The Chicago Bears were one of 11 NFL teams in attendance for the recent Tennessee State pro day. The player most teams were there to see was outside linebacker Sidney Tarver, a projected late-round pick who wowed scouts with his workout performance.
Tarver (6-3, 236-pounds) ran a 4.65 40-yard dash, registered a 32-inch vertical leap and 10-6 broad jump, and bench pressed 225-pounds 23 times. His wingspan is 81 7/8 inches and his hands are 10 1/8 inches. He also clocked a 4.24 20-yard shuttle, a 7.30 L-drill and an 11.7 60-yard shuttle. Every one of those numbers is good-to-great for a player of his size at his position.
Tarver is a late bloomer who didn't become the full-time starter at Tennessee State until his senior season, where he racked up 62 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. He lined up all over the field for the Tigers, playing outside linebacker, inside linebacker, stand-up defensive end and down defensive end.
In coverage, he demonstrates fluid hips and reads the quarterback's eyes well. He showed no problems running stride-for-stride with opposing tight ends. He has quick feet and is a disciplined player, despite his lack of experience. Against the run Tarver sheds blockers well and does a good job of breaking down when making tackles in space. He packs a wallop when hitting.
As a three-point rusher, Tarver is more of a speed guy who doesn't have many moves when getting after the quarterback. He's relentless though and does a good job in play recognition.
Due to his lack of experience, Tarver is very raw. He showed a lot of versatility in college but he would be better suited playing just one position. He'd be a good fit as a SAM linebacker in a 4-3, or as an OLB in a 3-4. His performance at his pro day gave notice to the NFL of his above-average athletic ability. With good coaching, he could develop into a quality player. At the very least, he'll make a solid special teams contributor.
Tarver is flying far under the radar and will most likely be a seventh-round pick or an undrafted free agent. Yet everyone was impressed with his pro day performance, which means he could slide into the sixth round. The Bears are currently very thin at the LB position, with only Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher under contract, so it wouldn't be a surprise to see the team grab a developmental player like Tarver in the late rounds.
Other NFL teams in attendance at Tarver's pro day: Baltimore Ravens, New York Giants, Cleveland Browns, Houston Texans, Oakland Raiders, Tennessee Titans, San Diego Chargers, Jacksonville Jaguars, San Francisco 49ers and the Denver Broncos.
Bears work out Willie Smith
Chicago got a good look at East Carolina OT Willie Smith at the Texas vs. The Nation All-Star game. He was a Scouting Combine invite as well. Yet the Bears needed one more look at the 6-5, 310-pounder, so they recently brought him in for a private workout.
Smith began his collegiate career as a defensive lineman, was moved to tight end his sophomore season and played his last two years at left tackle. His performance protecting his quarterback's blind side earned him All-Conference USA honors his junior and senior seasons.
Because of his limited experience, Smith is a project at tackle. He has excellent lateral agility, long arms and strong hands. He has had no health or off-the-field issues and was outstanding in the classroom.
Yet while he has the size, strength and intelligence to play in the NFL, he still shows a lot of the negatives that come with a player not fully comfortable with his position. He often plays too high, bends at the waist and doesn't come off the ball quick enough. He needs to work on his hand placement, footwork and leverage.
For those reasons, Smith will most likely fall to the late rounds of the draft. But don't be fooled, the kid has potential. He hardly gave up any sacks at East Carolina, albeit against lower-level competition than those coming out of the BCS colleges. As far as intangibles go though, he has it all. He won't be an immediate contributor for whichever team drafts him but given a few years, he could turn into a Pro Bowler.
The Bears will most likely address O-line early in the draft, yet don't be surprised if they pick a late round project like Smith to groom as a future starter. This is the third time Chicago has evaluated him in person, so it's a good bet they are very interested. He has "late-round sleeper" written all over him.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.