Drafts are generally never won in the first round and Ryan Pace has made a name for himself in the sleeper game. While his first-round selections haven’t always panned out as he might have hoped (cough Kevin White cough), he has nailed Pro Bowl talent in the later rounds of the draft. Digging up top rusher Jordan Howard and the All-Pro safety Adrian Amos in the fifth round and Week 7 NFC Defensive Player of the Week safety Eddie Jackson in the fourth, Pace has a nose for value in the late rounds.
So in order to prepare for the draft and Pace’s usual expertise, let’s lay out some unexplored names that may be the next great sleeper for the Bears.
Jeff Holland, EDGE, Auburn
As the pass rush becomes increasingly more valuable and the Bears tissue-paper thin at the position, Holland could be a perfect fit for the Bears. He brings a physical edge to his pass rush, very aggressive in his pursuit of the quarterback. He also possesses an instinctual nose for the quarterback, racking up 10 sacks and 13 tackles for loss in his final season.
Held only back by a lack of truly elite athleticism, Holland has a world of possibility in the pass rush game. His powerful upper body and uncanny senses add up to a potentially dangerous pass rusher. He brings an attractively hard-nosed style and with Leonard Floyd, who is coming off a torn ACL, as the only serviceable pass rusher on the roster, Holland will be a perfect late round pickup.
Geron Christian, T, Louisville
With the departure of Josh Sitton leaving the Bears pretty shallow in the interior offensive line and already having very little outside, picking a guard or tackle up in the later rounds will be critical for protecting Trubisky. Kyle Long, despite coming off multiple surgeries, is a top guard in the league when healthy and Cody Whitehair has yet to reach his full potential plus a season of weak tackle play, the need for a left guard or tackle still stands. So enter Geron Christian.
He is a lengthy tackle with the footwork and athleticism to keep up with speedy edge rushers. Balanced and smooth, he is built for the modern NFL. Once he really learns how to utilize his length and puts on a little more upper body strength, he has the chance to be a perennial starter in the NFL. And so long as Bobby Massie and Charles Leno Jr. continue to flounder, picking up Christian will be huge for the pass protection.
M.J. Stewart, CB, North Carolina
The defensive back position isn’t quite as sparse thanks to Kyle Fuller’s resurgence and the resigning of the solid Prince Amukamara but with weaknesses deeper in the depth chart, Stewart could be a huge late round pickup. He can shift to safety with his great ball skills and physical tackling but armed with shutdown man coverage, he can play any defensive back position Vic Fangio needs him to.
He brings a “see it, hit it” mindset to the defense, a physical edge the Bears love. While he lacks the long end speed to keep up with the burners of the league, his man coverage and instinctive timing on passes will be a nice boost to the pass defense. With very little past Fuller and Amukamara, Stewart will be the perfect addition to the depth chart for his rookie year.
Breeland Speaks, DT/DE, Ole Miss
The Bears possess very little pass rush opposite Akiem Hicks on the defensive line and with Pace more than likely aiming for an edge in the earlier rounds, the defensive end hole can fill later by Speaks. An uber-athletic and powerful pass-rushing tackle, he specializes in flat-out disrupting the offense. He responds well to the flow of the game and combined with a strong motor, he can rattle an offense’s gameplay.
He plays with attitude and while his emotions do get the better of him from time to time, he brings an edge the Bears defense historically embodies. Speaks, however, does have a really low floor due to his inconsistency and having only a single impressive season under him. He comes with a lot of what ifs and raw potential but the talent is there. With careful coaching, he can very well be a big piece of the pass rush and the defense as a whole.
Simmie Cobbs Jr., WR, Indiana
Wide receiver may not be a pressing need after the relief of Allen Robinson, but Cobbs could be too valuable to pass up in the later rounds. While teams are wary of his off-field issue (resisted arrest at a July 2017 concert) and he is projected to fall due to his poor route running, lack of separation, and his over-reliance on his massive six foot three frame, his skill set requires an accurate quarterback in order to succeed at the next level.
With the Bears flaunting the wonderfully accurate Mitchell Trubisky under center, Cobbs often breathtaking ability to win 50-50 balls and body control gives the offense a highlight reel weapon. Being a red zone asset, his enticing size, and mastery of the end zone fade is worth a late round look.