Now that the 2016 NFL Scouting Combine is in the books, teams can now reevaluate the college prospects who were on their radar prior to the workouts in Indianapolis. For the Chicago Bears, it appears that they could use some help on the defensive side of the ball after a disappointing 2015 season where they finished tied for 22nd in the league in run defense.
During the scouting combine, there were some linebackers who had good performances. Ohio State’s Darron Lee had the fastest time of 4.43 seconds in the 40-yard dash and the longest broad jump of over 11 feet among all linebackers. In addition, Lee shined in the vertical jump (35.5 inches) and the 20-yard shuttle (4.20 seconds). However, despite Lee’s display of athletic ability, his lack of size (6-foot-1, 232 pounds) could be a disadvantage in the NFL when trying to shed blockers against the run.
Another linebacker who is rumored to be on the Bears’ radar is Notre Dame’s Jaylon Smith. Unfortunately, the news surrounding Smith isn’t what teams want to hear. On Jan. 1 of this year, Smith suffered a torn ACL and LCL in Notre Dame’s loss to Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl. Although Smith is a hybrid linebacker who can be a good fit in either a 4-3 or a 3-4 defensive scheme, the fact that the All-American is about two months removed from reconstructive knee surgery can put up major red flags for the Bears when deciding whether or not to draft him this April. Some teams have even given Smith a failing grade for his physical at the combine.
As I mentioned earlier, the Bears’ run defense struggled this past season, and the middle of their linebacking corps could use some upgrading. Shea McClellin, who is an unrestricted free agent, and Christian Jones both had decent 2015 campaigns, but I feel that Chicago’s front seven would be better off with an inside linebacker who can crash those gaps at the line of scrimmage on a consistent basis.
Although his numbers were pretty much average during the combine, Alabama’s Reggie Ragland should be the Bears’ No. 1 prospect. Ragland’s 247-pound frame is perfect for what Chicago needs in the interior of the front seven. Ragland’s experience in a 3-4 alignment will definitely help him be an instant starter in the Bears’ lineup in 2016.
Sure, there are some pass rushers in this year’s class of rookies who could greatly help out Chicago’s defense in 2016. And with general manager Ryan Pace’s philosophy of drafting the best player available rather than drafting strictly for need, there is a chance that Ragland may not be the man the Bears select with the 11th overall pick. But, there are some pass rushers Chicago can get later in the draft, and in free agency, might I add. Ragland is that prototypical middle linebacker who would be a great fit for the Bears, and he could possibly continue the great tradition of middle linebackers in the Windy City.