CSNChicago.com Bears Insider John "Moon" Mullin goes position-by-position as the Bears approach the 2016 Draft, taking a look at what the Bears have, what they might need and what draft day could have in store.
Bears pre-draft situation
One reality with the Bears’ 3-4 scheme is that the line between defensive ends and linebackers gets a little blurry; maybe not in “I’m an end, not a linebacker” mind of Willie Young, but for the rest of us.
That’s actually part of the idea, however, behind why a career 4-3 coach like John Fox tilted toward the different scheme. Offenses are tasked with some sorting out who’s rushing, who’s dropping and who’s just kinda hangin’ out, lurking. Fox likes offenses guessing.
The problem for the 2015 Bears is that they were doing too much of the guessing, playing Game 16 with just one defensive lineman (Will Sutton) active who had been with the team in training camp, and just Sutton and Mitch Unrein starting as linemen (plus Young and his identity crisis).
Ray McDonald didn’t work out; neither did Jeremiah Ratliff. Ego Ferguson was a 16-game rotation player as a 2014 rookie but played just four games last year before going on IR with knee surgery. Jarvis Jenkins started the first 15 games at defensive end, then was inactive for Detroit with an ankle injury.
The play of Eddie Goldman at nose tackle was a franchise-grade positive, a second-round pick who finished fourth among rookies with 4.5 sacks and establishing himself as the anchor of the defensive front.
Personnel then went after and landed massive (325 pounds) defensive end Akiem Hicks, drafted by New Orleans while Ryan Pace was Saints pro scouting director. Unrein re-signed with the Bears and Ferguson was on a rehab pace that impressed his bosses.
“This guy’s been rehabbing, working every single day, might be the most consistent performer since the season ended,” Fox said. “We’ll see. I don’t know what that means, I just know that’s a good thing.”
Sutton went from an undersized tackle on a roster bubble going into training camp to a spot starter at both end and nose tackle, and one of the keys in D-line coach Jay Rodgers’ rotation and finishing second in tackles to Goldman among defensive linemen.
Bears draft priority: High
Fox has been adamant about the need for more pass rushing, and he watched his former Denver Broncos team knock around the Carolina Panthers with pass rush — edge and interior — for a Super Bowl win. The Bears passed on costly line signings like Malik Jackson and Olivier Vernon and targeted Hicks.
But the other starting defensive end is unsettled, given the status of Ferguson in particular. Sutton and Unrein are solid but not viewed as top front-line impact forces.
The 2016 draft class has been cast as one of the best and deepest groups ever for defensive linemen. One will clearly be available at No. 11 in the first round, probably more than one.
But which one? And are the Bears looking for an end/5-techique in the Hicks (325) mold or someone akin to a Justin Smith (285) that achieved All-Pro for Vic Fangio in San Francisco? A true tackle like Alabama’s A’Shawn Robinson (315) who can work all three line spots, or a hybrid like Clemson’s Shaq Lawson (280)?
The Bears under Pace have been committed to best player available. Based on who lasts beyond the Top 10, that decision may be made partially for them.
Keep an eye on ...
Shaq Lawson, Clemson: ‘Tweener at 275 pounds who had 12.5 sacks and 25.5 TFL’s in ’15. Would need to add bulk to play 5-technique, which doesn’t always translate well. Out of the Pernell McPhee mold.
Emmanuel Ogbah, Oklahoma State: Elite-level pass rusher with 24 sacks, 34 TFL’s, PD’s over past 2 years, has size and speed to play DE or OLB.
Jarran Reed, Alabama: Shorter (6-3) than ideal but an aggressive down-lineman capable of playing multiple spots with some pocket-push.
Roy Robertson-Harris, Texas-El Paso: Willie Young-type tall (6-7, 255) pass rusher without huge numbers but possible steal in mid rounds.
A’Shawn Robinson, Alabama: Young (21) power player similar to Goldman (5.5 sacks in ’13, 3.5 in ’15) with huge upside who will only get better with NFL conditioning.