Discounted for durability: 5 potential Bears NFL draft targets with injury concerns

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One of the true constants during Ryan Pace's time as Bears general manager has been his willingness — eagerness, even — to take chances on players rehabbing injuries or with checkered medical backgrounds who can be found on discounts.
Eddie Jackson might be Pace's best draft pick in his first four years, a universally feared playmaker on 'D,' who was only available at No. 112 because he was coming off a broken leg and previously tore his ACL at Alabama.
Allen Robinson signed for $6 million less than fellow injury risk Sammy Watkins last year because he played only three snaps in 2017 before tearing his ACL and wasn't full-go until camp in his first Bears offseason. Bears fans got a glimpse in the wild-card round of what they should expect routinely from A-Rob in Year 2.
James Daniels likely would have been drafted in Round 1 alongside fellow interior blockers Billy Price and Frank Ragnow, if not for worries about an arthritic knee condition. Daniels exceeded expectations as a 21-year-old starting left guard after mostly playing center at Iowa.
Of course no one bats 1.000, period, much less when targeting players who inherently carry greater risk, and Pace has been burned with this approach, too, by the likes of Pernell McPhee and Markus Wheaton, to name a few. Thus, it's important to strike the proper balance, not loading up on constant cold tub inhabitants, especially with the franchise coming off its most successful and healthiest (read: these aren't mutually exclusive) season in years.
Yet in his first offseason in Chicago with precious few resources, Pace's affinity for attempting to procure greater value by taking players whose injuries might deter other clubs could loom especially large. So we've identified four free agents who play positions of relative need for the Bears and have an injury or durability concern likely to influence their market.
(Editor's note: If you enjoy this piece, be sure to check our Bears' free agent discounts.)

USC EDGE Porter Gustin

A throwback player who simply knows the way home, sadly, Gustin also knows all too well the way to the trainer's room. He played in only nine combined games over the past two seasons at USC, enduring biceps, toe and ankle injuries. But before that, he showed a knack for disrupting quarterbacks with 11 sacks and 20 TFLs in his first two seasons. Gustin isn't the type of athletic phenom Pace is generally drawn to, but he showed outstanding strength with 31 reps on the bench and posted respectable 40 (4.69) and leaping results in Indy (35.5, 119") at 6-foot-4 and 255 pounds. Our Greg Gabriel calls Gustin one of the draft's "major wild cards" and a potential "late-round steal." That sounds to us like a Pace pick.

Alabama S Deionte Thompson

Will Thompson be around at pick No. 87? Unlikely. But a wrist injury in the pre-draft process could lead to at least a slight tumble, and while some have delusions of grandeur over pairing Eddie Jackson with another Alabama safety, FA Landon Collins, his former teammate Thompson is at least slightly more realistic. Pace has moved up on Day 1 or 2 in his first four drafts; if he deems the athletic and rangy Thompson as the ideal interchangeable safety opposite Jackson, it's not unfathomable he could send one of his second-rounder's next year, when the Bears should finally snap their compensatory pick drought, to go get him in Round 2.

Stanford RB Bryce Love

This one might be even more obvious than Thompson. Forget Love's sparse receiving production at Stanford; he is more than skilled enough to become a plus pass catcher at the next level. He's also a dynamic downhill runner with more juice and elusiveness than Jordan Howard — or, at least he was that two years ago, prior to an ill-advised decision to return to Palo Alto preceding him tearing his ACL in the regular-season finale. That could mean he isn't available until the latter portion of 2019. But that wouldn't scare Pace, who looks for smart, dedicated players like Love, a potentially beautiful fit in Matt Nagy's system.

Ohio State CB Kendall Sheffield

The 5-foot-11, 193-pound former Buckeye is a heck of an athlete, even if he didn't get a chance to show it at the combine, where he suffered a partially torn pectoral muscle in bench press. That ended not only his week in Indy but his pre-draft process in terms of on-field workouts and testing. Sheffield didn't play nickel in Columbus, so there's definitely a lot of projecting involved here, but he's got big-time speed and agility likely to appeal to a traits drafter like Pace. Does he solve the Bears' potential nickel void in Week 1? Not necessarily, but he has future starting ability and the Bears might be looking for someone like that as soon as 2020.

Kentucky TE C.J. Conrad

In a loaded TE class, Conrad faced an uphill battle to get drafted — even before he was sent home from the combine with a heart issue. First and foremost, we just hope Conrad is given a clean bill of health, whether or not he resumes his football career. If he does, it could be a similar situation to the one we saw last year with Michigan DT Maurice Hurst, who fell to Day 3 after a heart defect was identified at the combine before showing enough as a rookie with the Raiders to think he's a long-term building block. Conrad isn't close to the prospect that Hurst was last year, but he was a force in the Wildcat offense as a blocker with the versatility to line up all over the field and finish second on the team in catches last season. Conrad's skill set might not wow anyone, but he can do enough different things — none better than block — to potentially provide a nice complement to Trey Burton and unproven Adam Shaheen.

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