Finding the Fits: Bears' top rookies generating early buzz

James Daniels figures to be on the move from center to left guard in Chicago. Iowa Athletics

By Rob Rang,

This is part of a series -- Finding the Fits -- in which will review the more intriguing picks made during the 2018 NFL Draft. The goal is to identify one relatively unheralded player per team who appears to be a good schematic fit and, therefore, more likely to be a surprise contributor early in his pro career.

Chicago's best fit: James Daniels, OL, Iowa, selected No. 39 overall (second round)

There is a new cocktail being formed in the Midwest this summer, giving hope to fans hung over with the fact that the once-proud Chicago Bears have failed to qualify for the playoffs since 2010.

It is not particularly complicated -- starting with a shot of James (not Jack) Daniels followed quickly with an Anthony Miller (Time) chaser -- but it sure works quickly.

To the delight of second-year general manager Ryan Pace and new head coach Matt Nagy, the effect could be dizzying for the Bears' NFC North opponents. That's because few NFL teams are likely to see a more significant impact from their rookie class than Chicago -- and not just from flashy first-round pick Roquan Smith.

Daniels appears to have a more direct route to a starting role than Smith or Miller, each of whom were primarily working with the second team during the recently concluded OTAs.

But here is the twist to complete the cocktail; Daniels appears likely to be switching positions.

Daniels is officially listed as a center on the Bears' website, and that's the position he played the past two years under offensive line guru Kirk Ferentz at Iowa. However, with third-year pro Cody Whitehair already entrenched at the position and a significant hole at left guard following the release of former starter Josh Sitton, Chicago offensive line coach Harry Hiestand (another renowned blocking tutor) has Daniels on the move.

Daniels can handle the move with relative ease.

Daniels, buoyed by the quality coaching he has received, has experience at the position (having started his freshman season at left guard) and possesses the athleticism to make the switch. The 6-foot-3, 306-pounder offers rare initial quickness, change of direction and balance for a man of his size, earning a higher grade on's board than either of the two centers drafted ahead of him, Frank Ragnow (Detroit, No. 20 overall) and Billy Price (Cincinnati, No. 21).

Given the position switch and Daniels' youth (he is just 20 years old), there are bound to be some hiccups. Daniels needs to get stronger, and he faces solid competition in Eric Kush, who played under Nagy and Andy Reid in Kansas City.

"We feel there's still a lot of upside ahead, as young as he is," Pace told the Chicago media following the selection of Daniels. "You see these offensive linemen kind of get caught in awkward positions. He has the ability to recover and maintain his balance. Some guys awkwardly go down in those moments, he doesn't do that."

Pace said that Hiestand pushed hard for the selection of Daniels, specifically citing the youngster's athleticism and technique. Hiestand knows a little something about developing offensive linemen, helping mold Quenton Nelson, Mike McGlinchey and Ronnie Stanley into first-round picks in the past few years at Notre Dame. Prior to that, of course, he served five years as the Bears' offensive line coach under Lovie Smith -- the last head coach to take Chicago to the playoffs.

Other thoughts on the Bears' 2018 draft class:

The addition of Daniels helps fortify the Bears' offensive line, but the more obvious impact is likely to be seen by Smith and Miller, each of whom are also terrific schematic fits in Chicago.

Roquan Smith, at 6-1, 236 pounds, is significantly smaller than legendary Bears middle linebackers Dick Butkus (6-3, 245) and 2018 Hall of Famer inductee Brian Urlacher (6-4, 258), but he boasts exceptional speed and instincts for the position, making him perfectly suited to defend today's up-tempo offenses.

He is a classic chase linebacker with the vision, balance through traffic and acceleration to beat running backs to the perimeter and provide sticky coverage downfield. With quality veterans Nick Kwiatkowski and Danny Trevathan ahead of him on the depth chart, Smith's ascent to NFL stardom may take a bit longer than expected, but once on the field, Smith will be a difference-maker.

Anthony Miller faces a similar challenge for playing time, with the Bears spending big dollars in free agency to surround second-year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky with several established pass-catchers, including Allen Robinson (previously in Jacksonville), Taylor Gabriel (Atlanta) and Trey Burton (Philadelphia).

With all due respect to first-round picks D.J. Moore (Carolina) and Calvin Ridley (Atlanta), no receiver dominated college football any more than Miller, who averaged the 95 catches for 1,448 yards and 16 touchdowns in the past two years at Memphis.

While NFL secondaries will obviously be a much greater test than those in Conference USA, Miller is a crafty route-runner with strong hands. His solid 5-11, 201-pound frame is well-suited to playing the slot, beautifully complementing Robinson's classic size and strength at split end, Gabriel's speed at flanker and Burton's versatility as an H-back and move tight end.

Early Day Three picks Joel Iyiegbuniwe and Bilal Nichols are more long-term projects but offer intriguing upside at positions of relative strength. Late-round picks Kylie Fitts and Javon Wims struggled with inconsistency in their college careers but possess legitimate athleticism and may have posted significantly better numbers had they played for programs that took better advantage of their skill-sets.

Fitts could surprise at outside linebacker after spending his career penned up along the line of scrimmage with the Utes. Physically speaking, there are some similarities between the 6-4, 265-pound Fitts and former Bears' outside linebacker Pernell McPhee (6-3, 265), who played defensive end at Mississippi State prior to being drafted in the 2011 fifth round and converted to linebacker by the Baltimore Ravens.

Chicago's 2018 draft class:

1st Round, No. 8 overall: ILB Roquan Smith, Georgia

2nd Round, No. 39 overall: OL James Daniels, Iowa

3rd Round, No. 51 overall: WR Anthony Miller, Memphis

4th Round, No. 115 overall: LB Joel Iyiegbuniwe, Western Kentucky

5th Round, No. 145 overall: DT Bilal Nichols, Delaware

6th Round, No. 181 overall: DE/OLB Kylie Fitts, Utah

7th Round, No. 255 overall: WR Javon Wims, Georgia

Key Undrafted Free Agents Signed:

OL Dejon Allen, Hawaii

RB/FB Ryan Nall, Oregon State

CB Kevin Tolliver II, LSU

Comments (1)
No. 1-1

What are you seeing out of Ryan Nall? He looked good in college, and has a chance to contribute out of the backfield with any kind of injury to the RBs.