Bears Scouting Tour: 3/21

The Chicago Bears sent team representatives to Missouri and Notre Dame pro days, where a number of early round defensive players were on display.

Under the Dome

The Chicago Bears were one of 32 NFL teams who sent representatives to Sound Bend for Notre Dame's pro day yesterday. The event was held outdoors on field turf.

The Fighting Irish have a trio of potential first-round picks: NT Louis Nix, DE Stephon Tuitt and OT Zack Martin.

Martin (6-4, 308) is the only surefire lock for the first round. He was a four-year starter at left tackle who set Notre Dame's school record with 52 career starts. He's an athletic lineman with great technique. A two-time team captain, Martin has leadership and intangibles in spades. Many believe he's best fit at guard, although he has no experience at the position. Martin didn't work out yesterday due to a hamstring issue. The Bears, who are satisfied with their current front five, are highly unlikely to take Martin in Round 1.

Nix played at close to 350 pounds yet dropped weight the past few months, down to 331, to prove he can be a 4-3 defensive tackle at the next level. Yet even after shedding 20 pounds, Nix is more of a space eater than a penetrating defender. He ran 5.34 in the 40 and drew mixed reviews from his positional workout. He could have value for the Bears at nose tackle, where he can occupy blockers. If he drops into the second round, GM Phil Emery may give him a look.

Stephon Tuitt
Matt Cashore/USA TODAY Sports

Like Nix, Tuitt (6-5, 304) is better suited for a 3-4 defense. He could play in Chicago's 4-3 as a run stopper but it's doubtful he'll have much impact as a pass rusher. He did not work out yesterday due to surgery on his right foot on March 1. Yet the Bears were one of 29 teams present at his individual workout on February 28. Tuitt is extremely powerful at the point of attack and but he's a long shot to wind up in Chicago.

Troy Niklas (6-7, 270) is a former linebacker who transitioned to tight end during the 2012 offseason. He was third on the team last year in receiving with 32 catches for 498 yards and five touchdowns. Niklas is very athletic but raw. His size and upside have many NFL teams intrigued, which is why he's considered a potential second-round selection. Chicago needs a backup to Martellus Bennett and Niklas has the upside to be a solid all-around No. 2. That said, with so many needs to fill on defense, it's unlikely the Bears will use a high pick on a backup tight end.

Wide receiver T.J. Jones (6-0, 188) is a potential fourth- or fifth-round pick. He led the Irish with 70 catches for 1,108 yards and nine touchdowns, including scoring grabs in seven straight games. Jones has great hands and is a dependable target in the red zone. He's not an amazing athlete and could have helped his draft stock with a strong performance in South Bend, yet he pulled his right hamstring early in the process and was limited the rest of the day.

The player most likely to be selected by the Bears could be cornerback Bennett Jackson (6-0, 195), a potential fifth- or sixth-round pick. He started 26 games for the Irish and was a team captain his senior year. He had a good combine, finishing as one of the top performers at his position in the broad jump (10-8), three-cone drill (6.75) and 20-yard shuttle (4.00). He ran a 4.51 40-yard dash in Indianapolis but improved to 4.41 and 4.42 yesterday. He did not participate in positional drills due to a hamstring injury. Jackson has good size and special teams experience, so he could be on Chicago's roster as a developmental corner who can help in the third phase.

Meat Market at Mizzou

The Bears were one of 31 teams present for Missouri's pro day (the Washington Redskins were the only team that did not attend). The big names on hand were edge rushers Kony Ealy and Michael Sam, last year's SEC Defensive Player of the Year.

Ealy (6-4, 273) ran a 40-yard dash that ranged from 4.56 to 4.63, depending on who was holding the stopwatch, which was a significant improvement over his 4.91 at the combine. Ealy participated in both defensive end and linebacker drills and reportedly looked very good, fluid and athletic. Here is our full scouting report on Ealy.

Sam (6-2, 261) also improved his 40 time to between 4.69 and 4.78, yet he came up lame on his second attempt due to a hamstring injury. He gutted out positional drills but it was obvious the leg injury was hurting him. He looked stiff in space and did nothing to help prove he can be a 3-4 OLB at the next level. Here is our full scouting report on Sam.

Wide receiver L'Damian Washington (6-4, 195) was the player who helped himself the most, running a sub-4.4 40-yard dash (he ran a 4.46 at the combine). Washington is a project as a receiver – he has sketchy hands and must work on his route running – but he has top-tier straight-line speed. He can have an impact at the next level due to his ability to stretch the field vertically. Players with Washington's blend of size and speed do not come around very often, so it's likely a number of teams, including the Bears, will be interested in Washington as a late-round draft pick or priority free agent.

Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his fourth season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.

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