Bears Draft Options: LB (Rounds 1-3)

Full analysis of the early-round linebackers in this year's draft class, with an eye toward prospects who can fill critical needs for the Chicago Bears' defense.

The Chicago Bears invested a second- and fourth-round pick on linebackers in last year's draft. Due to injury, both Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene saw plenty of field time as rookies, yet neither was very impressive.

Additionally, veterans Lance Briggs and D.J. Williams will be free agents next offseason, so the Bears will very likely be in the market for another young linebacker in this year's draft.

With that in mind, let's break down the top linebackers in the 2014 class to find prospects who could serve as long-term starters in Chicago.

Kahlil Mack, Buffalo (6-3, 251)

Mack was a highly productive four-year starter who was a second-team All-American last season. He's an explosive edge rusher who can create havoc in the backfield. He looks like a pure 3-4 outside linebacker and could be the first overall pick in the draft. Pigs will fly before Mack falls to the Bears at 14th overall.
Projected: Top 10

Anthony Barr, UCLA (6-5, 255)

A running back to start his career for the Bruins, Barr has just two year's experience at linebacker. He's a physical specimen whose upside is through the roof, yet he's extremely raw. He lacks ideal technique but he has all the tools to develop into an elite player. He was an edge rusher in UCLA's 3-4 defense and that appears his best fit in the pros as well. He won't likely fall to the Bears but if he does, GM Phil Emery could give him consideration as a hybrid DE/OLB.
Projected: Top 15

C.J. Mosley, Alabama (6-2, 234)

Mosley is a little thin for the position but he was extremely productive as a three-year starter for one of the top programs in the country. He's an explosive hitter with great vision. He also shows intelligence and awareness in coverage. Mosley is a film-room junkie who takes his craft very seriously. There are no weaknesses to his game, yet he dealt with numerous injuries (elbow, hip, shoulder) during his collegiate career. If he checks out medically, there's no doubt Mosley could be next in a long line of historic Bears middle linebackers.
Projected: 1st Round

Ryan Shazier
Mike Carter/USA TODAY

Ryan Shazier, Ohio State (6-1, 237)

Film of Shazier is very impressive, as his intelligence and tackling ability jumps off the screen. He hits like a brick wall and has outstanding speed to chase down ball carriers. He reportedly ran in the 4.3s at his pro day (he didn't run at the combine). Shazier has experience at both inside and outside linebacker and can play in either a 3-4 or 4-3 system. He's a bit undersized but his production (his 143 tackles led the Big Ten last season) cannot be overlooked. His extreme athleticism and outstanding collegiate tape has him rising up draft boards. It might be a reach, but if Emery wants an impact linebacker who can start on Day 1, he'll call Shazier's name in the first round.
Projected: 1st Round

Kyle Van Noy, BYU (6-3, 243)

Van Noy was a 3-4 rush OLB for the Cougars who had 12.0 sacks as a junior. Yet at the Senior Bowl, Van Noy showed good range and awareness in coverage, showing he can play in either 3-4 or 4-3 systems. He's an instinctive player who fights off blocks well. He's not extremely athletic but he does most everything well. He's a borderline first round pick and, due to his upside, won't likely be available to the Bears in the second round.
Projected: 1st-2nd Round

Chris Borland, Wisconsin (5-11, 248)

Borland doesn't have ideal height but he's built like a tank with a powerful upper body. He's a throwback linebacker who plays downhill against the run and packs a punch. A team leader, Borland is almost always the smartest player on the field. His 14 career forced fumbles are a Wisconsin school record. He's a three-year starter at linebacker who is Day-1 ready. He wasn't asked to drop back much in college but he showed very good range in coverage during the Senior Bowl. If he falls to Chicago in the second round, he'll serve as the club's MLB for the next 10 years.
Projected: 2nd Round

Jeremiah Attaochu, Georgia Tech (6-3, 252)

Attaochu converted from 3-4 outside linebacker to a 4-3 defensive end last year. He's explosive off the edge and is relentless attacking the quarterback. He doesn't have much experience dropping in coverage and is relatively raw (he didn't start playing football until high school). He struggled against the run at DE and appears to be a pure 3-4 OLB. He's a hybrid player with upside, the type of player toward whom Emery gravitates. Yet after the failed Shea McClellin experiment, it would be surprising if the Bears selected Attaochu.
Projected: 2nd Round

Telvin Smith, Florida State (6-3, 218)

Smith is the smallest linebacker in this year's class, with a frame nearly identical to that of Alshon Jeffery, albeit much stronger. Smith is extremely fast on the field and his slight frame allows him to easily traverse the wash. He can slip through blocks and has great closing speed. He also has above-average awareness in coverage. Due to his size, Smith is a pure outside linebacker whose ability to chase down ball carriers would fit best on the weak side. He started just one year for the Seminoles, so he lacks ideal experience, yet his athleticism and high-motor, emotional playing style could make him a decent third-round pick for the Bears. And if he packs on 15 pounds, watch out.
Projected: 2nd-3rd Round

Trevor Reilly, Utah (6-5, 245)

Reilly has experience at all three linebacker positions and has the skill set to possibly line up with his hand in the dirt at the next level. He's a tough, powerful player who excels at stopping the run. He can crash and set the edge, and he's a solid tackler. He's a three-year starter and team leader, one who could immediately start at SAM in a 4-3 system. He's coming off knee surgery, which is a concern, and he's not overly athletic. Still, Reilly's positional versatility and ability against the run could make him very attractive to the Bears, particularly if he falls to third round.
Projected: 2nd-3rd Round

Carl Bradford
Christian Petersen/Getty

Carl Bradford, Arizona State (6-1, 250)

Bradford jumped between ILB, OLB and DE for the Sun Devils. He projects best as a 3-4 OLB, although he could get run as a WILL in a 4-3 system. He's a highly explosive prospect who plays with a lot of emotion. He's a multifaceted athlete who plays smart. Bradford lacks ideal size and athleticism. He's your classic overachiever. His short arms will hurt him in pass rush and he struggled fighting off blocks against the run. He's limited but as a standout special teams player, with the versatility to fill in at a number of positions, he might be worth a look in the third round.
Projected: 2nd-3rd Round

Yawin Smallwood, Connecticut (6-2, 246)

A three-year starter at middle linebacker for the Huskies, Smallwood was a highly productive player who was a Butkus Award finalist in 2013. A two-time All-Conference player, Smallwood is a very smart prospect, one whose intelligence masks some of his athletic deficiencies. He must get stronger in the upper body but he still packs a punch when taking down ball carriers. He's at his best in coverage, where he shows great instincts. He's a tough, every-down linebacker who is an effective blitzer. He's not fast, big or powerful, and may be a better fit at outside linebacker, yet Smallwood would be good value in the third round as a priority backup with upside, as well as a special teams ace.
Projected: 3rd Round

Jordan Tripp, Montana (6-3, 234)

Tripp is a strong, muscular team captain who was a two-time AP FCS All-American. He plays downhill and gives maximum effort. He's highly instinctive and is always around the ball. He's limited athletically but has the mentality and drive to overcome. He's an overachiever who should be a standout special teams player, with the upside to be a starter at any of the three linebacker positions in Chicago's 4-3 system.
Projected: 3rd Round

The Pick: Chris Borland

The biggest problem for Chicago's linebackers last year was their inability to finish plays at the point of attack. That led to numerous opposing ball carriers running free into the secondary, and a 32nd-ranked run defense.

With Borland, those problems would end. He's a stout, powerful middle linebacker with experience and a high level of intelligence. He also erased some of the questions about his ability in coverage with a strong showing in 1-on-1 drills at the Senior Bowl.

A hard worker and on-field leader, Borland could step in right away and start at MLB for the Bears. With him supporting the new-look defensive line, Chicago's defense could immediately jump into the top half of the league against the run.

Borland may not have the athletic ability of Mack, Barr and Shazier, but he's a sound football player who could lead the Bears' defense for years.

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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