Malik Hooker

Clemson's Deshaun Watson is the one situation where a Bears reach has epic upside

Clemson's Deshaun Watson is the one situation where a Bears reach has epic upside

First impressions are so often the right ones, and throughout much of the pre-draft process, View from the Moon has been of the mind that LSU safety Jamal Adams would be the Bears' first selection on Day 1 of the NFL Draft. GM Ryan Pace set forth the premium the organization was placing on a ballhawking safety; Malik Hooker’s injury history raised too many concerns, and Adams was rated among the draft’s premier talents regardless of position.
 
That has changed, which is absolutely zero assurance that it was a change for the better. Because the cone of silence over Bears intentions, which may set the media a-grumbling but is at least something that the Bears have in common with Green Bay and New England, naming just a couple, is securely in place, which is a credit to the administration. (If another Administration out East were as airtight, political pundits would be reading their kids' school poems just to fill air time).
 
The revised decision to posit the Bears selecting Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson came on a wave of second thoughts drawn from information from a variety of sources. Chief among the "sources" was Pace himself, who has placed a premium on an individual capable of lifting not just the defense, but the organization. That bespoke "quarterback," and Watson gains the highest grade by virtue of intangibles on top of experience and results, with nods toward North Carolina's Mitchell Trubisky.
 
Usually the pre-draft process is to fault-find and nit-pick prospects, run 'em down a little, hedge bets. But with Watson, the closer this observer has looked, the better, not worse, the Clemson kid has looked.
 
The chief caveat or qualifier with Watson has been general consensus among draft analysts that Watson has some accuracy issues. Not that this would be any sort of picking nit to find something wrong with the guy, but his career completion percentage is 67.4, with all three of his season hit rate at or above 67 percent. No other top prospect (Trubisky Pat Mahomes, DeShone Kizer, Nathan Peterman, Brad Kaaya, Davis Webb – I stopped looking at that point) has three seasons at that level or anything approaching the consistency of all three of his college years being nearly identical for this one measure of accuracy.
 
But a mantra here this draft has been that stats and measurables should not be the starting point for evaluating quarterbacks; it should be intangibles, THEN the measurables. More on the stats in a moment.
 
On the intangibles/character graph, consider:
 
The kid finished his degree, in communications, in three years, which was how long he planned to be at Clemson. Notably, he’s not alone in this kind of degree-compartmentalizing; Leonard Fournette at LSU and Clemson teammate and wideout Artavis Scott are both on schedule for finishing their studies at about the same time as their football. This would be what this reporter considers a very, very big positive in the character area and one that more players are moving on, a good story for another time.

Watson’s chief negative cited has been turnovers, specifically his 17 interceptions in the 2016 season. That also was the season Watson took Clemson to the national championship over Alabama, and the one in which he threw 579 passes. I can’t do this at the moment, but if there are instances where Watson's play was a bit off for a particular game, it might be amusing to find out what finals/tests/labs he had due the day before. Hopefully teams don't gig him for studying something other than game film that week.
 
But back to the stats and measurables...

Watson’s 17 interceptions in 579 attempts this past college season means an interception rate of 2.9 percent – or just about exactly what Brett Favre had for his college career. Obviously, all purely for academic comparison purposes, Watson for his career was a little better than Favre, at 2.7 percent. Watson completed 67 percent or more of his passes in those three Clemson seasons, if accuracy is a concern. This year’s Super Bowl quarterbacks: Tom Brady’s Michigan pick rate was 2.7 percent; Matt Ryan threw 19 his senior year at Boston College before going No. 3 overall to Atlanta.
 
The Favre/Brady/Ryan point is this: Look beyond just the numbers, and even beyond some of the supposed smudges on Watson's game at this point. The position is about leadership and winning, and Watson comes into the draft with zero concerns there.
 
Suggesting that the Bears send up their first card with Watson's name on it doesn't ignore the dubious wisdom in drafting a player significantly higher than his grade on a draft board. But intangibles factor heavily into the quarterback position, and those aren't generally factored heavily into the grading process. Too many draft mistakes (Favre second round, Joe Montana third, Russell Wilson third, Brady sixth) were made ignoring those elements.
 
Reasons abound for the Bears not reaching for Watson at No. 3 – Jonathan Allen. Adams. Malik Hooker. Marshon Lattimore. Solomon Thomas. (Insert your choice here.) And the overall of "he’s doesn't have a top-five grade."
 
But as laid out here previously during this draft season, the quarterback position is about more than height-weight-arm strength-40 time-and such. The Bears hope they won’t ever be at No. 3-overall again. Whether they see Watson as the best chance to keep that from happening will play out later this week.

Malik Hooker carries high-risk, high-reward question for Bears

Malik Hooker carries high-risk, high-reward question for Bears

With eight interceptions and three fumble recoveries, the Bears finished dead last in the NFL with 11 takeaways in 2016. That represents a glaring need the Bears began to address with a free agency overhaul of their secondary.

The prevailing thought has been that if the Bears draft a defensive back with the third overall pick on Thursday, it'll be LSU safety Jamal Adams. But there's another safety with top-10 hype that could serve the Bears' desperate need for takeaways: Ohio State's Malik Hooker. 

[MOON'S DRAFT PREVIEW: More secondary upgrades needed

Hooker picked off seven passes as part of Ohio State's outrageously good secondary in 2016. His elite range and knack for interceptions make him a tantalizing prospect, especially for a team that needs that center fielder-type safety. 

"Any ball that's in the air, it's my ball," Hooker said. "I feel like I'm a playmaker. Any time I had a chance to make a play or change momentum of a game, I took it upon myself to do so."

But while Hooker has that ballhawking skill (and returner-like vision once he has the ball in his hands) that Adams perhaps doesn't, he doesn't appear as "safe" a pick as Adams. 

Whereas Adams played all three of his years at LSU, Hooker redshirted 2014, barely played in 2015 and then exploded last fall. One year of tape isn't much — even if it's excellent tape — which makes Hooker more of a projection. 

And it's worth noting that Hooker played hurt at the end of the year and underwent hip surgery to repair a torn labrum and sports hernia surgeries on both sides in January, too. While Hooker said at the combine he's expecting to be ready to participate in rookie minicamp in mid-May, he carries risk for a team like the Bears picking in the top five. 

Adams, on the other hand, is one of six or seven prospects ESPN's Mel Kiper and Todd McShay described on their "First Draft" podcast as "clean" — as in, without injury-related red flags — among the top 20 prospects in this year's draft. Hooker and fellow Ohio State defensive back Marshon Lattimore have injury concerns, as does Alabama's Jonathan Allen, the defensive lineman who's been mentioned as a possibility for the Bears at No. 3. 

[Check out Malik Hooker's Draft Profile]

Hooker pushed back on questions about his health in Indianapolis, explaining that he elected to have the surgery with an eye on being healthy for his first football activities with whatever team drafts him.

"The film says what it says," Hooker said. "I feel like a lot of teams will want me to be healthy for the year coming in because surgery was my decision. It wasn't like I needed the surgery, I decided to do that because at that point of the season, I knew I made the decision I was going to declare for this upcoming draft. It was moreso preparing myself to get ready for rookie minicamp coming up."

Draft history shows it's rare for a safety to be a top-five pick, let alone a top-three one. But as the NFL continues to be more and more of a pass-oriented league, why not reach for someone who can command a defense like Adams or create game-changing turnovers like Hooker?

"I feel like we're both very good players," Hooker said. "I feel like we're definitely capable of going top 10, top 5."

If the Bears think a safety is worth their highest pick since 1972, then the prevailing question becomes: Would the payoff for Hooker be worth the risk?

Bears NFL Draft Preview: More secondary upgrades needed than just FA additions

Bears NFL Draft Preview: More secondary upgrades needed than just FA additions

CSNChicago.com Bears Insider John "Moon" Mullin goes position-by-position as the Bears approach the 2017 Draft, taking a look at what the Bears have, what they might need, and what draft day and after could have in store. Last in a series.

Bears pre-draft situation

A focus of the offseason was unmistakable: Upgrade a secondary that was among the NFL's historically worst at generating takeaways. Less than one month into free agency the Bears had turned over three-fourths of the starting secondary, with no sign that the makeover of a defense that produced a record-low 11 takeaways was done.

The Bears cut veteran cornerback Tracy Porter after signing Prince Amukamara and Marcus Cooper as the presumed starting cornerbacks. The team also re-signed cornerback Johnathan Banks, a late-season pickup last year, and added B.W. Webb to that group, although the Bears become Webb's fifth team in five years, so expectations are tempered. Quintin Demps was brought in from the Texans to start at one safety spot. The other safety has been Adrian Amos, who has started 30 games in his two NFL seasons, played more than 1,800 snaps and has yet to intercept a single pass.

Bryce Callahan started five games at cornerback and another five as the nickel corner but, like Amos, is 20 games into his NFL career with zero interceptions and has yet to force or recover a fumble. Cre'Von LeBlanc was a promising waiver pickup from New England and becomes part of the competition at nickel.

The 2016 draft placed a mid-level emphasis on the secondary, with picks of Deon Bush, Deiondre' Hall and DeAndre Houston-Carson all drafted in the mid rounds but not staying healthy or on the field enough to make any appreciable impact. Add Kyle Fuller, the 2014 first-round pick and last No. 1 from a previous regime, to the non-impact ledger, missing all of last season because of an August knee surgery; the organization did not pick up the fifth-year option on his rookie contract, and the Bears are unlikely to keep him around as a backup with a $1.74 million base this year.

Pre-draft depth-chart'ing starters

CB - Prince Amukamara

CB - Marcus Cooper

SS - Quintin Demps

FS - Adrian Amos

NB - Bryce Callahan

Reserves: Johnathan Banks, De’Vante Bausby, Deon Bush, Kyle Fuller, Jacoby Glenn, Deiondre’ Hall, DeAndre Houston-Carson, Harold Jones-Quartey, Cre’Von LeBlanc, Sherrick McManis, Chris Prosinski, Rashad Reynolds, B.W. Webb.

Bears draft priority: High

Callahan, LeBlanc and depth like Banks and Harold Jones-Quartey may develop into serviceable NFL players but the Bears have had too much “serviceable” and not enough “elite” in their cornerbacks and safeties. The 2017 draft is rated as potentially one of the best-ever for cornerbacks, and two safeties – LSU’s Jamal Adams, Ohio State’s Malik Hooker – could lead to a rarity of both being picked in the top 10.

“I love Malik Hooker. I think he’s the best centerfield safety I’ve seen in years on tape,” said NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock, who considers Adams a safer pick but not the ball-finder that Hooker is. But Mayock expressed serious concerns about Hooker’s injury history and durability.

GM Ryan Pace has placed a premium on a ballhawking safety and acknowledged that such a creature does indeed live within this year’s draft. During Pace’s tenure with the New Orleans personnel departments the Saints selected defensive backs with one of their top two picks in eight of the 10 drafts between 2005-14.

Those picks included safety Kenny Vaccaro at No. 15 in 2013, safety Malcolm Jenkins at No. 14 in 2009 and safety Roman Harper in the 2006 second round. Safety Josh Bullocks (second round, 2005) finished his career in the 2010 with the Bears.

Pace has selected four defensive backs among the 15 Bears picks in his two drafts as general manager. But two were fourth-rounders, one a fifth and one a sixth, and none were expected to be day one starters; Amos became a starter when neither Ryan Mundy nor Brock Vereen proved capable. He is unlikely to go that deep into his third draft before picking another.

Keep an eye on ...

Jamal Adams, S, LSU      Not the interception maker that Hooker was in ’16 but his 4.33-sec. time in a post-Combine 40 sent his stock soaring. A hitter and possibly a prototype strong safety rather than a ball hawk, but “I can play everything in the back end, whether that's covering in the slot, whether that's playing man-free, whether that's being in the A and B gap, filling that hole, or locking down tight ends,” Adams declared during the Combine. “I feel like I'm versatile to play everything in the back end, and that's what makes me a special player." ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper has slotted Adams going 7-10 in the first round.

Malik Hooker, S, Ohio State     Bears arranged a private meeting but too much of a major injury cloud hangs over Hooker, arguably the best pass-defender among the safety prospects. “Hooker, he’s got a little Ed Reed in him,” Kiper said. “I think when you look at Hooker, he’s not that super-aggressive tackling safety, but you sacrifice a little bit now because the NFL is a pass-happy league. But he’s an adequate tackler.”

John Johnson, S, Boston College    Four-year player with excellent coverage skills and ability to make plays on the football. Good prospect if he lasts into third round.

Josh Jones, S, N.C. State         Another DB with whom the Bears set up a private workout. Jones had 8 interceptions over three productive college seasons and showed impressive (4.41) 40 speed at 220 pounds. Not rated as highly as Adams or Hooker but projects as a day one starter even coming via second round.

Marshon Lattimore, CB, Ohio State  The consensus top cover corner but who has missed significant time in two seasons because of hamstring injuries, which are a red flag because of recurrence possibilities – which included another strain while running at the Combine. The fact that Lattimore later tweeted that it wasn’t a hamstring, but instead a hip flexor problem, made matters worse on some teams’ draft boards. Lattimore has elite speed and had 4 interceptions last season but the injuries have dropped him down in some first-round projections. NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock projects Lattimore going within the first seven picks of the draft.

Ezra Robinson, CB, Tennessee State      The Bears thought enough of Robinson to meet privately with the alum from a program that has sent Claude Humphrey, Ed Too Tall Jones, Richard Dent and others to the NFL. If teams are satisfied with his mindset, he did intercept 5 last season and may be a mid-round bargain.