The Senior Bowl is Saturday (4 PM EST, NFL Network) and is the most prestigious of the college all-star games. Last year’s game included 8 first round picks (including Kyle Long). This year’s class won’t come close to matching that, but a couple of guys playing Saturday will sneak into the first round and there will be plenty of day 2 picks on the field. I’ve listed some players to watch at each position who could be good fits for the Bears based on positions of need and where I think the Bears will be drafting those positions. With so many holes on defense, I think Emery will use his first few picks on that side of the ball while waiting till late in day 2 or day 3 for offensive help.
Position overview: What the Bears do with Julius Peppers will have an impact on the Bears off-season strategy at DE, but regardless of whether Peppers is around, they need new blood at the position. Preferably someone who can, you know, get to the QB. I’d be shocked if the Bears don’t draft at least one DE. I covered some of the top options in my DL article last week, but here are a couple of guys that could be available in the middle rounds:
Chris Smith (6’1, 266) Arkansas: Short, but with unproportionally long arms (34 1/8). Smith showed good power, a great punch, and surprisingly polished pass rush moves.
Trent Murphy (6’6, 252) Stanford: I like Murphy a lot, but he looked more like a 3-4 OLB this week. He lost weight since the college season which tells me that Murphy prefers to be an OLB and not a rush DE. He will be playing DE in the game Saturday and his performance could impact whether the Bears think he can play the position. Murphy also got a Shea McClellin comparison this week which scares me.
Positional overview: Injury-prone DT Stephen Paea is the only DT currently on the Bears roster. Historically, the Bears carry 5 DTs, so they have some work to do at the position. There is a good chance the Bears take a DT in the first two rounds, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they take 2 before the draft is over. I’ve listed two groups of DTs below: The first group should be off the board by the end of round 2. The second group should be available in rounds 3-5.
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Aaron Donald (6’1, 288) Pittsburgh: The MVP of practice this week. Donald dominated almost every drill he was involved in. He embarrassed blockers in 1-1 drills and even won most of the double-team drills with a lightning quick first step and great use of his hands to keep blockers off of him. He was so impressive that there is literally no chance he slips to the Bears in the 2nd round as I hoped before the Senior Bowl. If the Bears want Donald they will have to use their pick at 14 to get him, which doesn’t seem like much of a reach anymore. Watch him during the game Saturday and I’m pretty sure you’ll agree.
Ra’Shede Hageman (6’6, 318) Minnesota: Got off to a slow start during practices, but after some coaching from x-Bear Bryan Cox of all people, Hageman started to dominate later in the week. He is a freak of nature with a 36″ vertical and 4.7 speed at 6’6, 318. At times he looks like the best player on the field and at times he disappears. It will be interesting to see if he can dominate consistently during the game Saturday. Either way he has too much talent to slip out of the first round and is in the running for the Bears pick at 14.
Will Sutton (6’0, 315) Arizona St: This guy is an enigma. He was a great pass rusher as junior (13 sacks), then gained 30 pounds and became a run-stopper as a senior (only 2 sacks, but Pac12 defensive player of the year). At Senior Bowl practices Sutton showed flashes of both. He flashed elite quickness at times and then looked slow and weak the next drill. It could be a conditioning issue as he did look winded during practice. Scouts seemed mixed on Sutton and how he plays Saturday could either lock up a slot at the end of the 1st round or drop him to the 2nd or even early 3rd round. Sutton has a ton of talent, so the Bears should be paying attention.
Carun Reid (6’2, 301) Princeton: Quick, disruptive DT, who was not fazed at all by the upgrade in competition this week. Reid won at the weigh-in too, showing up a solid 301 pounds without any visible fat. He was a day 3 pick coming in but if he can finish off the week with a strong game Saturday has a chance to move into the 3rd or 4th round of the draft.
Deandre Coleman (6’5, 315) California: Despite having the size and all the tools to dominate, Coleman had a mediocre senior season. He also struggled the first two days of Senior Bowl practice, then suddenly the lights turned on and Coleman was a force the last day and a half of practice. It could have been a tip from the coaches or maybe just an effort issue, but Coleman showed considerable potential late in the week and if he follows that up with a strong game Saturday he could be drafted on day 2. Coleman is more of a run-stopping DT, but has enough quickness to play the 1-technique in the Bears scheme.
Position overview: Lance Briggs probably has another 1-2 years of solid play left, but rookies Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene didn’t show enough potential or progress for the Bears to be satisfied with them both in the starting lineup next year. I expect Emery to address the linebacker position via free agency as there are usually decent veterans available for cheap, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Bears planned for the future by drafting one or two either. I’ve listed options below for each day of the draft.
Kyle Van Noy (6’3, 244) BYU: One of my favorite players in the draft, who I covered in-depth last week. Van Noy had a great week and was so smooth in coverage that he looked more like a safety than an OLB. Van Noy showed off his versatility by dominating pass rush drills as well. The guy can do it all. Unfortunately his strong showing killed any chance of Van Noy being available for the Bears in the 2nd round. Still a player to watch in case the Bears trade down in the first or up in the 2nd.
Christian Kirksy (6’2, 234) Iowa: One of the surprises of the Senior Bowl practice week. Kirksy wasn’t on my radar at all and not in the top ten of any OLB scouting lists that I’ve seen so far. He will be now. Kirksy showed good versatility by excelling in coverage drills, as a pass rusher, and showing great speed and range against the run. Kirksy would be a good fit at WLB in the Bears scheme.
Jordan Tripp (6’3, 247) Montana: One of my favorite small school prospects, Tripp has good size & speed (4.65) and was great against the run at Montana (over 300 tackles). He had a solid week of practice showcasing surprising pass rushing skills and fluid hips in coverage. If Tripp played in the SEC his measurables and production would make him a first round lock. Tripp showed this week that he can perform against top talent and it most likely raised his draft stock from a 7th rounder to a potential day 2 pick.