Between the Bears hitting the bye week with a 3-5 record and the rest of the NFL reaching the midway point of the season, there’s no better time than the present to check out at what lies ahead on the draft board.
And, hey, what do you know … Pro Football Focus recently released its first mock 2018 NFL Draft.
And with the ninth selection in the 2018 NFL draft, Steve Palazzolo has the Bears selecting University of Texas offensive tackle Connor Williams. All things equal, Williams – who is as decorated of a college offensive line prospect as they come – is a fine pick.
As a freshman, Williams started 12 games at left tackle for the Longhorns and earned first-team All-America honors from USA Today, ESPN.com, and the Football Writers Association of America. In his second year, he became the fourth Longhorns player to earn All-American honors as a sophomore. As you can then imagine, Williams then entered 2017 with high expectations and was even named a preseason All-American and placed on preseason award watch lists, including the Maxwell Award and Outland Trophy.
Unfortunately, there’s a BUT when it comes to Williams’ future – and it’s a big one.
The potential franchise left tackle suffered a sprained MCL and PCL in his left knee against Southern California in September, which has limited him to just three games in 2017. There is no timetable for his return, but Williams is still expected to be a first-round pick if he chooses to forgo his senior season. Still, knee surgery as a junior is a blow for Williams and gives pause to any team looking to draft him.
Williams seems to have the necessary attributes to be an impact tackle and the Bears have a need at the position. However, it’s hard to imagine GM Ryan Pace using a top-10 pick on a player with medical red flags. A lot can change between now and draft day, and maybe a clean bill of health when the NFL Combine rolls around will change things. If not, Williams is just one of four offensive tackles PFF has going in the first round of its first mock draft, including Oklahoma’s Orlando Brown – who is as intriguing of a college prospect as Williams – going one spot later.
It would be nice if the Bears bolstered the offensive line in front of Mitch Trubisky, but there are other areas of need heading into 2018.
Chicago has six wide receivers who grade out as “below average” or “poor” on PFF’s grading scale on their roster, including injured Markus Wheaton and Kevin White. Palazzolo has four receivers going in Round 1, with Oklahoma State’s James Washington the first off the board at seven to the Baltimore Ravens. Other first-round receivers include Alabama’s Calvin Ridley, Colorado State’s Michael Gallup, and SMU’s Cortland Sutton. Finding a way to land one of these prospects could turn out to be beneficial for Trubisky’s development in Year 2.
The Bears also have starters at tight end (Dion Sims), center (Cody Whitehair), and cornerback (Marcus Cooper) who have earned poor grades in 2017. It would be difficult for the Bears to make a pick in an area that doesn’t need help.