The Chicago Bears will undergo significant changes on defense this season.
For the first time in franchise history the club will run a 3-4 defense and not their traditional 4-3. With a switch in scheme comes a switch in personnel, much of which we’ve seen play out during free agency.
GM Ryan Pace has added new faces to the defensive line, including Ray McDonald and Jarvis Jenkins, two bookend 5-technique defensive ends, as well as Pernell McPhee, who will slide inside from his outside linebacker spot on passing downs.
Pace has made significant additions across the board on defense, except at nose tackle, where only the inexperienced Ego Ferguson and oft-injured Jeremiah Ratliff reside. In addition, Jenkins and McDonald signed just one-year deals, so there’s little stability with both players.
While there is fresh blood for defensive coordinator Vic Fangio along his defensive front, questions marks surround his entire front seven, which is why Chicago will be in the market for front-line defenders in this year’s draft.
We outlined the club’s options in the first three rounds at both defensive end and defensive tackle. Now it’s time to move into the mid and late rounds to find out what gems can be unearthed on the third day of the 2015 NFL Draft.
Henry Anderson, Stanford (6-6, 294)
Anderson led the Cardinal in 2014 with 15 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks. He tested well in the quickness drills at the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine and shows good strength on film.
He played multiple positions along the defensive line for Stanford, in both 4-3 and 3-4 defensive fronts. His positional versatility and body type are ideal for an NFL down lineman.
Anderson is a hard-nosed player who performs with strength and a no-quit attitude. He's not an exceptional athlete and lacks a true position, yet that could be of great benefit to a creative coordinator like Fangio. As a tough 5-technique and part-time nose tackle, Anderson would be a nice mid-round boost to Chicago's defense.
Projected: Round 4
Christian Covington, Rice (6-2, 289)
With small-school players, there’s always the concern about his diminished lack of competition at the collegiate level. So small-school prospects must dominate on film, which is exactly what Covington did for most of his career at Rice.
He’s a squat, powerful defender who was just too strong for most opposing offensive linemen in Conference USA. He’s quick off the ball with long arms he uses to create and keep separation.
Covington’s biggest concern is a dislocated kneecap that cost him half of the 2014 campaign. Yet he looked healthy at his recent pro day, which has him on the radar of many NFL teams.
If the Bears want a quality 5-technique in the fourth round, they’ll be crazy to overlook Covington, who could be an immediate contributor as a rotational defensive end.
Projected: Round 4
Letterius Walton, Central Michigan (6-5, 319)
Walton began his career at Central Michigan as an offensive lineman but switched to defensive tackle in 2010, where he steadily progressed.
He has the size and length NFL teams look for, at both nose tackle and 5-technique, with the frame to add more mass. Despite his size, he’s light on his feet and plays with a very high motor.
Walton averaged just two sacks per season and his collegiate numbers do not jump off the page. Yet he was consistently double teamed while learning a new position. He’s a project and may need a year in the weight room before he’s ready for full-time duty but Walton’s upside makes him very attractive in the middle rounds.
Projected: Round 5
Derrick Lott, Tennessee-Chattanooga (6-4, 314)
Lott transferred to Tennessee-Chattanooga after two years at Georgia where he could not secure playing time. At the small-school level, Lott dominated.
He has the size of an NFL nose tackle but the quickness of a 3-technique. He’s a skilled pass rusher with a full arsenal of pass-rush moves. Lott would be a quality fit on passing downs for the Bears, who will line up in 4-3 Under looks in nickel sets.
Yet Lott also has potential as a 5-technique run stuffer with some good fundamental coaching. He has an imposing frame and his 30 bench-press reps indicate top-tier upper body strength.
Projected: Round 5-6
A three-year starter and team captain in 2014, Mbu is an experienced, hard-working defensive tackle with the potential to play 5-technique or nose guard at the next level.
He offers almost nothing as a pass rusher but Mbu has the strength and long arms (35 inches) to stack and shed at the point of attack. He was a standout during Senior Bowl practices, where his strength and girth overwhelmed the competition.
He’s a one-dimensional player and there are serious concerns about his conditioning – as well as his weight, which ballooned to 350 in the past – yet as a versatile run stopper with ideal NFL size, Mbu would be a solid selection in the sixth and final round for the Bears.
Projected: Round 6
Corey Crawford, Clemson (6-5, 283)
Crawford had 10.5 tackles for loss and 16 QB hurries his junior season alongside consensus Top-10 pick Vic Beasley, yet his production tapered off dramatically in 2014.
A fluid athlete, Crawford shows solid awareness on film and good closing burst. He’s tall and long with the ability to stay skinny and shoot gaps.
There are questions about his desire and toughness, yet both of those traits can be instilled through coaching. As a rotational player with long-term upside, Crawford should be on Chicago’s radar in the sixth round.
Projected: Round 6
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.