Bears Draft Prospects: OLB (Rounds 1-3)

We break down the top outside linebackers in the 2015 NFL Draft, with an eye toward best fits for the Chicago Bears, who could be in the market for an edge rusher early.

With the vast majority of free agency in the books, the Chicago Bears currently have a glut of potential outside linebackers on the roster.

Here are the candidates who will vie for four, or possibly five, roster spots come training camp this year:

Pernell McPhee
Jared Allen
Lamarr Houston
David Bass
Shea McClellin
Christian Jones
Cornelius Washington

This list does not include Willie Young, who should return from an Achilles tear at some point during the regular season.

That’s potentially eight players competing for four spots. So why would the Bears draft an outside linebacker early in the 2015 NFL Draft?

Because there are question marks surrounding each of those players as full-time edge rushers in defensive coordinator Vic Fangio’s 3-4 system.

From McPhee’s inexperience, to the health of Houston’s knee and Allen being over the hill, it’s clear the Bears have many bodies but few guarantees at the position.

With that in mind, here are the top outside linebackers projected to come off the board in the first three rounds of this year’s draft.

Dante Fowler, Florida (6-3, 261)

Fowler has the classic NFL body type for an outside linebacker, with a chiseled frame and muscular upper body. He’s extremely quick and agile, and packs a pop when he’s moving downhill. He’s not overly explosive at the snap but he makes up for it in pass rush with active hands and good closing burst.

He played ILB, DE and OLB for the Gators, so his positional versatility would be very attractive to a creative coordinator like Fangio. Fowler struggles to get off blocks and may not have a true position in the NFL but if he ever hits his ceiling, he’ll earn multiple Pro Bowls at the next level.
Projected: Top 10

Vic Beasley, Clemson (6-3, 246)

Beasley is an athletic freak who tested off the charts at the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine, where he showed up 10 pounds heavier than his playing weight. He’s lightning quick off the snap and has the speed and agility to turn the corner, while also the balance to cross over and rush inside.

He struggles to set the edge at times but his speed gives him sideline-to-sideline ability. There’s very little not to like about Beasley, who had 33 career sacks in 39 games for the Tigers. If he falls to the Bears at 7th overall, GM Ryan Pace may run to the podium to select one of the top edge rushers in the draft.
Projected: Top 10

Shane Ray, Missouri (6-3, 245)

Ray may have the quickest first step of any rusher in this class, as well as the speed to consistently turn the corner. He’s agile with a full arsenal of pass-rush moves. A highly productive collegiate player (14.5 sacks, 22.5 tackles for loss in 2014) Ray has experience as both a 4-3 DE and a 3-4 OLB.

There are concerns about Ray’s stiff hips and change-of-direction ability, which could be problem if he’s asked to drop into coverage. Other than that, Ray is one of the safest edge rushers available and would be a solid option for the Bears in the first round.
Projected: Top 10

Randy Gregory, Nebraska (6-5, 236)

Gregory is a raw athlete but has the highest ceiling of potentially any player in this draft. He’s long, fast and extremely athletic. He also has positional versatility, having played OLB, DE and ILB for the Cornhuskers. Gregory has the tools to be one of the most disruptive pass rushers in the NFL.

He’s admittedly addicted to marijuana and failed two drug tests at Nebraska and another at the combine. Those are major red flags. Yet if he can keep his nose clean in a veteran-heavy locker room, Gregory could develop into the best player from this class.
Projected: Top 15

Alvin Dupree, Kentucky (6-4, 269)

Dupree was freakish at the combine, running a 4.56 40-yard dash at nearly 270 pounds. That’s rare. He’s an explosive, long athlete with a very mature set of pass-rush moves. He packs pop and speed and could make life miserable for the less-mobile offensive tackles in the NFL.

Dupree lacks playing strength and struggles to separate once locked up, which often hurts him against the run. Yet because all his physical tools, he’s jumped into the Top 10 conversation and could be a sneaky pick for the Bears if the other edge rushers are already off the board.
Projected: Top 15

Owamagbe Odighizuwa, UCLA (6-3, 267)

Odighizuwa is a physical specimen who showed extreme athletic ability at the combine, with straight-line speed, burst and quickness. In terms of pure talent, he’s off the charts. His powerful upper body helps him set the edge and stay stout at the point of attack. He can shed blocks and has good range against the run.

Yet Odighizuwa doesn’t offer much as a pass rusher and is likely only a part-time player at the next level. He’ll be very good against the run but he might be best fit as a 4-3 run-stopping defensive end.
Projected: Round 1-2

Eli Harold, Virginia (6-3, 247)

Harold is lanky and long with outstanding burst off the ball. He can bend and turn the corner and has top-tier speed-rush potential in the NFL. He’s raw in his technique but his athleticism gives him limitless upside. He doesn’t set the edge well against the run but if the Bears forego outside linebacker in the first round, Harold would make a quality consolation prize in the second.
Projected: Round 1-2

Preston Smith, Mississippi St. (6-5, 271)

Smith is a powerful player who is very good against the run. He knows how to stack and shed, and uses his good backfield vision to track ball carriers. He was used as a defensive tackle on many passing downs, while also showing well when asked to drop into coverage. As a versatile defender who could play multiple positions in Fangio’s 3-4, the Bears will surely consider Smith in the second round.
Projected: Round 2

Danielle Hunter, LSU (6-5, 252)

Hunter has explosiveness and tremendous length (34 ¼-inch wingspan) and is a high-character player. He’s not that quick off the snap, relying more on his upper-body power and a solid spin move as a pass rusher. Hunter plays with a high motor and has the potential to be disruptive in the backfield (73 total tackles, 13 tackles for loss last season). Hunter’s lack of sack production is a concern but most feel he’s yet to tap his full potential.
Projected: Round 2

Nate Orchard, Utah (6-3, 250)

Orchard is an accomplished pass rusher whose 18 sacks and 28 quarterback knockdowns led the nation last season. He explodes out of his stance and can rush inside and outside with equal precision. There are concerns about Orchard being a one-year wonder and his marginal ability against the run, which is why he’s not considered a first-round talent. Yet as a pure speed rusher, the Bears could do a lot worse than Orchard.
Projected: Round 2

Trey Flowers, Arkansas (6-2, 266)

Flowers was a consistent producer for the Razorbacks who earned second-team All-SEC honors the past two seasons. He relies on pure strength and a high motor to be effective from both a three-point and two-point stance. He compares favorably to Pernell McPhee, although without the burst. As a rotational OLB and 5-tech on first and second down, Flowers is worth a look for the Bears in the third round.
Projected: Round 2-3

Hau’oli Kikaha, Washington (6-2, 253)

Washington’s all-time sack leader, Kikaha has a lot of potential on third downs at the next level. What he lacks in athleticism (4.90 40-yard dash) he makes up for with a high motor. Kikaha is a liability against the run and tore his ACL twice in college, both of which are red flags. As a pure edge rusher in the third round, with the potential to get better against the run, Kikaha would be solid mid-round value.
Projected: Round 3

Lorenzo Mauldin, Louisville (6-4, 259)

Mauldin is an average athlete who lacks a top-tier skill set. That said, he’s an extremely hard worker with great character, having grown up in 16 foster homes as a kid. He’s solid against the run and pass, with room to improve in both areas. Mauldin may never be an impact player at the next level but he’ll make the Bears better as rotational outside linebacker and locker-room plus.
Projected: Round 3

THE PICK: Randy Gregory

In all likelihood, Fowler and Beasley, and potentially Ray, will all be off the board when it’s Chicago’s turn to pick in the first round.

Gregory, due to his failed drug test at the combine, will surely fall to 7th overall.

Remember, this is a kid who in January was considered a Top 3 overall pick in the draft. His drug issues and slight frame are concerning but his talent cannot be denied. He’s arguably the best pass rusher in this draft and he’s going to fall into Chicago’s lap.

Gregory is too good to pass up, even with the obvious risk he carries.

If the Bears address an alternate position in the first round, Eli Harold would be an outstanding option in the second round. He’s a work in progress against the run but Harold could have an immediate impact on third downs, which would allow Fangio to slide McPhee and Houston to defensive end in passing situations.

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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.

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