, but fans seemingly have turned on him since his 12-win debut season.
Who will be running the team and making key personnel decisions remains unclear now. But the team's biggest voids going forward are more transparent, we think.
The Bears lack first- and fourth-round picks in 2022 after the Fields trade. They gained a fifth-rounder from the Texans (and lost a seventh) in the Anthony Miller deal. They're not projected to receive any compensatory picks. Here are some areas Chicago could address in next spring's draft:
Purdue WR David Bell
Robinson is a free agent-to-be, and the vibe around him — even after a good game vs. the Steelers — is that he'll be anxious to look around. He's been criminally underused this season (5.6 targets per game, 1 TD in 2021) and could try to flee unless he believes the connection with Fields can flourish.
It's also regarded as a strong free-agent class at wideout, so the Bears certainly could dip into the veteran market. But even if they do, there's a need to add more to this group. Darnell Mooney has established himself as one of the likely starters next season. But if Robinson walks, there currently isn't another receiver on the roster over 190 pounds.
Bell was our choice for the Bears in our first 2022 NFL mock draft last week, and we're sticking with the pairing here. He's a bigger-framed receiver at 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds and has been adept at patrolling the short and intermediate areas of the field while also springing the occasional deep catch.
With 203 grabs in 26 college games, he's the definition of a volume receiver. He's caught nine or more passes in 12 of those games and tuned up an excellent Iowa defense with an impressive 11 catches for 240 yards and a touchdown earlier this season.
We love Bell's competitiveness, toughness and strength, which make him a great yards-after-the-catch weapon. Although he lacks great speed, he consistently finds ways to separate and give his quarterbacks a very reliable option. Bell also has been effective in the RPO game, something the Bears likely will be asking Fields to do more of over time.
Bell, Mooney and perhaps a veteran addition (Michael Gallup? D.J. Chark?) would make a quality trio for Fields going forward.
Boston College C Alec Lindstrom
Lindstrom is a three-year starter, now anchoring one of the best offensive lines in college football this season. We think he has a chance to last to the Bears' third-round pick, which could land somewhere in the high 60s or low 70s overall, and develop into a long-term starter at center.
The Bears have been going with Sam Mustipher at center this season, receiving a sub-par performance overall from him. They certainly could shift James Daniels or Cody Whitehair back to center, but both have fared well at guard.
Lindstrom's excellent football bloodlines include his father, Chris, who spent a few years in the NFL as a defensive lineman (and whose first start came against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field); his uncle, Dave, who spent eight years as a defensive lineman with the Chiefs (and who ran for Senate in 2020); and older brother, Chris, who has started 29 games at right guard for the Falcons.
Although the youngest Lindstrom is a tad undersized, isn't athletically rare and might be a one-position player in the NFL, he features enough power and athleticism to add toughness and smarts to an NFL offensive line. He's a plus technician who rarely is out of position and always appears ready to strike and counter.
A blue-collar center for a blue-collar city makes for a nice fit. Lindstrom is a lefthanded snapper, which could require some adjustment for Fields when he's under center, but that should only be a speed bump.
We also considered an offensive tackle here, as Jason Peters likely is a one-year rental. But as the Bears drafted both Teven Jenkins and Larry Borom this year, drafting another tackle high might be a questionable allocation of resources. They could instead target a short-term veteran in free agency to compete with the youngsters.
UCLA S Qwuantrezz Knight
Both Tashaun Gipson and DeAndre Houston-Carson are free agents, and Eddie Jackson has been a disappointment. The safety position in Chicago likely needs some new blood, even if two of the three return in 2022. Jackson's contract makes it tough to move him in the offseason, and locker-room favorite Houston-Carson can be brought back cheaply, we suspect, but more is needed.
Knight doesn't profile as a center-fielder type. But he has displayed some strong read-and-react skills in the "striker" role in the Bruins' defenses to carve out a role as a box/overhang defender and possible matchup piece against backs and tight ends. Where Knight excels is in run defense and as a blitzer, even if the UCLA coaches don't give him enough chances to do the latter in our opinion.
Coming into the season, the well-traveled Knight (who played previously at Maryland and Kent State) received mostly late-round and PFA grades from NFL scouts. The biggest questions for him are his lack of great size and speed, along with his lack of playmaking ability in the passing game (zero INTs, seven PDs in 52 career games).
He's also an older prospect who will turn 25 years old next October. But Knight plays passionately, is regarded as a leader, has special-teams capabilities and could carve out a roster spot as a late pick.