I covered some undrafted free agent targets on offense yesterday and now I’ll get to the defensive players. This is one of the deepest drafts in recent memory, so the Bears have a legitimate shot to pick up a few NFL caliber players after the draft this year. They haven’t had much luck with UFAs in the past , but other teams have (Vontez Burfict, Arian Foster, Wes Welker, James Harrison, Antonio Gates) so it isn’t that far-fetched. Here is a breakdown by position of some players that might be available after the draft and would fit the Bears needs. I used my most recent mock draft, NFL.com’s player grades, and multiple mock drafts (CBS Sports, Walter Football, Drafttek) to determine who might be available as undrafted free agents. If you have a potential undrafted player who you think is a good fit for the Bears that isn’t mentioned here, post it in the comments.
Lack of depth at DT was the primary reason for the collapse of the Bears defense last year. There’s no way Emery makes that mistake again (hopefully). I was tempted to draft two DTs for the Bears in my mock because they probably need a third 3-tech DT. Nate Collins has never made it through a full season without missing at least a few games and as promising as Aaron Donald is on paper, sometimes rookies need a year or two before they can compete at the NFL level. I think the Bears will add a free agent DT before the end of the off-season but even if they do, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to add a couple of rookie DTs as well even if they end up on the practice squad. It’s the most important position in the Bears scheme so there is no such thing as too much depth. They should never have to sign guys off the street like they did last year. That was embarrassing and probably Emery’s biggest mistake so far (McClellin is a close 2nd).
Khyri Thornton, Southern Miss (6’3, 304): Raw technique, but good strength (28 reps) and quickness. Thornton played against weak competition in college but was the best player on the field in the NFLPA bowl. He has a quick first step and NFL athleticism. He’s ideally a practice squad guy in 2014, but with some coaching he could be a valuable rotation guy at the 3-technique position in 2015 with starter upside in a couple of years.
Bradley Leeb-USA TODAY Sports
Bruce Gaston, Purdue (6’2, 308): Gaston caught my attention during the week of the East / West Shrine game and I was surprised that he didn’t receive a combine invite. He had a bit of a down year in 2013 after Purdue switched to 3-4 scheme. Gaston was more effective in 2012 as a 4-3 DT showing surprising lateral quickness and the ability to get off blocks. He had a solid pro day with a 4.95 40-time, 34 bench reps, and a 34″ vertical. His bench output would have been 3rd among D-linemen at the combine and his vertical 8th, which isn’t bad for a 308 pounder. Gaston would be good depth at the 3-tech for the Bears and potentially more with some added strength and experience.
Chris Whaley, Texas (6’3, 269): Former running back at Texas, who outgrew the position and switched to DT. Great speed and quickness for the position, but has raw technique and needs to gain weight to hold up against the run. Sound familiar? Whaley is a Henry Melton clone as a prospect and like Melton would take a few years of development before he is ready to contribute, but has similar upside.
You can never have enough pass rushers. I love the Houston, Allen, and Young free agent moves but don’t have much faith in the DEs from last season’s roster (Bass, Ozougwa, Washington) so bringing in some young competition seems like a good idea to me. Unfortunately DE is probably the thinnest position in an otherwise extremely deep draft.
Zach Moore, Concordia (6’5, 269) – Small school prospect with great physical tools, but raw technique. Moore has an intriguing combination of size, agility and strength but would be making a big jump up in competition from DII Concordia University. Moore had 33 sacks in 33 games in his college career and flashed natural pass rush ability while still being a solid run stopper. Moore needs a lot of technique work and needs to get stronger, but has more upside than most of the D-lineman taken on day 3 of the draft. The Bears are stacked with veteran pass rushers right now, but can’t give up on developing some young talent at the position. I think Moore will get drafted, but the majority of draft sites have him being available as an undrafted free agent.
Kasim Edebali, Boston College (6’2, 253) – Has an extremely quick first step, but that’s about it right now. Edebali is too thin to be a 3-down DE and not fluid enough to be an OLB. He came over from Germany as a 19 year old, so is relatively new to the game and will be 24 as a rookie. Edebali’s best chance to stick in the NFL is to utilize his explosive first step as a 3rd down pass rush specialist. He has some potential as a Mark Anderson type pass rush specialist.