In the final part of my “Fixing the Bears Defense” series, I will look at defensive players the Bears might target in the 2014 NFL draft. There aren’t any glaring holes on offense, so I expect most of this year’s draft picks to be on the defensive side of the ball. Both GM Phil Emery and coach Marc Trestman have harped on adding youth and speed to the defense and there is no better (or cheaper) way to do that than through the draft. I had originally planned to cover all positions in one article, but that would have resulted in a 20 page epic, so I am splitting it into three parts: defensive line prospects, linebackers, and defensive backs. This is just the start of my draft coverage so I’m keeping the lists to 5-6 players per position. I will have more extensive and detailed positional rankings for you later this off-season.
I won’t be happy if both Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene are in the starting lineup next year and I don’t think Phil Emery will be either. That is how it looks on the roster right now though, so the Bears need to get to work. The free agent OLB class is weak, but luckily it is one of the deeper positions in this year’s draft. There are 4-5 potential studs at OLB projected to go in the first few rounds and hopefully the Bears will snag one of them. Here is a breakdown of the top options and a couple of sleepers:
Khalil Mack (6’3, 248) BUF: Pass-rush specialist who was moved all over the field in college. His best NFL position is probably 3-4 OLB, but he has enough size & speed to play outside in a 4-3 as well. Mack gets to the QB extremely well (28.5 sacks in career) and is a natural play-maker. In 4 years at Buffalo Mack had 72.5 TFLs, just 5.5 shy of the NCAA record and 16 forced fumbles. The lack of competition Mack faced at Buffalo is a concern, but he had 2.5 sacks against Ohio St, so its not like he padded his stats only against weak teams.
NFL comparison: Von Miller
CJ Mosley (6’2, 232) ALA: Outstanding instincts diagnosing the run/pass with speed to make plays all over the field. Mosley is the most balanced LB in this year’s class and doesn’t have any obvious weakness. He started for 2.5 years on one of the best defenses in the country and was their most productive player. Mosley is strong against the run, great in coverage, and a sneaky good blitzer. Any team that gets Mosley will be lucky.
NFL comparison: Derrick Brooks
Ryan Shazier (6’2, 226) OSU: An explosive weak-side linebacker with elite speed (rumored to have run a 4.35 40), Shazier would be a top 10 pick if he was 20 pounds heavier. When I watch Ohio St, Shazier looks like the fastest player on the field and his range, lightning first-step, well-timed blitzes and closing speed really stand out. Where he’s drafted is going to depend on how a team feels about having a 225 pound linebacker. Besides needing to add a few extra pounds, Shazier also needs to improve his ability to shed blocks and his coverage skills aren’t as good as they should be considering his speed.
NFL comparison: Lavonte David
Kyle Van Noy (6’3, 245) BYU: Well balanced LB who would have been a first round pick if he had come out after his junior year (13 sacks, 22 TFLs, 6 FF), but his production dipped as a senior (4 sacks, 18 TFLs). Van Noy has few, if any, weaknesses in his game. He’s great in coverage, an explosive pass rusher, and has excellent range against the run. I hope he’s available when the Bears pick in round 2.
NFL comparison: Sio Moore
Telvin Smith (6’2, 218) FSU: A poor man’s Shazier, Smith is small for an OLB but can really fly from sideline-to-sideline. Smith’s best asset at the pro level will be in coverage where he can lock down an opposing RB, TE, or even slot WR. He’s a solid form tackler but can be overpowered by blockers and big RBs due to his thin frame. With the recent success of smallish LBs like Kiko Alonzo & Wesley Woodyard and the NFL becoming a pass-first league, a guy like Smith could sneak in to the 3rd round and make an immediate impact as a sub-package LB on passing downs.
NFL comparison: Wesley Woodyard
Jonathon Brown (6’1, 235) ILL: The 3-time all Big 10 selection had a very productive career for the Illini (317 tackles, 45.5 TFLs, 14 sacks). Brown is a hard hitter with good speed and coverage skills. He does struggle at times to shed blocks and is susceptible to cut blocks, but overall he is a solid OLB prospect who could provide great value for the Bears on day 3 of the draft.
NFL comparison: Chad Greenway