53-Man Roster Battle: Christian Jones vs Jonathan Anderson vs Lamin Barrow
If the Bears keep five inside linebackers on the active roster than this spot will most likely come down to Jones, Anderson, or Barrow with all but Jones having practice squad eligibility left.
Despite the fact that I picked Christian Jones to be a breakout player in 2015, I think he’s a long shot to make the team in 2016. Jones was one of the lowest graded Bears ILBs according to Pro Football Focus and often looked lost and a step or two slow on the field. He’s started 18 games for the Bears over the last two seasons with 152 tackles, 2 sacks, and 5 passes defended.
Those numbers don’t look bad, but the problem was that most of those tackles came after the ball carrier had already gained four or five yards. Jones also struggled in coverage and didn’t look natural at all at the ILB position.
Jones has the size (6’3, 240), speed (4.60), and football instincts to be a force somewhere, but where is the question? He flashed as a weak-side OLB in a 4-3, but struggled as an ILB in Vic Fangio’s 3-4 scheme. Perhaps Jones could be an OLB when the Bears run an even man front or maybe even an edge rusher in certain sub-package?
Jones has played too many games to placed on the practice squad and would probably be claimed anyway if the Bears released him. Jones is a man without a position right now, but has elite physical talent and perhaps a crafty DC like Vic Fangio can find a useful place for a freak athlete like Jones, but it most likely won’t be at ILB.
When Shea McClellin mercifully went down with an injury, the Bears gave undrafted rookie Jonathan Anderson a shot at the position and he didn’t disappoint. He was one of many surprise stories on the Bears last season as he didn’t even start his senior year in college at TCU. Anderson was a long-shot to make the team, but an impressive pro day (4.54 40-time, 26 bench reps, 10’2″ broad jump) got him signed as an undrafted free agent and a dominant performance in the Bears last preseason game of 2015 with 2 sacks, 4 stops nears the line of scrimmage and two interceptions (once called back) earned him a spot on the practice squad.
His coverage skill and speed on special teams coverage units are what separated Anderson from his competition at ILB. The Bears front office has stated a need to get faster in all three phases and Anderson may be the fastest linebacker on the Bears with reported 40-times under 4.5 and is by far their best coverage ILB. I have brought up a potential move to strong safety for Anderson a couple times this offseason and still think it’s a legitimate possibility. A move to safety may allow the Bears to keep either Christain Jones and/or Lamin Barrow.
Barrow was a 5th round pick by the Denver Broncos in 2014 when John Fox was still the head coach. The Bears signed Barrow after he was released by Denver during final cuts last season. Barrow appeared in all 16 games for the Bears last season on special teams but made very little impact. He’s an elite athlete with 4.64 speed, a 10’3″ broad jump, but is undersized at 6’1, 237. Barrow is a potential special teams asset, but the Bears have stocked up on special teams players this off-season which could put a one-dimensional player like Barrow on the chopping block.
That leaves the Bears with one, maybe two, spots at ILB to fill out the roster. I think Jonathan Anderson’s skill in pass coverage, special teams ability, potential to maybe play safety, and overall speed on defense makes him all but a lock as the Bears 5th ILB.
The Bears only kept five ILBs last year, so that could be it for the position, but Young has a ton of talent which would be a shame to waste as he’s just 25, has impressive size and physical tools, and lacks practice squad eligibility. But where do the Bears play him? The Bears are also surprisingly deep at OLB all of a sudden and Jones isn’t big enough to play anywhere else.
Barrow has history with John Fox and the Bears signed him immediately upon his release from Denver last year which shows some respect for his skill-set. He lacks the size of Jones, but is just as fast and has more experience on special teams.
I think Anderson is a lock to make the team with Jones and Barrow competing with a host of other defensive players on the roster bubble for the final spot or two on the roster. If either of them make the team they will have to prove to be exceptional special teams players to do so.
Verdict: Jonathan Anderson
Next: Practice Squad Battle