The Chicago Bears are likely to add an off-ball linebacker at some point in the 2018 NFL draft. Who are five mid-round options to consider?
Entering the 2018 NFL draft, Nick Kwiatkowski will be penciled in as a starter. That is fine, he has earned his time on the field. However, behind him is John Timu and Jonathan Anderson. This team is not loaded with depth or potential option if Kwiatkowski does not progress or does get hurt. Tremaine Edmunds and Roquan Smith are early options, but the team may go another direction. Who are some linebackers in the middle rounds that the Bears may be interested in?
Genard Avery, Memphis
Avery is going to peak the Chicago Bears interest if anything for his versatility. Avery is a player who spent a lot of time out on the edge at Memphis. However, as shown in his athletic profile, his lack of height and length is going to hinder him on the edge more frequently than it would as an inside linebacker.
Anderson and Timu both can operate inside and outside for snaps and to get that out of a depth linebacker is a great option. On top of that two things that stick out in the play of Avery that makes him worth a shot is his passion and persistence. Avery is a former state champion powerlifter and his effort and strength can show consistently on tape.
On the play below, 6, from the middle linebacker spot is ranging to the sideline. He is able to stiff-arm himself off of a tackle and spring onto his opponent for a tackle.
The play below is all effort. He follows the motion, gets around the edge, sheds a blocker and chases down the quarterback. At the very worst, plays like this show you have a special teams option.
However, as shown in his athletic profile, there is some skill to invest in. Below, he is able to shed two blocks to set the edge and make a play in the backfield.
Avery was a prolific blitzer, and even from the middle spot showed the ability to rush into the backfield with power and speed.
On top of that, he has the change of direction ability that gives you some belief that he can hang in the middle when in coverage. Watch the hips as he changes direction with the speed to make a stop in the backfield.
He showed the fluid hips in coverage as well. There is upside in a selection of Avery.
However, there is also a reason many expect the fourth round to be a potential landing spot for him. His ceiling, while high for a fourth-round pick is capped. His lack of length shows up on tape and results in missed tackles.
As well as situations in which he is swallowed by blocks. Below he is engulfed by 72 at the second level. This is one of his biggest physical detriments that there is little he can do to fix in the NFL.
Avery also is not the most instinctual player. This is where he will have to develop to become an NFL starter in the middle. As shown below, he needs more awareness out in space and in coverage. He is out of position to move with his man upfield and has his eyes in the backfield. He gets lost and gives up a huge completion.
The play below left him out alone in no man’s land. It is a great play call and alignment, but you can see him as the middle linebacker jumping to his right only to reboot and have to hurdle a lineman to find himself well out of the play.
Avery has upside, versatility, and special teams prowess. However, he is a player that will be around for the Bears in the fourth or fifth round as it may be a year or two until he sees real defensive snaps.
Fred Warner, BYU
Fred Warner is another player who is going to impress the Chicago Bears with versatility. While Avery has pass rushing and linebacker duties, Warner is a slot defender who can blitz off of the edge and move into the linebacker role.
Warner is a bit undersized, at 236 pounds, but in the nickel NFL, that is what many off-ball linebackers are coming in at now.
On top of that, he has the quickness and the change of direction registered to get on the field next season. Watch the play below. Warner, 4, is in zone playing the slot. He is able to shove the slot receiver off of his route, change direction, and close in on the running back, tackling him short of the sticks. Warner forced this punt on third down.
Warner also has speed and ball skills down the field. Warner put up seven interceptions and defended 13 passes in his collegiate career.
However, playing primarily in that slot/linebacker role, he hardly had real chances to diagnose the run between the tackles. Most of his best run stuff came on the edge, as highlighted below. He has the strength to shed blocks but has not shown the understanding and instincts.
There are other occasions where he was able to get downhill from more of a safety spot. Still, he came in from the second level clean and did not have to deal with blockers.
During Senior Bowl practices the team gave Warner snaps on the inside and he was able to show the ability to diagnose quickly and react.
However, there will be questions about his ability to shed blocks at the second level. As shown below, as the tight end on the right side is able to get his hands on Warner, he is able to dominate him with leverage and shove him down the field.
Warner is intriguing because next season the team can add him to defend bigger tight ends and slot targets. They can also see what is there in terms of diagnosing the run from the inside.
Jack Cichy, Wisconsin
Cichy did not play a single snap in 2017, so he naturally is going to fall in the 2018 NFL draft. However, with his 2016 tape, a healthy combine that did not require a re-check and tested numbers that show explosiveness and athleticism, Cichy could be one of the gems of this draft class.
Cichy is an instinctive linebacker. J.T. Barrett is not a great passer but maintained his status as Ohio State quarterback due to his understanding. Still, in this matchup, Cichy was able to wait him out and stay low at the second level to explode into the hole in which he chose.
Below Cichy is taking on James Daniels, a notable first round center prospect. Daniels is excellent in terms of mobility and getting to the second level. Watch Cichy swipe him to the side as he shuffles underneath him to make the stuff against the run.
Shedding blocks and staying lane disciplined was not an issue for Jack Cichy.
Cichy was also a fluid athlete in coverage. His head plays shows again below as he is able to effectively stall out both crossing routes. He forced the quarterback to throw right, but used his quick agility and burst to break quickly and shut the pass down immediately.
Cichy can also carry tight ends upfield and make plays on the ball down the field.
However, Cichy has missed more than just 2017. In fact, he has just 11 starts 24 career college games. He has had two season-ending surgeries and has missed 20 games. He may be able to start next season, but with his health concerns, most teams will look to build him up from special teams. Still, beyond round four, he should become an intriguing option.
Dorian O’Daniel, Clemson
After redshirting one year, O’Daniel worked himself up the Clemson depth chart by being a star special teams contributor over his first two seasons. After seeing the field as a junior, O’Daniel was only a full-time starter for one season but was named second-team All-ACC during his red shirt senior season.
Despite being an older prospect with limited starter experience, his skill set presents traits that translate to specific roles in the NFL.
He is undersized but has speed, quickness, and change of direction ability. As shown, he can essentially fill in as an extra defensive back with the size to hang around the box if needed.
O’Daniel has the instincts and understanding in space to shut down the short passing game. O’Daniel is able to screen off the slot receiver attacking over the seam before changing direction and shoving the outside receiver off of his path on the crossing route.
O’Daniel has the size of a big safety but still has instincts downhill like a linebacker to shut down any yards after the reception.
O’Daniel has loose hips and quick change of direction ability to burst outside with speed. This, along with his instinct in space, should translate into strong coverage against quicker slot receivers in man.
It also shows his ability to hang around near the line of scrimmage against the run. He can get to the sideline and set the edge. O’Daniel knows angles and knows when to explode to close gaps.
However, O’Daniel is likely not going to get real chances on the inside early in his career. His instincts and awareness against the run are iffy. He can be blindsided by blocks without a clue, like the play below.
And can miss tackles in space when shuffling downhill.
O’Daniel is a noted special teams asset with the speed and knowledge of angles to bring high upside to that area. He can get on the field as an extra defensive back/linebacker who can match up with bigger pass catchers. In the later rounds, there is value to be had in O’Daniel.
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Frank Ginda, San Jose State
Despite leading the country in tackles, Ginda was unable to get an invite to the combine. Still, Dane Brugler notes almost 35 players that are not combined invites get drafted every year, and he is one those players in this year’s class.
Ginda is a bit shorter but came in a 6′, 235 pounds in what was otherwise an impressive Pro Day.
Ginda is a multi-sport athlete and has good change of direction, fluidity in movement and understanding. As shown below, he knows angles and knows how to attack downhill with speed.
Ginda is flowing left to right with the blockers but has his eyes on the backfield, watching the option. When the quarterback breaks upfield, Ginda stops on a dime, gets away from his blocker and seals the hole, shutting off the run.
Below, we see Ginda in coverage. He stays light on his feet and does not fall into play action. From there, he is able to decipher the crossing routes in the backfield and pick up his man running free. This is textbook defense.
Ginda is undersized and can be swallowed by blocks. However, there is no doubting that he is a heady player who is strong enough in change of direction to play in space and help in the run game. As a late round flyer who can provide on special teams, his upside as a potential starter should intrigue many.