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Chicago Bears turn to defense on final day of draft
By GENE CHAMBERLAIN
LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) While the Chicago Bears addressed one need at linebacker early in the NFL draft, their problem at outside pass rusher had to wait.
It waited until the sixth round on Saturday.
Bears general manager Ryan Pace turned largely to the defensive side in the final day with three selections, including sixth-round defensive end Kylie Fitts from Utah.
Before Fitts, the Bears selected Western Kentucky inside linebacker Joel Iyiegbuniwe in Round 4, and Delaware defensive tackle Bilal Nichols in Round 5. They closed out the draft in the seventh round by taking another target for quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, Georgia wide receiver Javon Wims.
After grabbing Georgia standout inside linebacker Roquan Smith with the No. 8 overall pick on Thursday, the Bears drafted Iowa center James Daniels with the 39th pick on Friday, then traded up to select Memphis receiver Anthony Miller at No. 51.
Yet there was no outside pass rush help until they took Fitts as the Bears stuck to their draft board instead of moving up or reaching for a player at a position of need.
"You've just got to be careful that you don't force these things," Pace said. "I'm glad we attacked needs, but we also took best players on the board."
Now they'll be left to rely on free agent acquisition Aaron Lynch and third-year linebacker Leonard Floyd for an outside pass rush, while considering remaining unrestricted free agents or undrafted free agents.
Overall, productive safe picks replaced potential and risky selections for Chicago, as Pace made only one trade in his first draft since Matt Nagy became coach.
Last year, Pace traded up to select Trubisky with the second pick of the draft after Trubisky had just 13 college starts. He picked fast, undersized pass rusher Floyd in the first round in 2016, and in 2015 drafted inexperienced wide receiver Kevin White. White has played in five NFL games due to injuries.
The Bears finished last in the NFC North for the fourth straight year and have missed the playoffs every season since 2010, leading to the firing of coach John Fox. They haven't posted a winning record since 2012, Lovie Smith's final year.
A defensive end in Utah's 4-3 formation, Fitts has more than his inexperience in the Bears' 3-4 scheme to overcome. He had a Lisfranc ligament tear in his foot in 2016 and played in only two games, then had shoulder and ankle sprains last year.
Fitts called the injuries the reason he dropped from a projected pick in the third or fifth rounds to the sixth.
"It was just a run of bad luck and I think I got it all out of the way," Fitts said. "I think it definitely made me into a stronger man and I'm healthy now and I'm excited to play for the Bears."
Going undrafted until the final round gave Georgia's Wims a familiar overlooked feeling.
When the Bears' seventh-round pick came out of high school, he had to go to NAIA Belhaven after only one year of high school football and because of poor grades. Wims left Belhaven for Hinds Junior College, earned a scholarship to Georgia, and helped lead the Bulldogs to the national title game last year with team highs of 45 catches, 720 yards and nine touchdowns.
Delaware's Nichols has a real inside Bears connection. Nagy is a Delaware grad, as is Bears offensive assistant Brian Ginn, who played quarterback and was an assistant for the Blue Hens.
"Coach Ginn, he's an awesome guy," Nichols said. "He was one of the guys that helped recruit me at Delaware. Unbelievable guy, great guy."
Additional outside pass rushers are needed because the Bears like to use a rotation of three or four outside rushers. Fitts joins Howard Jones, Isaiah Irving and Sam Acho as potential outside pass rushers behind Lynch and Floyd.
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Updated April 28, 2018