It was confirmed this week by head coach John Fox the Chicago Bears will be transitioning from their historic 4-3 defense to a 3-4 front. It’s the system with which new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio has been very successful the past four years.
A system shift of this magnitude often comes with considerable, sometimes wholesale, changes in personnel.
As such, tomorrow’s workout sessions at the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine, when linebackers and defensive linemen take the field, will be of significant interest to Fox, Fangio and GM Ryan Pace.
Here are eight players the Bears should be tracking closely.
According to our Scout.com Mock Draft Muncher, most draft analysts believe Shelton will be the Bears’ pick at No. 7 overall. He’s a massive nose tackle with uncanny quickness and light feet. He has ideal girth for a space-eating, 0-technique and the ability to play in a one-gap or two-gap scheme.
Shelton has the potential to be the most disruptive defender in this year’s class, one many believe can anchor Fangio’s defense for years to come. Comparisons to Vince Wilfork, of which there have been many, are legitimate.
Shelton is meeting with Bears brass tonight and is obviously high on the team’s radar. A strong showing on the field tomorrow could seal the deal for Pace and Fox, assuming Shelton is still on the board at No. 7 overall.
Davis has nose tackle size but plays like a lineman much smaller. When he stays low, he’s hard to move and can anchor against double teams. Yet he’s also an effective penetrator, giving him value in one-gap systems as well.
In terms of technique, Davis needs work and must learn how to use leverage to his advantage. If he develops and hits his ceiling, he has Pro Bowl potential.
In Chicago, Davis could play both nose tackle and defensive end. Lining him up at 5-technique alongside Ego Ferguson would give the Bears a strong front on running downs. Davis would be a quality insurance policy in the second round, assuming he falls that far, if Pace and Fox miss out on Shelton.
Ray is one of the best edge rushers in this year’s class. He has an outstanding first step and the ability to quickly turn the edge.
Yet Ray plays a little stiff in the hips and there are concerns about his ability to change directions. The quickness drills, 3-cone and shuttle, will tell a lot about a player who could fill a major hole in Chicago.
If Ray can demonstrate fluidity during his on-field workout, he’ll solidify his spot as one of the top candidates for the Bears in the first round.
Many believe Dupree is going to light it up in Indianapolis tomorrow. A wicked athlete, he’s expected to beat Jadeveon Clowney’s 4.59 40-yard dash from a year ago.
Dupree is considered a late-first-round talent, yet if he puts on a show Sunday, he could jump into the Top 15. That would surely land him on Chicago’s radar.
Dupree could be an ideal fit at OLB under Fangio. If the Bears could trade back a few spots in the first round, they’d land a quality edge rusher and an extra draft pick. If Dupree sets Lucas Oil Stadium on fire, Pace and Fox may have to seriously consider him as a first-round target.
OLB Lorenzo Mauldin, Louisville (6-4, 259)
Selecting Shelton in the first round would force the Bears to address outside linebacker in one of the next two rounds. Mauldin is a third-round prospect who could far outplay his draft-day status. A high-character, 110-percent player with a dangerous inside swim move, he was very productive at Louisville – 31.5 tackles for loss, 20.5 sacks and five forced fumbles in three seasons, two as a starter.
There are questions regarding Mauldin’s athleticism, which gives extra importance to his workout on Sunday. If he shows well in Indianapolis, he’ll be a mid-round target for the Bears.
A quick-twitch athlete, Harold combines a solid first step with the ability to bend the corner. He can get up-field in a hurry and also has the power to set the edge. Harold has the all-around skill-set that could make him a Day 1 starter in the NFL.
Harold has little experience in coverage, so he’ll be judged closely in Indianapolis for his ability to move in space. If he checks off that box, and falls to the Bears at 39th overall, he might be too good to pass up.
ILB Bernardrick McKinney, Mississippi State (6-4, 256)
Even after two seasons, it’s still unclear if Jon Bostic is Chicago’s middle linebacker of the future. In addition, it’s anyone’s guess how he’ll fit as a 3-4 linebacker.
McKinney is a powerful, downhill linebacker who closes quickly and packs a pop. He’s extremely athletic and could be a force under Fangio on first and second down.
Yet McKinney struggled in coverage during his collegiate career. NFL teams will want to see him move in space at the combine. His performance in that area could be the deciding factor as to whether or not McKinney will fall the Bears in the second round.
LB/S Shaq Thompson, Washington (6-0, 228)
Thompson is a hybrid player who played linebacker, safety and running back in college. He has said publicly he’s a linebacker but NFL teams may see it differently. He’ll be worked out as both a linebacker and as a running back tomorrow.
Thompson is an extreme athlete who has the size and speed of a safety but the tackling and explosive ability of a linebacker. He’s also a pretty decent running back, so he’s arguably the most versatile player in this year’s class. He has ridiculous range on defense and the size to match up with the new breed of NFL tight ends.
In workouts, Thompson should be a beast. His performance in Indy could propel him into the first-round conversation. He’s an ideal trade-back candidate for the Bears.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his fifth season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter.