Bears go defensive on day three of NFL Draft

Bears fourth-round pick, OLB Joel Iyiegbuniwe of Western Kentucky.

Bears fourth-round pick, OLB Joel Iyiegbuniwe of Western Kentucky.

The Chicago Bears went the defensive route Saturday as the NFL Draft concluded. With picks in each round (four through seven), the Bears chose defensive players on three of the four picks.

Surprising many observers, the Bears selected speedy and athletic outside linebacker Joel Iyiegbuniwe of Western Kentucky with their fourth-round (115th overall) pick. The 6-1, 230 pound Iyiegbuniwe was unheralded throughout the draft process, but ran well at the NFL combine and at his pro day, raising interest from scouts.  His tape confirmed a run and hit prospect who is willing to throw his body around and displays the suddenness to impact at the next level.  Iyiegbuniwe was a tackling machine with the Hilltoppers, collecting 117 overall stops, including 11.5 for loss.

The defensive trend continued in the fifth and sixth-rounds. The Bears chose underrated DT Bilal Nichols from Delaware. Nichols 2017 season wasn’t as impressive as 2016, but the Blue Hens shifted defensive schemes and asked Nichols to occupy blockers in a “read and react” strategy rather than attack.  The 6-4, 300 pound Nichols is at his best where he can utilize his initial get off and quickness to attack upfield. He demonstrated those traits in the post-season, earning favorable reviews at both the Shrine game and Senior Bowl.  He’ll be counted on in Chicago to replace the departed Mitch Unrein, who signed in free agency with Tampa.

Kylie Fitts, the Bears sixth-rounder, was a productive and high-energy defender with Utah when healthy.  Fitts, a 6-4, 260 pound San Bernardino native, struggled with nagging injuries much of his college career, raising a few red flags and pushing down his draft stock.  When he was on the field, Fitts displays a quick first-step and the natural bend needed to get around the edge. His football intelligence and keen instincts should enable him to find a role as a situational rusher and core special teamer, provided he can remain healthy.

The Bears went back to offense with their seventh-round pick, stockpiling additional weapons for Mitch Trubisky.  Georgia’s Javon Wims makes acrobatic catches and has the long frame to become a red-zone weapon.  He’s not overly fast and could struggle to beat the jam from defenders, but Wims frame and competitiveness give him an opportunity to develop into a solid possession receiver who wins his share of 50/50 balls.

Bear Tracks: Immediately following the draft, Chicago scouts worked the phones to recruit undrafted free agents (UDFA).  The Bears roster remains a work in progress and it’s likely that a handful of UDFA’s could have a real opportunity to crack the final 53-man roster.  The Bears invested heavily in the deep patrol, signing these defenders: CB Kevin Toliver, LSU, Dubuque (Division 3) standout CB Michael Joseph, Indiana CB Rashard Fant, TCU DB Nick Orr, Notre Dame teammates LB Nyles Morgan and DE/OLB Andrew Trumbetti, Shepherd OLB Elijah Norris, Pittsburgh P Ryan Winslow, Bucknell DL Abudallah Anderson  and Maryland OLB Cavon Walker. Chicago also inked former Oregon State RB Ryan Nall and Kentucky WR Garrett Johnson.  The rookies and free agents see the field for the first time when the Bears conduct their rookie mini-camp May 11-13.

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