CHICAGO — With the NFL seamlessly navigating the cyber world to complete a three-day draft Saturday evening, it’s more apparent than ever in the real world that the Bears are relying on coach Matt Nagy and new quarterback Nick Foles to turn around last season’s bankrupt offense.
General manager Ryan Pace entered the draft with a shortage of capital, armed with two second-round picks and five late-round selections, so it’s not as if this is revelatory. But the direction the team went underscores the idea that the Bears are counting on Nagy, changes he made to his staff and what is expected to be a switch at quarterback to revitalize an offense that ranked 29th in scoring and was in the bottom five in numerous key categories.
Those clamoring for an influx of talent on the offensive line will either have to get over it or remain angry. The Bears didn’t bring in prospects until Round 7, when they selected Colorado’s Arlington Hambright and Tennessee State’s Lachavious Simmons. If one of those two projects works out, it will be a win. But they represent long-range plays, and the Bears are betting on new line coach Juan Castillo and possibly Germain Ifedi at right guard to turn a weakness from last season into a strength.
This broad overview doesn’t mean Notre Dame’s Cole Kmet was an unwise selection with the team’s top pick at No. 43. He could wind up being a building block for seasons to come. But tight end can be one of the more difficult positions for rookies to make a big impact, at least statistically. Former first-round pick Greg Olsen, a more skilled receiver coming out of college, produced 39 catches for 391 yards and two touchdowns in his first season with the Bears.
Kmet, 21, projects as a versatile tight end who possesses upside as both a receiver and blocker. He can run routes from a run formation, meaning the Bears can have more success throwing the ball without having to spread out all over the field. He’s young, he was a two-sport athlete in college and his best football clearly is ahead of him. How much he can provide as a rookie remains to be seen.
Pace then went the sensible direction, matching a need with a highly ranked player on the team’s board by drafting Utah cornerback Jaylon Johnson with the second Round 2 pick, adding a player who should compete for a starting position quickly.
Then the long wait was on — the Bears didn’t choose again until they traded a 2021 fourth-round pick to the division-rival Vikings to get a fifth-round pick and draft Georgia Southern cornerback Kindle Vildor, who some believe will be best as a nickel option down the road. Later in Round 5, the Bears tapped into the deep class of wide receivers, selecting Darnell Mooney, a skinny speedster from Tulane.
Mooney blazed through the 40-yard dash at the scouting combine in 4.38 seconds, which will remind some of Johnny Knox, a Bears fifth-round pick in 2009 who was clocked at 4.34 seconds in Indianapolis. To help out, Mooney will have to adapt to the NFL, something last year’s fourth-round pick, Riley Ridley, struggled with as he barely saw the field. Mooney fits in as the replacement for Taylor Gabriel, who was released after suffering two concussions last season.
In a way, perhaps Ridley is one of the big winners this weekend because the Bears didn’t invest more at a position that is going to need improved play to help Foles or Mitch Trubisky. If Ridley can step up and make a contribution, the offense will be better for it.
That brings us back to the big picture. The Bears announced that Foles, acquired via trade and guaranteed $21 million, will be in an open competition with 2017 first-round pick Trubisky. The only thing that matters in selecting the quarterback is how Nagy feels, and if the coach was content with Trubisky as his starter in the first place, there wouldn’t be a battle for the starting job. So this is tilted in Foles’ direction from the start.
Changing quarterbacks is obviously a huge move, but other than that, the Bears haven’t done a lot on offense with the exception of overhauling the tight end room, which now is led by Jimmy Graham, Kmet and Demetrius Harris. Better production from Foles or Trubisky, if he manages to keep his job, is obviously the biggest improvement the Bears can hope to get on offense.
But with free agency and the draft in the rearview mirror and uncertainty about when the team will be able to take the field for football drills again, it’s evident the Bears are staking their hopes for major improvement on the coach and likely his new quarterback.
It has set a different tone than a year ago, when discussion centered around the idea that individuals and the unit as a whole would take a large step forward in Year 2 of Nagy’s offense. The coach won’t lack for confidence, and hopefully he won’t lack playmakers.
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