The number one goal for the Chicago Bears in this year's draft is to find players that can improve the team's pass rush.
Coach Lovie Smith has often said that pressure from the front four is absolutely crucial if his defense is going to succeed. The club had 30.0 sacks last season, 19th best in the NFL. That isn't good enough.
It's an especially troublesome stat when you consider that Julius Peppers, one of the most-dominant edge rushers in the game, didn't miss a contest. He had to fight though consistent double teams to earn his 11.0 sacks last season.
Israel Idonije, while a decent all-around player, cannot provide consistent pressure opposite Peppers. He was re-signed this offseason to a one-year deal but shouldn't be counted on as anything more than a first- and second-down player.
The Bears would like to find a young speed rusher to replace Idonije on passing downs. There are a number of quality early round options in this year's draft. Yet this is a deep draft for pass rushers. If the club wants to improve other areas of need in the first three rounds, they can still find a solid defensive end in the later rounds.
DE Trevor Guyton
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/US Presswire
Trevor Guyton, California (6-3, 285)
Guyton is a one-year starter that earned second-team All-Pac 12 honors his senior season. He comes off the ball quick and low, and has the strength to drive blockers backward. He uses his hands well to create separation and disengage from opposing linemen. Guyton is a strong tackler who has experience at both defensive tackle and end – he even played some standup OLB. His lack of experience, and no real pass rush arsenal to speak of, is worrisome. He gives good effort but doesn't display a ton of on-field talent, despite having an ideal frame for a defensive end.
Projected: 4th-5th round
Jack Crawford, Penn State (6-5, 274)
Crawford is a three-year starter that produced well in college. He had a strong showing at the NFL Scouting Combine. He's a physical specimen and tough competitor. Crawford is originally from London, England and didn't begin playing football until his junior year in high school. As such, he's raw but has tons of potential. He has ideal size, with room to add weight if need be. He plays hard and is a fast learner. Because of his inexperience, he's wildly inconsistent and lacks awareness. Yet he's a smart player who, under the tutelage of the right NFL coach, could turn into a full-time producer down the line.
Projected: 4th-5th round
Jake Bequette, Arkansas (6-5, 274)
Bequette is a four-year starter with ideal size. His experience combined with his intelligence will bode well for him at the next level. He's not overly athletic, which will see him slip to the middle rounds. Yet his obvious competitiveness should see him succeed as a rotational player in the pros. He doesn't provide a lot of pass rush but is stout against the run. His high-effort game will go a long way with a head coach like Lovie Smith.
Projected: 5th round
Jacquies Smith, Missouri (6-3, 253)
Smith is a two-year starter with good speed and quickness. He's slightly undersized, meaning his only value is as a speed rusher, something the Bears need. Yet despite his frame, he shows well against the run. He's extremely fast and demonstrates great football instincts. His technique is exceptional and he has explosive hands. If he were two inches taller and 20 pounds heavier, he'd be a second-round pick. Smith could be a draft steal.
Projected: 5th-6th round
Olivier Vernon, Miami (6-2, 261)
Vernon came out after a junior season in which he was suspended for the first six games. His collegiate production is severely lacking yet he's arguably one of the best athletes at defensive end in this draft. He has outstanding quickness, strength and burst. He's undersized and may fit best as OLB in a 3-4, but he has the down-rush skills to be effective as a situational rusher in a 4-3. He's a pure pass rusher who has loads of untapped potential. If he can put his character concerns behind him, he could turn into double-digit sack player down the line.
DE Tim Fugger
Ronald C. Modra/US Presswire
Tim Fugger, Vanderbilt (6-3, 248)
Fugger wasn't invited to the combine but did very well for himself at his pro day. He ran a 4.60 40, posted a 34-inch vertical jump, a 9-7 broad jump, a 4.20-second short shuttle time, a 7.00-second three-cone drill and put up 29 reps in the bench press. Now that's taking advantage of an opportunity. Because of his performance, Fugger has jumped from undrafted status to a potential sixth-round pick. He's undersized and is only a two-down player, but that's just what Chicago is looking for. The Bears recently put Fugger through a private workout.
Projected: 6th round
Kourtnei Brown, Clemson (6-5, 256)
Brown wasn't invited to the combine. At Clemson's pro day, he posted times of 4.72, 4.71 and 4.69 seconds in the 40, had a 31-inch vertical jump and 9-8 broad jump, a 4.47-second short shuttle, 7.44-second three-cone drill, and did 26 strength lifts of 225 pounds. His 40 times would have been in the top five at the combine. He has all the physical tools necessary to succeed in the NFL.
Projected: 6th-7th round
BEAR REPORT PICK
Considering Chicago's need for a speed rusher, the team should strongly consider Smith, Vernon or Fugger. All three are quick, undersized players that should excel in passing situations. Vernon's off-field troubles are cause for concern but he could turn into a very good player.
If I'm making the pick, I take Smith and see what defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli can do with him.
If the Bears are looking for a long-term, three-down player, then Crawford would be a great option in the fourth or fifth round. He's very raw but he has the size and skill set to be a beast in the NFL. He'll likely never be a double-digit sack player but he's solid against the run and has a lot of room for improvement.
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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.