Bears hoping to unearth more draft gems

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The Bears traded away their picks in the first two rounds of this year’s draft, but that doesn’t mean the NFC North champions won’t be able to land any impact players.

No NFL team has done a better job in recent years of unearthing gems in the middle rounds of the draft than the Bears. Only four players selected in the fourth and fifth rounds the past two years have been voted to the Pro Bowl, and two of them are Bears: 2017 fourth-round choices Eddie Jackson and Tarik Cohen.

The other two to earn Pro Bowl recognition are 49ers tight end George Kittle (2017 fifth round) and Seahawks punter Michael Dickson (2018 fifth round).

In 2016, the Bears spent a fifth-round pick on running back Jordan Howard, who broke the franchise’s rookie rushing record with 1,313 yards and was voted to the Pro Bowl.

“I think it speaks to our college scouts, it really does,” said general manager Ryan Pace. “[Director of player personnel] Josh Lucas, [assistant director of player personnel] Champ [Kelly] and ‘Sado’ (director of college scouting Mark Sadowski) and all the area scouts, the job they do is remarkable. They help set the [draft] board, and you’ve got to give them a lot of credit.”

In 2018, Jackson recorded six interceptions and scored three touchdowns on two interception returns and a fumble return. His five defensive TDs since joining the Bears are tied for the most by a player in his first two NFL seasons (with the Jets’ Erik McMillan in 1988-89).

Jackson was named NFC defensive player of the month for November. He helped lead the Bears to a 4-0 record, scoring three touchdowns while recording 15 tackles, two interceptions, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery and four pass breakups.

Cohen was voted to the Pro Bowl as a return specialist in 2018 after leading the NFL with 411 punt-return yards. He also rushed for 444 yards and three touchdowns on 99 attempts and caught a team-leading 71 passes for 725 yards and five TDs.

In the process, Cohen became only the second player in NFL history to gain at least 500 yards via rushing, receiving, punt returns and kickoff returns in his first 25 career games.

Howard rushed for 935 yards and a team-leading nine TDs on 250 carries in 2018. His production increased late in the year; he rushed for 323 yards in the Bears’ final four regular-season games—including his only two 100-yard outings—after gaining 203, 236 and 173 in the first three quarters of the season, respectively.

With 3,370 yards in three seasons, Howard ranks seventh on the Bears’ all-time rushing list and third among NFL backs since 2016, trailing only the Cowboys’ Ezekiel Elliott (4,048 yards) and the Rams’ Todd Gurley (3,441).

The Bears have five choices in this year’s draft, which will be conducted April 25-27 in Nashville: No. 87 in the third round, No. 126 in the fourth round, No. 162 in the fifth round and Nos. 222 and 238 in the seventh round.

Last year the Bears dealt their first- and sixth-round picks to the Raiders as part of the blockbuster Khalil Mack trade and sent their second-round choice to the Patriots to move up to select receiver Anthony Miller in the second round of the draft.

The Bears acquired the No. 222 pick in the seventh round last year from the Eagles in exchange for cornerback Deiondre’ Hall.

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