The Bears drafted a couple of defensive tackles today, which put a smile on my face. It was hard to watch the Bears interior D-line last year as guys like Bennie Cunningham and Brandon Jacobs had career days running right up the middle. The Bears have always prided themselves on their defense and through three rounds, Phil Emery has taken some solid steps to rebuild it. Now that the Bears have a starting caliber corner and a couple DTs with potential on the roster, what’s next? Normally by this point it wouldn’t matter much, but this year’s draft is so deep there are probably two more rounds worth of quality NFL players still available. Half of this list are safeties because I think that’s the Bears biggest position of need right now. Here is the list of players I like the most for the Bears on day 3.
Wish List – Rounds 4 & 5
FS Jonathan Dowling, Western Kentucky (6’3, 190) – Unless the Bears are content with Chris Conte as the starting free safety, they will need to find one in the draft because M.D. Jennings is a long shot to win the job. I think Dowling has the most upside of the remaining safeties. Dowling is a better athlete then you would normally find at WKU, he started out at Florida before being dismissed for “authority issues”. Dowling has great size for a safety, good ball skills, and a knack for forcing turnovers (9 INTs, 8 forced fumbles in 2 seasons). He has an issue with missing tackles due to his penchant for head-hunting, but is a legit enforcer in the middle. Dowling has the talent of a 2nd or 3rd rounder with the only concern being his willingness to accept coaching, stemming from his incident with Florida coaches over 3 years ago. Dowling has the chance to be a Mike Brown type play-maker at free safety, but there is some risk due to off-field / mental issues. He’s well worth the risk this late in the draft.
WR Bruce Ellington, South Carolina (5’9, 197) – Ellington is a phenomenal athlete (he was South Carolina’s starting point guard as a freshman). He lacks height, but is thickly built and with a 39.5″ vertical can go up and get the ball. Ellington’s best trait is his quickness and he should be a dangerous underneath receiver. He moves like a running back after the catch and would give the Bears a weapon over the middle that they just don’t have right now. Ellington could also contribute in the return game.
S Craig Loston, LSU (5’11, 217) – Great athlete and a big hitter, who is a little raw technique wise but has a ton of potential. Loston will be a force against the run from day 1, but his coverage skills need some work. He has the natural athleticism to become proficient in coverage and could eventually develop into a pro-bowl caliber strong safety. Loston could sit behind Mundy for a year while he improves his coverage technique and be ready to start in 2015.
ILB Shave Skov, Stanford (6’2, 245) - Plays with a ferocity and toughness that the Bears defense could use. Skov was the emotional leader of a very tough Stanford defense last year. His pregame speeches are legendary for inspiring teammates, but more importantly his play on the field set the tone for Stanford’s fierce, hard-hitting defense. Skov is a sure tackler who can lay the lumber on opposing running backs or receivers crossing the middle. His blitzing instincts are so good that he is in the backfield so quick it looks like he is off-sides. Skov has just enough speed for MLB in a 4-3, but makes up for it with great overall instincts. His man coverage needs work, but Skov plays very well in zone coverage. His floor is a 2-down run stuffer, but he has the ceiling of an impact 3-down MLB.
CB/S Jaylen Watkins, Florida (5’11, 194) - Watkins played both corner and safety at Florida, showing good versatility and a team first attitude. He stood out at the Senior Bowl as one of the most polished defensive backs there and had the best speed (4.41) / power (22 reps) combo of all the corners at the combine. Watkins has the potential to be solid in coverage and is already a sure tackler who is aggressive against the run. Despite being the 3rd corner at Florida, Watkins is going to be the best pro of the group at whatever position he ends up. He could start at safety if the Conte/Jennings combo is disappointing (will be) or provide depth at corner for a year or two before moving into a starting role.
OLB Telvin Smith, Florida St (6’3, 218) - If he were 20 pounds heavier he might have been a first round pick. Smith was one of the most impressive LBs I’ve watched in this class. He has elite speed and excellent instincts. In the Senior Bowl, Smith snuffed out 3 screen plays by himself. At FSU he was constantly around the ball and didn’t miss many tackles. Smith is solid in coverage and a violent blitzer. Teams will be wary of drafting a 218 pound linebacker and some will look to move him to safety. Wherever he ends up, Smith is a heck of a football player and will be an asset on special teams. If the Bears keep him at OLB, he could be Briggs replacement as soon as 2015.