CSNChicago.com Bears Insider John "Moon" Mullin goes position-by-position as the Bears approach the 2015 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
The organization has spent a lot of recent time and money looking for true solutions in a position group once a set-it-and-forget-it with Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher. Four years ago it was drafting Shea McClellin. Then came Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene. At that point, drafting linebackers stopped in favor of using free agency for defensive ends Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston and Willie Young, who became linebackers.
Last offseason involved staffing the change to a 3-4 and another rash of free agents – Sam Acho, Mason Foster, Pernell McPhee, plus undrafted free agents. This offseason saw McClellin depart for New England and the Bears again resort to free agency with Jerrell Freeman and Danny Trevathan signed for immediate upgrades at inside linebacker. Acho was re-signed, McPhee had surgery on a balky knee and will play lighter than his previous 285 pounds, and the Bears have filler options in Christian Jones, John Timu, Jonathan Anderson and Lamin Barrow.
Jones (No. 2), McPhee (No. 4) and Acho (No. 5) were among Bears leading tacklers, and Houston led the team with eight sacks despite a slow start coming back from a knee injury that ended his 2014 season. Young finished second with 6.5 sacks operating as a de facto defensive end in 4-3 packages.
The Bears used nine different starting linebackers in 2015, with none healthy enough to start all 16 games.
Bears draft priority: Never lower than “moderate”
John Fox and Vic Fangio require impact pass rushing from their outside linebackers in particular, which Houston, McPhee and Young provided but not to the elite level Fox and Fangio count on. It is a role that is impossible to over-staff and too often too difficult to fill.
The 2016 draft is considered to have spots of this premium talent but not in the quantities of, say, the 2011 (Von Miller, Aldon Smith, J.J. Watt, all in the top 11) or even 2014 (Jadeveon Clowney, Khalil Mack, Anthony Barr, all in the top nine).
“We think that’s a deep spot in the draft,” Fox said during NFL owners meetings last month. “I don’t know about elite pass rushers. But defensive front help is obviously a deep area. Those elite pass rushers are hard to find. They don’t come around very often.”
The Bears clearly are looking for pass rushers. They put UCLA linebacker Myles Jack through a private workout, as did multiple teams with the intention of determining the exact state of his rehabbed knee, although he’s not expected to last past Jacksonville at No. 5. Georgia’s Leonard Floyd, Clemson’s Shaq Lawson, Darron Lee from Ohio State and Reggie Ragland from Alabama all had private meetings with the Bears, with Floyd in for a Halas Hall visit this month.
“I think Leonard Floyd belongs in the top 10 and could go even as high as No. 10,” said ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay via conference call. “I think he’d be a perfect fit for what Chicago’s looking for, in terms of a versatile linebacker that can be that outside linebacker, also can play some off the ball. He can drop into coverage on occasion, but what Floyd does best is rush the passer off the edge. Great initial burst, the ability to bend around the edge.”
Keep an eye on ...
Leonard Floyd, Georgia: Used inside at times last season, limiting pass rush, but still had 19 sacks over ’14-’15. Will be 24-years-old in Week 1 but has edge speed and abilities in coverage. “I think while his production didn’t always match up, and the way they used him at Georgia may be different than the way he’s used in the NFL,” McShay said, “I just think he has a chance to be more productive in the NFL than he was even in college. I think for a ’3-4’ team in Chicago, that would be a really good fit.”
Darron Lee, Ohio State: Smallish (6-foot-2, 235) but had sacks (12) and pass defenses (8) in two OSU seasons. Speed player under some NFL radars.
Antonio Morrison, Florida: Knee injuries make him late-round at best if knee injuries check out.
Reggie Ragland, Alabama: Prototypical ILB for 3-4 at 260 pounds but suspect speed for Bears’ template under Fox, Fangio.
Nick Vigil, Utah State: Extremely productive but 6-foot-2, 240 may not have mass to play inside or speed at OLB.