Unless you consider AJ Mosely a middle linebacker, there aren’t any stars in this draft at MLB. That doesn’t mean there isn’t value though and the top 4-5 MLB prospects have the potential to be solid starting MLBs in the league for a long time. Just don’t expect any Urlachers or Keuchlys. Here are the three best MLB options and a couple of hard-hitting run stoppers who are probably 2-down LBs but could help fix the gaping hole in the middle of the Bears run defense.
Shane Skov (6’3, 244) STAN: Emotional leader of a very good Stanford defense, Skov is a throwback MLB. He’s a big-hitter and run stuffer between the hashes. He’s not the quickest guy on the field but makes up for it with great instincts. Skov uses those instincts so well on blitzes that there were multiple plays that he was in the backfield so quick it looked like he was off-sides. Despite limited speed, Skov is solid in zone coverage, but does struggle to stay with tight ends in man-to-man coverage. Overall, Skov can contribute immediately as a 2-down run stopper with the potential to be a 3-down force at MLB in a 4-3 or 3-4 scheme. Skov did blow out his ACL in 2011, so that could cause Skov to slip a little if teams are worried about his medical history. As far as the Bears are concerned, Skov would bring toughness back to the MLB position and his aggressive playing style would make him a fan favorite right away.
NFL comparison: Brandon Spikes
Yawin Smallwood (6’3, 236) UCONN: Solid MLB with average measurables who is pretty good at everything but doesn’t possess one great skill. If I had to pick one it would be stopping the run. Smallwood has good instincts, a quick burst to the ball carrier and doesn’t miss many tackles, though he isn’t much of a hitter. He was a three-year starter and compiled some pretty impressive stats last year as a junior (118 tackles, 9.5 TFLs, 4 sacks). Smallwood would probably be projected a round higher if he went to a traditional football powerhouse which may benefit the Bears if he falls to the 3rd round. The competition at UConn isn’t great, but to Smallwood’s credit he had his best game of the season against Michigan (13 tackles, 1 sack, 1 pd). The Bears recent hire of UConn head coach, Paul Pasqualoni, as their new linebackers coach could increase the chances that the Bears call Smallwood’s name in round 3 of the draft.
NFL comparison: Sean Lee
Chris Borland (5’11, 242) WIS: Instinctive tackling machine who is going to drop in the draft due to his lack of height. There aren’t many good LBs under 6 foot tall, but there have been a few of them (Zach Thomas / Lofa Tatupu). Borland is a big hitter who racked up 112 tackles in 2103 and has shown a knack for forcing fumbles. He’s like a smaller version of Stanford’s Shane Skov; When you watch Wisconsin play, you can tell Borland is the leader of the defense and he always seems to be around the ball. His lack of height will be an issue in coverage, but at worst Borland will be an aggressive 2-down run stopper who can make an impact right away.
NFL comparison: Zach Thomas
Highlights (best hit at 3:08)
Max Bullough (6’3, 250) MSU: Tough, very strong MLB. Bullough excels between the hash marks and is a force against inside runs. The question at the next level will be whether he is athletic enough to do anything besides stuff the run. He might not have the speed or agility necessary to play MLB in a 4-3. It didn’t help that he showed up at practice for the East-West Shrine game about 10 pounds over his playing weight. Right now he looks more like a 3-4 ILB, but if he loses some weight and runs well at the combine he might have a chance in the middle of a 4-3. He’s an old school MLB that would give the Bears the tough inside presence they lacked last season.
NFL comparison: Dannell Ellerbe
Andrew Jackson (6’1, 265) WKU: Like most of the guys on this list, Jackson is an aggressive run-stuffer. Last season the Bears LB core was as soft as I’ve ever seen it in the 25ish years I’ve been watching. The Bears need some toughness, an enforcer, someone who can put some fear into opponents. Those are things Jackson can do. He was one of the hardest hitting LBs in college football last year. What he can’t do is run well enough to stay with RBs and TEs in coverage. If Jackson runs better than expected at the combine he could move up as high as the 3rd round. If instead he runs in his usual 4.7-4.8 range, the Bears should have a shot at him in the 4th or 5th round.
NFL comparison: David Harris
Defensive Coordinator (1/6)
Defensive scheme: 3-4 (1/7)
Current Bear Free Agents: (1/8)
NFL Free Agents: (1/10)
Draft Picks – Defense:
Defensive Line (1/15)
Defensive Backs (1/17)