Bears Draft Prospects: OLB (Rounds 1-3)

The Bears linebackers are the team's strongest unit, yet the group is aging and there are no players in the pipeline. Here are nine prospects Chicago could select to build depth at the position.

The Chicago Bears sent two linebackers, Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs, to the Pro Bowl last season. Those two don't appear to be slowing down, but with both on the wrong side of 30, their eventual decline isn't far off.

On the strong side, Nick Roach is a fairly solid player, yet he's far from spectacular. His 38 tackles last year, to go with no sacks or forced fumbles, is slightly concerning. Playing next to two future Hall of Famers, one would think Roach could've been more productive. The jury is still out as to whether he's the long-term answer at SAM.

Behind those three are Dom DeCicco, Patrick Trahan and Jabara Williams. Don't feel bad if you don't recognize any of those names, as none have a legitimate shot to be a starter down the line. Last year's sixth-round selection, J.T. Thomas, spent his entire rookie season on IR and was just arrested for drug possession. His future with the team is tenuous at best.

In essence, the Bears have almost no depth at the linebacker position. It's expected that this will finally be the year the organization addresses this growing problem. Here are nine outside linebackers the Bears could select early in this year's draft to provide depth on the outside.

(Editor's note: SAM=strong side linebacker; WILL=weak side linebacker; MIKE=middle linebacker)

Courtney Upshaw, Alabama (6-2, 265)
Upshaw is a hybrid linebacker/defensive end that excels at getting after the quarterback. He's explosive off the ball, plays with good pad level and has heavy, active hands. He doesn't have much experience dropping into coverage and his open-field tackling is questionable. He played in a 3-4 at Alabama and Will Likely fit best in the same scheme in the pros.
Projected: Top 20 pick


LB Zach Brown
Brian A. Westerholt/Getty

Zach Brown, North Carolina (6-1, 236)
Brown was a two-sport athlete at UNC, playing both football and track. He has ideal straight-line speed and his athleticism is off the charts. He's elusive when taking on blocks. In coverage, he uses his speed to make up for false steps due to play action. He's a raw prospect who needs some work but he has the potential to be a solid WILL linebacker in the NFL.
Projected: Late 1st - early 2nd round

Lavonte David, Nebraska (6-1, 225)
David is another ideal fit at weakside linebacker in a 4-3 scheme. He's slightly undersized but his fluidity and initial burst allows him to cover sideline to sideline. His instincts and competitive drive are top-tier. He's not overly powerful but he makes up for it with hustle and aggressiveness. He's strong in coverage and possesses the quickness to keep pace with tight ends. Strong character player.
Projected: Late 1st – early 2nd round

Ronnell Lewis, Oklahoma (6-2, 244)
Lewis could never find a position in college, as his coaches slid him back and forth between defensive end and outside linebacker. He has outstanding natural athleticism and strength. He's a raw prospect that started just 14 games in college. He might fit best as a 3-4 OLB but has the potential to fit as a SAM in a 4-3. He's a few years away from being a full-time player at the next level but he has huge upside.
Projected: 2nd round

Sean Spence, Miami (Fla.) (5-11, 224)
Spence is undersized and will fit only in a 4-3 scheme. He has outstanding instincts and diagnostic skills. He uses his smaller frame to shoot gaps and elude blockers. He's a hard hitter with a strong upper body. In coverage, he shows great awareness and has good makeup speed. His lack of height though will be a problem against bigger tight ends. He's effective as a blitzer, typically timing his rushes well. His open-field tackling needs work. Projects best as a WILL.
Projected: 2nd-3rd round

Bobby Wagner, Utah State (6-0, 235)
Wagner shined during the Senior Bowl, showcasing an impressive build and outstanding tackling ability. He was a four-year starter in college who suffered no serious injuries, so durability is not a concern. He's a sideline-to-sideline player who shows great instincts. In coverage, he applies a good jam and is athletic enough to stick with tight ends. He's not exceptional in any area but solid all-around. It's unclear whether Wagner fits better at ILB or OLB. His versatility in that area would be another plus for the Bears.
Projected: 2nd-3rd round


LB Travis Lewis
Joe Robbins/Getty

Travis Lewis, Oklahoma (6-2, 233)
Tough, athletic and coordinated, Lewis excels against the run. He's deceptively strong and highly instinctive. He covers a lot of ground and has excellent closing speed. A true playmaker. He needs to develop in coverage. On film, Lewis is very reminiscent of Lance Briggs and projects well at either SAM or WILL in a 4-3.
Projected: 2nd-3rd round

Nigel Bradham, Florida State (6-2, 240)
Bradham is a fearless, relentless player. He's extremely aggressive and covers a lot of ground. He's also solid in coverage. He's a hard worker with a spotless injury record. He doesn't offer much as a pass rusher and has mental lapses at times – his aggressiveness has been known to work against him. Projects best at OLB in a 4-3 scheme.
Projected: 3rd round

Terrell Manning, North Carolina State (6-3, 225)
Manning lacks ideal size – he could use about 20 more pounds on his frame – which will keep him out of the "elite" range. Yet he's arguably one of the most-underrated players in the draft. He's extremely athletic and crazy strong, despite his slight frame. He plays with intensity and has great short-area quickness. He is outstanding in coverage and does well reading the quarterback's eyes. He sheds blocks and closes well. He's an ideal fit for a 4-3 WILL and could be a phenomenal player if he adds weight.
Projected: 3rd round

Keenan Robinson, Texas (6-3, 239)
Robinson has great speed and can chase down ball carriers all over the field. He is sound in coverage, showing ideal agility and awareness, and wraps up well as a tackler. He finishes well as a blitzer. He lacks ferocity and can disappear for long stretches. He has a hard time disengaging from blockers. He's raw but has the potential to fit well on the outside in a 4-3.
Projected: 3rd round

BEAR REPORT PICK

If the Bears want to take an early OLB, it would be best for the team to wait until at least the third round, as issues at DE, WR and OT must be addressed in the first two rounds.

In the third round, the ideal pick is Travis Lewis, who can play either outside linebacker position in a 4-3. He's a beast against the run and the type of hitter than will make receivers think twice about coming over the middle. A year or two learning behind Lance Briggs and Lewis could turn into a Pro Bowl player.

If Lewis is off the board, Terrell Manning would be another great pick in the third. He needs to add weight but his instincts and intelligence are too good to pass up. He can cover a lot of ground against the run and is great in coverage. If he weighed in the 245-pound range, he'd be a first-round prospect.

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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of Bear Report magazine and BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.

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