Projecting the Bears’ 2022 starting defense ahead of 2022 NFL draft

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There’s plenty of uncertainty surrounding the Chicago Bears heading into the 2022 season, and it’s hard to predict exactly what this team will look like with roster holes to fill. Even ahead of the 2022 NFL draft.

Following free agency, Bears general manager Ryan Poles still has some work to do to continue building his roster, including on defense. Chicago has some glaring needs at cornerback, linebacker and defensive line.

Ahead of the 2022 NFL draft, we’re projecting what the Bears starting defense will look like.

DE Robert Quinn

AP Photo/Duane Burleson

Following the Khalil Mack trade, there are questions about whether Robert Quinn could also be on the trade block. But right now, it doesn’t seem likely. Quinn, the team’s top pass rusher, is coming off a record-setting season with Chicago, where he totaled 18.5 sacks.

DE Trevis Gipson

AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson

While the Bears signed Al-Quadin Muhammad, Trevis Gipson projects to get an opportunity to start at edge rusher opposite Quinn. Gipson had an impressive 2021 season, where he saw significant action in place of an injured Mack.

DT Justin Jones

AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

After not signing Larry Ogunjobi due to a failed physical, Justin Jones is in line to serve as the three-technique on the defensive line. Jones is coming off an impressive season with the Chargers, where he had career highs in tackles (37), sacks (3.0) and QB hits (5).

DT Khyiris Tonga

AP Photo/David Banks

With Eddie Goldman’s release, Khyiris Tonga is next in line as the 1-technique (nose tackle) spot. Tonga saw significant action in his rookie season, where he showed promise as a disruptive defender, particularly as a run stuffer.

LB Roquan Smith

AP Photo/Paul Sancya

Roquan Smith has been one of the NFL’s best linebackers, and he’ll be a focal point in Eberflus’ defense. Smith, who is in-line for a contract extension, figures to assume the weak-side linebacker role.

LB Nicholas Morrow

David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

The Bears appear to have found another starting linebacker alongside Smith in Nicholas Morrow, who signed a one-year deal. Morrow missed last season due to a foot injury suffered in the preseason. But in 2020, Morrow had career highs in total tackles (78), tackles for loss (eight), sacks (three) and QB hits (six).

LB: Future draft pick

MARK HOFFMAN/MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL

The Bears still have a glaring need at linebacker, where they’re in need of a starting linebacker alongside Smith and Morrow. While Chicago hosted Anthony Hitchens a couple of weeks ago, it seems like they’ll target someone in the NFL draft.

CB Jaylon Johnson

AP Photo/Rick Osentoski

Jaylon Johnson is one of the building blocks for this defense moving forward, and he’s coming off another solid season. Johnson is the clear-cut CB1 where things stand, where the hope is he’ll take another step forward.

CB Thomas Graham Jr.

AP Photo/Kamil Krzaczynski

The Bears will likely target a cornerback in the NFL draft, but right now we don’t know whether they intend to use one of their earlier picks or a Day 3 selection. With that in mind, Thomas Graham Jr. will have a chance to compete for the starting job in 2022, so he gets the nod — at least right now.

S Eddie Jackson

USA Today Sports

Eddie Jackson was promised a fresh start in Eberflus’ defense, where he has a chance to finally live up to his contract extension. Jackson will be leading the way at safety, where the hope is Jackson can return to his early-career form.

S Dane Cruikshank

USA Today Sports

The Bears could certainly target a safety in the NFL draft to start opposite Jackson, but Dane Cruikshank certainly figures to compete for the starting role. Right now, Cruikshank gets the starting nod.

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