Sutton vs Ferguson
I already covered both players in detail above so I wouldn’t rehash their strengths and weaknesses again. Both players were drafted by the old regime so GM Ryan Pace doesn’t have ties to either player. It’s disappointing to have a 2nd and 3rd round pick from the 2014 draft already potentially on the chopping block, but that highlights how bad the Bears recent drafts have been.
In the defense of both players they were drafted to play defensive tackle in the Bears former 4-3 scheme. On paper neither player is an ideal for the DC Vic Fangio’s 3-4 hybrid. That being said, the Bears do run a lot of 4-man fronts and either player could still be useful for the Bears. There are only so many positions on the final 53-man roster though and it’s only natural that GM Ryan Pace would prefer players he and his staff hand-picked.
I was tempted to include Cornelius Washington on this list, but IF he’s healthy Washington is not only one of the best special teams coverage players on the Bears but has the potential to offer value as an edge rusher or defensive linemen.
That leaves Eddie Goldman, Akiem Hicks, Mitch Unrein, Washington, Johnathan Bullard, a backup nose tackle (most likely Terry Williams), and either Ferguson or Sutton as the best bets for the final 53-man roster. The Bears only kept five d-linemen on the final-53 last year so there is a shot that two players from this list don’t make the final cut. Let’s take a quick look at what unique traits both Sutton and Ferguson bring to the table.
As a prototype 3-tech DT in a 4-3 scheme, Sutton seemed like the odd man out last season, but earned a spot on the final 53 with a very impressive preseason. Sutton’s extra weight allowed him to hold his own as a 3-4 DE, but also sapped his explosive first step off the ball. His lack of height (6’0) and arm length (31 1/4″) were a liability at times against the run and most of his plays were made on hustle instead of ability.
Sutton profiles best as a back-up, but is too small for the 5-tech or nose guard position, which means he has his work cut out for him competing with 3rd round pick Bullard, 2014 2nd round pick Ego Ferguson, the explosive but injury prone Cornelius Washington, and and the versatile veteran Mitch Unrein. The cards are stacked against Sutton but he proved doubters wrong last year and could do so again. Sutton has/had the ability to get to the QB, which he’ll need to do again to make the team.
His first year as a Bears was an absolute disappointment. Drafted as a 2nd round pick out of LSU, Ferguson was expected to use his considerable talents to be a force at defensive tackle. Instead he looked lost at times, not knowing where he belonged and being over-powered consistently when facing double teams. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a 310 pound DT on his back as often as Ferguson was last year. The jump from the SEC to the NFL shouldn’t have been so hard for Ferguson and he’ll have to show significant improvements in 2016 to make the Bears roster this year.
One advantage that Ferguson has over Sutton is that he has the size to pay the 5-tech, the quickness to play the three, and theoretically the strength to back-up Goldman at the nose tackle. He didn’t have the strength to back-up Goldman at the nose as a rookie, but might after a year in the weight room.
Even if Ferguson has the new found strength to spell Goldman at nose tackle occasionally, he still needs to improve his ability play both the run and the pass the the DE position. Ferguson not only has more versatility than Sutton but a lot more upside. He’s bigger, stronger, younger, more athletic, and has considerably more upside.
Despite being one of youngest players in the 2014 draft (21) and leaving LSU at least a year too early, Ferguson has all the tools to eventually develop into a beast at either DE spot. Fuller might be a more effective player in 2016, but Ferguson has the potential to develop into a difference maker somewhere on the d-line by 2017.
The Bears have enough hard working depth guys but very few with the upside of Ferguson. The combination of Goldman, Hicks, Bullard, and Ferguson, if his talent manifests under the tutelage of DC Vic Fangio… Could be one of the most talented d-lines in football by 2017.
As much as I appreciate Will Sutton’s work ethic and ability to adjust to a new position and new scheme last season, his upside just isn’t as promising as Ferguson’s. Both players have a long way to go to become productive NFL defensive linemen, but Ferguson’s size and athleticism give him a better shot to be a long-term contributor for the Bears.
Sutton is a good depth piece on a rebuilding team, but the Bears have the talent to take the next step defensively and become a top-15 overall defense. Role players like Sutton aren’t going to get them there. Ferguson might not either, but if it comes down to a choice between the two of them, I think the Bears need to roll the dice on talent and upside with the added bonus of more defensive versatility.
As for Sutton, he should be snatched up by a 4-3 scheme that needs depth at the 3-tech position and could eventually develop into a solid pass rusher eventually. It’s just probably not going to happen with the Bears.
Player to Watch: Cornelius Washington
I touched on his elite athleticism already. At 6’5, 275 pounds with 4.55 speed (pre-injuries) and top marks across the board in all other testing categories. Washington is still only 26 years old and has the talent and athleticism to do whatever he wants on the football field. It’s just a question of how the Bears want to use him and if he can stay healthy.
Washington was not drafted by GM Ryan Pace and the new regime, but when he was injured early in the 2015 season, he wasn’t released. Pace put Washington on the injured reserve to keep him around for at least one more season. That leads me to believe that Pace and Fox see some potential in Washington and they were smart to do so.
Worst case, Washington is a beast on special teams with 10 tackles and a sack in 13 games as a reserve last year. Few players on the Bears roster can match Washington’s combination of size (6’5, 275), arm length (34″), speed (4.55), and overall athleticism. He has the potential to be a stand up edge rusher, can set the edge vs the run as a down linemen, move inside to generate interior pressure, and get his long arms up in passing lines to make things difficult for the QB. Washington just needs to stay healthy and he could be a breakout player for the Bears in 2016.