From the outside, one might say that the Bears are in a better place at the linebacker spot than any other position on the team. MLB Brian Urlacher and OLB Lance Briggs have played together now for 8 seasons; they are both perennial Pro Bowlers, and both fit exactly what you need from a linebacker in a Cover-2 defense—fast in pursuit, solid tacklers, and always going for the ball.
The problem for the Bears is that when you look at the depth chart, the only other player with NFL game-experience is Brian Iwuh, who played a couple games in relief of Briggs. The other LBs currently on the roster? Chris Johnson from South Dakota State, and Patrick Trahan from Mississippi. Have you ever heard of either of those guys? ME EITHER. In addition, Briggs will be 30 and Urlacher 33 at the start of the season; and while they have been relatively-speaking pretty durable, they will not play forever. While we might re-sign Nick Roach, Pisa Tinoisamoa, or Rod Wilson to fill the void at SLB next season, we desperately need an infusion of depth at LB.
One thing that does worry me about the idea of drafting LBs is that Jerry Angelo and Lovie Smith have not been very good at it. Since stealing Briggs in the third round in 2003, here are the LBs that Angelo and Smith have picked: Joe Odom (Purdue); Leon Joe (Maryland); Jamar Williams (Arizona State); Michael Okwo (Stanford); Joey Larocque (Oregon State); Marcus Freeman (Ohio State). Two problems I see with the philosophy here are that a) the Bears have usually been unwilling to invest anything higher than a 4th round pick on a linebacker; and b) when they do—Okwo and Williams—they seem to pass over the better overall LB prospect to take a guy who might fit the Cover-2 better. Keep in mind that when you look at Urlacher, he is not a guy who would have EVER been drafted to play in thid defense—but he has done okay for himself, right?
MY POINT—A GOOD LINEBACKER CAN PLAY IN ANY SYSTEM.
Anyway, on with the prospects. We will leave out the college DEs who are switching to 3-4 OLBs. Click on the player name to link to his draft scouting report:
1st Round: Von Miller (Texas A&M); Akeem Ayers (UCLA).
2nd Round: Bruce Carter (North Carolina).
3rd Round: Mason Foster (Washington); Lawrence Wilson (Connecticut);
4th Round: KJ Wright (Mississippi State); Ross Homan (Ohio State).
5th Round: Brian Rolle (Ohio State); Adrian Moten (Maryland); Doug Hogue (Syracuse).
6th-7th Rounds: Mark Herzlich (Boston College); Scott Lutrus (Connecticut); JT Thomas (West Virginia); Jabara Williams (Stephen F Austin); Eric Gordon (Michigan State); Michael Morgan (USC); Malcolm Smith (USC); Jacquain Williams (USF).
1st Round: Martez Wilson (Illinois).
2nd Round: Quan Sturdivant (North Carolina).
3rd Round: Greg Jones (Michigan State).
4th Round: Colin McCarthy (Miami); Kelvin Sheppard (LSU); Nate Irving (North Carolina State).
5th Round: Casey Matthews (Oregon); Josh Bynes (Auburn).
6th-7th Round: Mike Mohamed (California); Chris White (Mississippi State); Mario Harvey (Marshall); Jeff Tarpinian (Iowa); Kendall Smith (Florida State); Cobrani MIxon (Kent State).
The Bears typically look for linebackers who can a)fly to the ball; b)tackle well; and c) play on special teams. Unless the unthinkable happens, and Von Miller or Martez Wilson fall to us at the end of the first round, do not expect the Bears to address the strongside linebacker position or depth at linebacker in general until the 4th round or later.
At OLB, guys who intrigue me for the third day of the draft are Adrian Moten & Doug Hogue as 4th or 5th rounders; and Malcolm Smith and Jacquain Williams in the 6th or 7th rounds. At MLB, I do expect the Bears to draft a ‘measurables’ guy to perhaps groom as Urlacher’s replacement on the third day—Colin McCarthy in the 4th round, or Mario Harvey and Cobrani MIxon in the 6th or 7th rounds. All of these guys could be special teams dynamos from day one; and in the case of Martez Wilson, Adrian Moten, and Colin McCarthy, they could even have a chance to win the strongside LB job as a rookie.