- Michael C. Wright, ESPN Staff Writer
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ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. unveiled his Mock 3.0 on Thursday, and just like his draft-guru colleague Todd McShay of Scouts Inc., he projected the Chicago Bears to take Pittsburgh’s Aaron Donald with the No. 14 pick.
Chicago’s signings thus far in free agency certainly make such a move prudent. Although the Bears re-signed defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff and Nate Collins before the start of free agency, the club still hasn’t put together an enticing enough offer to bring back Henry Melton, who, according to a league source, is visiting Minnesota but also has several other visits lined up.
If the Bears can’t re-sign Melton or any other starting-level defensive tackles in free agency, they’ll certainly turn to the draft to address that need. Kiper sent Florida State defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan to the Bears at No. 14 in his first two mock drafts, writing in Mock 2.0 that “I’m a bigger fan of Jernigan in a 4-3 look, where he’s using his power to go through a blocker and not trying to beat people off the snap and use quickness.”
McShay chose Donald in his last mock draft, saying, "Donald is a perfect fit for the Bears’ scheme as a 3-technique defensive tackle. I don’t know if there’s been a prospect who has helped his stock more during the draft process than him. He was unblockable at the Senior Bowl, and that, put together with an unbelievable overall workout at the combine. He’s shorter than prototype size, but he has long arms and a powerful upper body and creates a lot of big plays with his anticipation and quickness. FSU’s Timmy Jernigan is a fit as a 3-technique as well, but Donald is a much better finisher as a pass-rusher."
Kiper and McShay have both been consistent throughout their mock drafts in Chicago's using its first-round pick to address the defensive tackle position, and from this vantage point they’re on the money.
Donald might actually be more of a fit than Jernigan at No. 14 because the Bears might benefit from pairing him with Ratliff next season. If Donald doesn’t pan out early, the worst-case scenario is he would provide depth at a position that lacked it in 2013 when injuries rendered the defense rudderless.
The Bears last season gave up the most points (478) and total yards (6,313) in franchise history as opponents put together 10 100-yard-rushing performances.
Uncertainty still exists along Chicago’s defensive line despite the signings of Ratliff, Collins and free-agent defensive end Lamarr Houston. The Bears need to add along the front four to avoid experiencing another catastrophe such as what they endured in 2013.
“I feel like I can make an impact right away, feel like I can come in and have trust in the coaches and playbook and make plays right away,” Donald said last month at the NFL combine.
At this point, that’s certainly what the Bears need in their attempt to revamp the defense.