Bears’ biggest question at each defensive position ahead of 2022 NFL draft


NFL draft week is officially upon us and the wait to find out the next Chicago Bears draft class is nearly over. General manager Ryan Poles, heading into his first draft as the man in charge, has already begun overhauling the team roster and now gets the chance to truly make his mark in the draft.

While the focus is on the concerns surrounding the offense and quarterback Justin Fields, there are plenty of questions on the defensive side of the ball. With new head coach Matt Eberflus in place, the Bears are transitioning to a 4-3 defense, and they’ll have to deal with the losses of some significant contributors.

There are plenty of questions to answer, but here are our most pressing ones for each defensive position (and special teams) heading into draft weekend.

Edge rusher: Will the Bears trade Robert Quinn?

AP Photo/Duane Burleson

Following the Khalil Mack trade, there’s been speculation about whether Poles would be open to dealing Robert Quinn. Quinn is coming off a 18.5-sack season — a new single-season franchise record — and his trade value will never be higher than it is right now. Edge rusher appears to be the strength of this defense right now, which also includes Trevis Gipson and newcomer Al-Quadin Muhammad coming off the edge. But considering a pre-June 1 trade would incur $12.7 in dead money, it doesn’t seem likely. While the Bears might not trade Quinn at the draft, it could be a different story come the trade deadline in October, where they could get more in return from a team competing for a playoff spot and salary cap freedom.

Defensive line: How big of a priority will the interior be in the draft?

AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

When it comes to immediate needs, defensive line is certainly not at the top of the list. While the Bears lost Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman and Bilal Nichols this offseason, they added Justin Jones to fill the starting three-technique role in Eberflus’ defense. Where things stand, Khyiris Tonga figures to be the starting nose tackle. But Eberflus made it clear that there’s going to be plenty of rotation along the defensive line, which makes depth guys like Angelo Blackson and Mario Edwards important. With a slew of needs and currently just six draft picks, it’ll be interesting to see how big of a priority the defensive line will be.

Linebacker: When is a Roquan Smith contract extension coming?

AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

The Bears still have a starting linebacker spot up for grabs alongside Roquan Smith and newcomer Nicholas Morrow. But still the biggest question is about Smith’s future with the team. Smith is entering the final year of his rookie contract (after his fifth-year option was picked up), and he’s in line for a huge contract extension. Poles noted a desire to get a contract extension done before the start of the regular season, but there’s no real timeline in place.

Cornerback: Who starts opposite Jaylon Johnson?

AP Photo/Rick Osentoski

No doubt Chicago’s biggest concern on defense is at cornerback, where the question is who will be starting opposite Jaylon Johnson on the outside. This offseason, the Bears added Tavon Young to serve as the starting slot cornerback. When looking at the current roster, second-year pro Thomas Graham Jr. figures to have the current edge on the outside. But there was a limited sample size in his rookie season, where he flashed potential. Still, the expectation is Chicago will look at add a playmaking cornerback with one of their top three selections.

Safety: Who will be starting opposite Eddie Jackson?

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There are plenty of questions in the secondary for the Bears, including who will be starting alongside Eddie Jackson at safety. Jackson gets a fresh slate with a new coaching staff, and all eyes will be on the former fourth-round pick to see if he’ll finally live up to his massive contract extension. But there’s also the matter of who will be starting opposite him following the departure of Tashaun Gipson in free agency. Chicago signed Dane Cruikshank earlier this offseason, and he figures to factor into the starting role, as well as re-signed DeAndre Houston-Carson. Could the Bears find Jackson’s running mate in the NFL draft?

Special teams: Is Ryan Winslow the Bears’ answer at punter?

AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

The Bears special teams unit is going to look different in 2022 following the departure of punter Pat O’Donnell in free agency. Kicker Cairo Santos and long snapper Patrick Scales remain in contact, but there’s a question about whether or not Ryan Winslow, the only punter currently on the roster, is the plan for the 2022 season. For a team like Chicago with an abundance of needs and limited draft capital, someone like San Diego State’s Matt Araiza might not be on the table in the sixth round. We’ll see if Poles decides to add competition at punter for Winslow in the draft or undrafted free agency.

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