Photo by David Phillip.
Chicago Bears first round draft pick Roquan Smith stands with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell after he was selected.
Now that second year quarterback Mitch Trubisky has valuable experience under his belt, the Chicago Bears move toward the final step of their rebuild in the 2018 NFL draft. Following a 5-11 finish to last season, general manager Ryan Pace understood defense was a priority this year.
The Bears capitalized in the first round, selecting All-American linebacker Roquan Smith with the eighth overall pick in the draft. The SEC defensive player of the year led the Georgia Bulldogs with 137 tackles and fueled their run to the national championship.
“Such a great night to come away with one of the best defensive players in the draft, we’re fired up,” said Pace in an interview with the Tenyardline.com. “He’s got such a great burst. He’s such a sudden, twitchy player. He times his blitz well. He can uncoil when he hits, so when he strikes a guy, he’s very impactful.”
Smith’s speed, power and ability to defend the pass will make him a new staple of the Bears defense. He is the club’s highest-draft linebacker since they selected Waymond Bryant fourth overall in 1974.
“I can’t put it into words how excited I am about this opportunity to be a Chicago Bear. It’s insane, and I’m ready to give the city of Chicago everything I have in me,” Smith said.
The Bears, built around their franchise quarterback in the second round, drafted versatile offensive lineman James Daniels of Iowa. A center in college, Daniels will compete for a starting left guard spot, concurrently training at center this summer.
Despite signing wide receivers Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel this offseason, the Bears addressed the need and added depth to the position in round two. With the 51st overall pick, Chicago nabbed wide receiver Anthony Miller, adding another weapon for Trubisky.
Miller was a consideration based on his success as an unheard-of walk-on to the all-time leading receiver at the University of Memphis, plus his dynamic playmaking skills compliment his competitive fire and athleticism.
“Anybody who knows his story knows that he has every right to have that confidence,” said Chicago’s head coach, Matt Nagy.
After a strong first two days of the draft, Pace took a few gambles in the later rounds. Though he was projected to be a fifth round pick, Chicago selected linebacker Joel “Iggy” Iyiegbuniwe in the fourth round. Iggy led Western Kentucky with 116 tackles and offers explosive talent but needs to improve technically.
Continuing with the defensive-heavy theme, the Bears then took defensive tackle Bilal Nichols of Delaware and defensive end Kylie Fitts of Utah. The six-foot-four-inch Nicholas offers great size and length for the position, while Fitts has shown he’s a capable pass rusher, when healthy. In the final round, Chicago drafted Georgia’s leading receiver of last season, Javon Wims.
Nagy now takes on the challenging task of propelling the roster to new levels in hopes of freeing the Bears from the last place finishes they’ve compiled since 2014. The first-year head coach is eager to begin summer workouts with his new team.
“My whiteboard upstairs is starting to get kind of busy,” Nagy said. “And it gets busy with circles. Now it can start."