DE Ethan Westbrooks (6’4, 264) West Texas A&M: In the last two years, Westbrooks has racked up 47.5 TFLs and 26.5 sacks. Even at a DII school, that is pretty impressive. The increase in competition didn’t slow him down at all at the Shrine game, as Westbrooks collected 2 sacks and was constantly generating pressure in the backfield. Westbrooks earned the defensive MVP and at times looked unblockable despite playing against an offensive tackle from Nebraska. Westbrooks’ best asset is an explosive first step, but he has been criticized for his play against the run. I think run defense is fixable with good coaching, while the ability to get the QB is something innate that players either have or don’t.
Bears: Emery rolled the dice on a couple of small school D-lineman last year (Minter, Baas) so we know he’s willing to look anywhere for defensive line talent. The Bears need to find players who can get to the QB and that seems to be Westbrooks primary skill. He could be drafted as early as the 4th round.
DE Larry Webster (6’6, 249) Bloomberg: I covered Webster in my D-line preview and his performance at the Shrine game increased my interest in him as a DE prospect. He had a sack in the game on a bull rush that pancaked the offensive tackle. For a lanky guy under 250 pounds, that is impressive strength. Like Westbrooks, Webster struggles against the run, but he has an ideal DE frame and continues to show natural pass rushing skills.
Bears: Another small school DE prospect. I think Webster is farther away from contributing than Westbrooks because he needs to gain weight and has only been playing DE for two years. That being said, Webster has more upside due to his ideal height and speed.
LB Andrew Jackson (6’1, 259) Western Kentucky: One of my favorite MLB prospects (and favorite president) who I covered in my linebackers draft article last week. Jackson is a fiery player and noticeable leader on the field who has been one of the hardest hitters in college football the last two seasons. He didn’t disappoint during the shrine game, forcing a fumble that was returned for a touchdown. Jackson solidified his spot as a mid round pick.
Bears: The Bears need some toughness at LB after last season’s debacle. Jackson has toughness in spades. He’s going to struggle in coverage and may only be a 2-down linebacker but the Bears rarely had 3 linebackers on the field on 3rd down anyway and they desperately need help stopping the run. Jackson would be a steal in round 4 or later.
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LB Max Bullough (6’3, 245) Michigan St: Was the lead story the first day of practice after he showed up 15-20 pounds overweight with a noticeable gut. Bullough either celebrated the Spartans Rose Bowl win for a couple of extra weeks or he is trying to gain weight to attract teams looking for a 3-4 ILB. I’m not sure why he would limit himself to 3-4 teams when he could be drafted by either as long as he runs well at the combine. Bullough is a hard-hitting run stuffer who might be just a 2-down LB, but he’ll make an impact while on the field. He’s a two-time captain at MSU, all Big Ten selection, and national academic scholar. Bullough’s draft stock is in free-fall right now due to his weight gain, a mysterious suspension from the Rose Bowl, and refusing to speak to the media during the week of practice. Bullough didn’t do enough during the Shrine game to help his draft stock, but that could benefit the Bears if he slips to round 5 or later.
Bears: I hate harping on the fact that the Bears couldn’t stop the run last year, but it needs to be addressed. The Bears need a few guys who are tough, instinctive run stoppers and that’s Max Bullough to a T.
CB Ross Cockrell (6’0, 183) Duke: Had a solid week of practice and followed it up with a nice interception in the game. Cockrell has good size, reportedly runs a 4.5 40, and was very productive in his career at Duke (12 INTs). He is weak against the run, but could provide value as a nickel or dime back.
Bears: The Bears are short at corner (pun intended) with only Jennings & Frey on the active roster, but have more glaring holes at pretty much every other defensive position. I’d be surprised if the Bears use an early pick on a CB, but Cockrell could provide value as a 4th CB and will probably be available in the 5th or 6th round.
CB Andre Hal (6’0, 186) Vanderbilt: He was 2nd team all-SEC so Hal has already shown he can compete in the best non-NFL conference. Hal had a solid week of practice showing he could stay with anyone on either roster in coverage and had an impressive INT during the game that was called back due to a suspect PI call. Hal isn’t strong against the run, but the coverage skills are there and with a little added bulk he could be a starting CB down the road.
Bears: The Bears need depth at CB and a guy like Hal could provide that with a late draft pick for the next year or two before moving into a starting role when Jennings gets too old/expensive.
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S Tre Boston (6’1, 205) North Carolina: Excels in coverage with good range, natural ball skills, and soft hands. Boston struggled with run defense early in his career, but improved significantly his senior season. Boston also put on weight every year in college and if he continues to do so it will improve his ability to stop the run. He had a nice play in the Shrine bowl, bursting through the line to stuff the running back for a loss in the backfield. Boston is underrated right now as a 4th-5th round pick and if he stays in that range the Bears could have a steal.
Bears: Boston has the talent to be a starting NFL free safety. He would be a good option for the Bears in the 4th round if they pass on safeties with their first three picks.
S Alden Darby (5’11, 195) Arizona St: An undersized SS at ASU, Darby made 1st team all Pac-12 last season. Darby is clearly too small to play SS at the NFL level, but looked like a natural FS at the Shrine bowl. In roughly two quarters of play, Darby had two interceptions and a couple of nice tackles on screens and dump off passes. Despite his small stature, Darby is a big hitter and sure tackler. He looked good in coverage when asked to at ASU, but there isn’t much film on him at the free safety position so Darby is somewhat of a mystery. He has the speed and the athleticism to play the position, but there will probably be some growing pains as he learns the nuances at the next level. His hard-hitting and sound tackling will play well on special teams in the short-term.
Bears: The Bears need four new safeties. Darby would be a good value pick in the 6th or 7th round where he is currently projected.