2016 NFL Draft Rankings: Inside Linebacker

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Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports /
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Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports
Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports /

7.) Joe Schobert, Wisconsin (6’2 | 247 | 4.74) – Put up huge numbers his senior season finishing 4th in the FBS with 14.5 TFLs, 9.5 sacks, 6 forced fumbles, and 12 pass breakups. Schobert’s numbers project better at outside linebacker in a 4-3, but his all-around game and ability to both cover, stop the run and rush the passer are an ideal fit for ILB in DC Vic Fangio’s scheme. The Bears new 3-4 scheme requires more from ILBs than most 3-4 alignments including the ability to cover regularly and also a knack for blitzing which Schobert has shown in spades. He’s also a proven play-maker which both HC John Fox and DC Vic Fangio have made a priority this off-season.

It’s quite possible Schobert gets drafted by a 4-3 team where he would most likely excel as a weak-side OLB, but if the Bears are lucky enough to snag him somewhere near the 3rd round, then they could have an ideal ILB to build around. If the Bears can pull off signing free agent Danny Travathan and pairing him with Schobert, then the team’s ILB issues may be solved for the next few years. They will still need some pass rushers off the edge, but the Trevathan/ Schobert combo would give the Bears two well-rounded ILBs who are smart enough to call the right defensive alignments, fast enough to cover receivers, blitz effectively, have enough range to make plays sideline-to-sideline, and aggressive enough to attack the line of scrimmage and make impact plays in the backfield.

The Bears need play-makers all over the field and Schobert has proven to be one during his time at Wisconsin. An inside linebacker crew of Trevathan and Schobert could solidify the position for the Bears for the next few years and be a poor man’s version of the Patrick Willis / Navorro Bowman combo that Fangio built his defense around in San Fran. Coming out of college Bowman was also projected to be a 4-3 weak-side OLB like Schobert with similar play-making traits but even less size and speed. Fangio developed him into  4-time All-Pro. I think the talent is there in Schobert to develop into a similar player and if the Bears can team him with 25-year-old free agent Danny Trevathan, behind promising DT Eddie Goldman they could have the middle of the defense locked up for the immediate future.

 8.) Tyler Matakevich. Temple (6’1 | 233 | 4.82) -Lacks ideal NFL atleticism, but all Matakevich does is make plays. A consensus All-American who won both the Butkis and Bednarik awards this year, he’s almost always in the right place and rarely makes mistakes. On paper he is a classic 2-down run-stopper lacking both the both the size and speed to be a 3-down player. Watching him on film though, Matakevich’s instincts, play diagnosis, blitzing instincts, and burst to the ball males me think he can excel for as many downs as they keep him on the field. He made a good impression at the Senior Bowl, at one point making 5 tackles in a row.

A four-year starter who averaged over 100 tackles per season, but brings more to the field than that. As former Bears HC Mike Ditka says, “Every team needs bad-asses”. Matakevich is one. Worst case he should be a demon on special teams, but I think he has the talent to be an every down ILB with the potential to be much more. Of all the ILB film I’ve watched this week Matakevich was my favorite and does more with less than any other player in this year’s draft.

9.) Josh Forrest, Kentucky (6’3 | 245 | 4.77) – Was considered a run-thumper for most of his college career, but showed surprising speed and the ability to cover both backs and tight ends at the Senior Bowl. Forrest is built like s traditional run-stopper, but has surprising quickness, and the range to cover each sideline. Forestt is an instinctive blitzer and is well-rounded enough to step in and contribute as a rookie. Forrest has 3-down potential and is one of the most under-rated ILBs in the draft.

Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports
Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports /

10.) Nick Vigil, Utah St (6’2 | 230 | 4.67) – A run-thumper who came out a season early after two dominant years as an inside backer for Aggies. Vigil excels at slipping blocks in traffic, finding the ball, and wrapping up with technically sound form. My favorite traits from Vigil are his ability to diagnose plays and the confidence to attack the hole where he expects it to be. It’s important to me after watching the Bears ILBs play tentatively all season and wait for backs to commit before making a move. Hesitating to attack is going to give up a few yards to running backs before a play can be made. Bears fans saw it over and over again as opposing backs gained 3-4 yards before one of the Bears LBs made a play.

Vigil is the type of player who will attack first and ask questions later. It’s a trait that separates LBs who make impact plays and those who just wrack up decent tackle totals (looking at you Shea!). Vigil isn’t a burner, but his elite instincts allow him to play closer to 4.5 than his timed speed. He’s also solid in coverage, preferably in a zone scheme, but is fluid enough to stay with backs and TEs and not be a liability. Playing against mediocre competition in college may drop Vigil a round or two farther than he deserves, but has 3-down starter potential eventually. His best position is probably a weak-side OLB in a 4-3, but Vigil has the traits to succeed as a 3-4 ILB in the Bears scheme and his toughness, hard-hitting, and aggression should quickly make him  a fan favorite.

11.) Domanique Alexander, Oklahoma (6’0 | 224 | 4.64) – Should probably have stayed in school for one more season, but the talent is there to a starting NFL inside backer. Right now Alexander’s strength is in pass coverage which is a clear need for the Bears, but will need to bulk up to make any plays in traffic against the run. He has a natural back-pedal in coverage and should excel against both running backs and tight ends in coverage, The Bears need a coverage ILB, but both positions need to be able to shed blockers and stop the run as well. Alexander will need to get stronger to deal with interior o-linemen in the NFL, but attacks running lanes with speed and aggression and may be able to beat blockers with his elite combination of speed, acceleration through the line, and shifty moves to beat blockers. Alexander left school early but has the natural athletic ability to beat blockers with speed and power alone. It may take Alexander a year or two to learn the nuances of the position, but the innate talent is there for Alexander to be a play-maker at ILB well before the end of his rookie deal.