The Chicago Bears were one of the biggest surprises of the NFL last season. After four consecutive losing seasons under Marc Trestman and John Fox, Matt Nagy assumed the head coaching position and completely turned this team around and was named Coach of the Year at season's end.
A culture change in the locker room was followed up by some bold roster moves by general manager Ryan Pace. The end result was a 12-4 record which gave the Bears their first winning season since 2013, and their first playoff appearance and division championship since '10. But after losing two straight games to start the month of October, playing some too-close-for-comfort games midseason, and falling at home to the Philadelphia Eagles in the Wild Card Round of the playoffs, some flaws were exposed within this team.
The Bears have already made some changes with their roster, highlighted by a trade and some free agent additions, but as we all know the draft is the ideal place to address long-term needs. In particular, Chicago may be looking to bolster depth at several positions, including running back, tight end, outside linebacker, as well as strengthen an offensive line that's dealt with more than its fair share of injuries.
The Bears don't pick until the third round and have only a few picks overall to work with thanks to the Kahlil Mack trade. Here are five players that could make sense for the Bears as the later rounds of the draft come around.
1. Devin Singletary, RB, Florida Atlantic
The NFL, and football in general, has become reliant on the forward pass. This especially holds true at the collegiate level. So as a result running backs have been devalued to some degree. But that doesn't mean that there aren't any playmakers left at the position. So while running backs aren't always first-round picks these days, you can always find one later in the draft.
The Bears may be able to do just that as Singletary is projected to be a day two, or even day three pick. In three seasons at FAU Singletary was the main reason why the Owls won 19 games (including the 2017 Boca Raton Bowl) and grabbed the 2017 Conference USA Championship during his time there. Singletary is the multi-threat type of back that coach Nagy prefers as he has exceptional skills as a rusher, receiver, and return man. His career was one for the record books as he finished with 4,968 all-purpose yards and 67 total touchdowns. If Chicago is able to select Singletary and pair him with Tarik Cohen and the recently signed Mike Davis, that will give Nagy quite the backfield.
2. Alize Mack, TE, Notre Dame
The Bears don't have to look too far from home (South Bend, Indiana) to bolster their tight end depth. Mack was among numerous playmakers on the Fighting Irish offense over the last couple of seasons. And in Brian Kelly's hybrid system (a combination of pro-style and spread) Mack caught 68 passes for 716 yards, four touchdowns, and averaged 10.5 yards per catch. Tight end became a need when the Bears realized that Trey Burton was the only productive one on last season's roster. And when Burton missed the playoffs due to injury, the Bears offense looked completely different without him on the field.
Burton will remain the starter but Adam Shaheen has yet to find his footing in the NFL, Ben Brauenecker has been ineffective thus far (both have combined for just 24 receptions), while Daniel Brown and Dion Sims have since been released (Zach Miller also retired). Mack has the ideal size (6-5, 247) that teams covet from the tight end position, and he's proven himself to be dependable as both a pass catcher and a blocker. He could wind up being a Day 2 or 3 steal.
3. Jalen Jelks, EDGE, Oregon
Jelks played defensive end in the Ducks' 4-3 alignment, but his height (6-6) and speed (4.9 40-yard dash) have some projecting him as a 3-4 outside linebacker. Jelks is considered an under-the-radar prospect as the Pac-12 Conference as a whole has had some tough seasons recently. But let there be no doubt that Jelks will find an NFL home as he recorded 155 total tackles, 30 tackles for a loss, 15.5 sacks, an interception, a forced fumble, and 11 pass deflections as a four-year starter in Eugene. The Bears need depth at outside linebacker because Kahlil Mack, Leonard Floyd, and Aaron Lynch all dealt with injuries at various points in 2018. When those injuries surfaced, Chicago's pass rush suffered as a result and that was quite evident in losses to the Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots, and the New York Giants.
4. Sutton Smith, EDGE, Northern Illinois
As another local option for the Bears, Smith was a two-time MAC Defensive Player of the Year who first put his stamp on college football back in 2017. Originally recruited as a running back, Smith moved to defensive end due to a log jam at the position. The change worked out pretty well for him as he applied his natural speed and athleticism and developed into one of the nation's top pass rushers. For his career, Smith posted 139 tackles, 58.5 tackles for a loss, 30 sacks, and seven forced fumbles. A 4-3 defensive end at NIU, his combination of size (6-1, 237) and skill set makes him an ideal fit for the 3-4. Smith will impress everyone at the next level.
5. Dru Samia, G, Oklahoma
When you're part of an offensive line that protected the last two Heisman Trophy winners you're bound to draw attention from the NFL. Samia may have played a key part in Kyler Murray's and Baker Mayfield's award-winning seasons (as well as help the Sooners field one of the nation's most explosive offenses), but experts have him ranked outside of the top five at his position. This means he could be available when the Bears pick in the later rounds. Chicago has dealt with many injuries, some of the season-ending variety (Kyle Long in 2016 and '17), along the offensive line. This impacts the cohesion of the unit that's responsible for protecting Mitchell Trubisky as well as open up lanes for the ball carriers. Having an extra body up front couldn't hurt, and Samia definitely seems to fit the bill.
— Gabe Salgado is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He's a co-host of The Rewind Sports: 60. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.