We’ve heard the names over and over again: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Calvin Pryor, Justin Gilbert and Aaron Donald. The positions of defensive tackle, safety and cornerback are clearly Bears priorities, and they could very well pick one of those players at 14.
But there are other needs when analyzing the Bears’ roster, and leading up to the draft, ChicagoFootball.com will take a look at some forgotten positions and players that Phil Emery could target to add depth. Maybe they'll even find a future starter. Today, we start with linebackers.
By re-signing D.J. Williams and moving Shea McClellin to linebacker, the Bears entered the start of free agency deeper at linebacker than any other position on defense. Then Charles Tillman and Kelvin Hayden returned, and Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston and Willie Young joined the defensive end group, shifting focus back to linebacker, which isn’t as deep in the long-term as one might think.
Williams will be 32 in July, has played in just 13 games the past two seasons, and is on a one-year deal. Briggs, who turns 34 in November, is entering the final year of his contract. Bostic and McClellin are battling to play a position neither has played in the NFL.
It might work for 2014, but that still leaves plenty of questions for 2015 that can be addressed in the draft.
In a best-case scenario, Williams and Briggs stay healthy and play at a high level, like we saw in early 2013, and both Bostic and McClellin make positive impacts on the strong side. Bostic could eventually take over for Briggs, but can McClellin ever be a full-time ‘Sam’ linebacker? And what about the future at inside linebacker?
In a worst-case scenario, the Bears are still trying to find a position for Bostic and McClellin, and Briggs and Williams play their final seasons with the Bears, setting up for an overhaul in 2015.
At the 14th pick, if Phil Emery stays on defense but goes “off the board,” it’ll be at linebacker – which would be a surprise simply because the need isn’t as pressing as safety, corner and three-technique – and that’s where they could snag C.J. Mosley. An instinctive, agile and hardworking tackle machine, Mosley could play any linebacker spot, and paired with Bostic would create quite the duo going forward. There are durability questions about Mosley, though, but he has all the tools to be a successful pro.
The problem with taking Mosley at 14 is this — where do you use him as a rookie? Would he be the team’s fifth linebacker, rotating in on certain downs? Would McClellin really be solely a situational edge rusher, allowing Mosley to be the fourth linebacker who plays on special teams? When you have a pick that high, you generally want that player to start that year, not in coming years, which means Mosley would likely compete with Williams to start in the middle. The Bears had a similar situation last year with Bostic, but he was a second-rounder, a pick with less expectation to start right away.
And that brings us to the second round, where the Bears could target Chris Borland as their inside ‘backer of the future. Borland does not have ideal size or arm length, but he’s always around the ball and made more impact plays than he’s given credit for – he had 14 forced fumbles at Wisconsin. Borland could plug in on special teams and be the top reserve linebacker, and then be the eventual starter in the middle, similar to what Bostic was to start 2013.
With Bostic and McClellin set for at least two seasons on the outside, the Bears should set their sights on players who can diagnose run plays from the inside and bring down ballcarriers – a big struggle after Williams went down last year. Some of the other top inside linebacker prospects include Christian Jones, Preston Brown, Lamin Barrow and Shayne Skov.
When researching those players, Emery and Mel Tucker also will be thinking about versatility, which has been a hallmark of the Bears’ offseason, so a player who can play different linebacker spots, like Bostic, will have more value. We'll have a good sense of what the Bears think of their current situation at linebacker depending on whether they draft the position in the first few rounds.