For three years, the Chicago Bears have been one of the slowest teams in the NFL. Watching the playoffs this past season, it was amazing to see the speed of the Denver Broncos defense and how each player flew to the football. That speed, from top to bottom, is why the Broncos head into the 2016 season as the defending Super Bowl champs.
The Bears did very little to address their desperate need for speed during free agency last year. GM Ryan Pace's biggest free-agent acquisitions were a 280-pound outside linebacker (Pernell McPhee), a 32-year-old safety (Antrel Rolle) and a 29-year-old slot receiver (Eddie Royal) who has clearly lost a step.
Yet in the draft, Pace put an emphasis on speed. He used his first-round pick on WR Kevin White, whose 4.35 40-yard dash was second best at his position in the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine.
He used his fourth-round pick on RB Jeremy Langford, whose 4.42 40 was the fastest of any running back at the combine. He then used a fifth rounder on S Adrian Amos, who ran a 4.56 40, which was seventh best among safeties.
In his second draft, it's safe to assume that Pace will again be targeting players who can add to the team's level of overall speed.
With that in mind, let's take a look at the fastest players from the 2016 NFL Scouting Combine - which wrapped up today - at the Bears' biggest positions of need on defense.
Darron Lee, Ohio State: 4.47
Lee is slightly undersized (6-1, 232) but the two-year starter is a pure sideline-to-sideline linebacker. He excels in coverage and has the speed to match up with any tight end, and many slot receivers, in the NFL. He's not a downhill player and he struggles to disegage from blocks, which may make him a better fit at OLB in Chicago's 3-4 (he had 4.5 sacks last year). Projected: 2nd Round.
Travis Freeney, Washington: 4.50
Freeney is a converted safety who had 17.5 tackles for loss and 8 sacks last year. At 6-3, 225, he lacks ideal girth and relies almost exclusively on his speed and quickness to make plays. He's projected as either a 4-3 WILL or a 3-4 OLB. He should be able to make a name for himself as a late-round special teams player and priority backup. Projected: 6th-7th Round
De'Vondre Campbell, Minnesota: 4.58
Campbell is a well-proportioned, physical linebacker who can cover the entire field. A JUCO transfer, he was productive for two seasons with the Gophers. He's not the most instinctual player and struggles with his diagnostic ability, but he should make a very solid special teams player at the very least. Projected: 5th-6th Round
Deion Jones, LSU: 4.59
Jones is slightly undersized (6-1, 224) and was a starter for just one year for the Tigers, which is why he's considered a 3rd-round prospect. He's a rangy linebacker who brings good pop and shows good instincts. He might not be a Day 1 starter but his ceiling is very high. Projected: 3rd Round
Leonard Floyd, Georgia: 4.60
Floyd is a potential first-round prospect on whom the Bears are keeping a close eye. His speed around the edge is something the club is lacking with their current crops of OLBs. Floyd also showed top-tier explosiveness in Indianapolis, posting a 39.5 vertical jump and a 10-7 broad jump. He's an athletic freak who could take Chicago's pass rush to the next level, although he won't provide much on run downs. Projected: 1st-2nd Round.
Jonathan Jones, Auburn: 4.33
Jones was the third fastest player at the combine. He also posted 19 reps in the bench press, which was second most among corners. He has speed and strength but he lacks size (5-9, 186) which projects him as a slot corner in the NFL. He's also sketchy in run support but as a blazing nickelback, the Bears should give Jones strong consideration in the middle rounds. Projected: 5th Round
William Jackson, Houston: 4.37
Jackson has good size (6-0, 189) and length. He needs to get stronger (just 10 bench-press reps) and more physical at the line of scrimmage but his pure athleticism and balls skills have NFL teams drooling. If he drops to the Bears in the 2nd round, he'd be a steal. Projected: 1st-2nd Round
Kevon Seymour, USC: 4.39
Seymour had some injury issues at USC and was benched last season. He's not a physical player and does not have great instincts. He was outstanding on special teams though, which appears to be his best shot at making an NFL roster. Projected: 5th-6th Round
Eli Apple, Ohio State: 4.40
At 6-1, 199, Apple has the ideal combination of NFL size and speed. He's technically sound and very physical at the corner position. A redshirt sophomore, Apple has room for growth and may need a year before he becomes a starter at the next level. That said, his long-term ceiling is very high and he should be on Chicago's radar in Round 2. Projected: 2nd Round
Jalen Ramsey, Florida State: 4.41
Ramsey is widely considered the top cornerback in this year's draft, although some consider him a better fit at safety. At 6-1, 209 with 4.41 speed, his size and athleticism are off the charts. In Indy, he also had a 41.5 vertical jump and an 11-3 broad jump, which is amazing. He's big, fast and explosive, and is great in press coverage. The Bears are going to give Ramsey serious consideration with the 11th pick in the draft. Projected: 1st Round
T.J. Green, Clemson: 4.34
Green is an intriguing free safety with good coverage ability. A former wide receiver, he can play centerfield with ease. He's a very inconsistent tackler and has just one year of full-time starting experience, so he's not NFL ready just yet but the potential is there. He'll be a quality special teams player to start his NFL career. Projected: 5th Round
Tyvis Powell, Ohio State: 4.46
Powell has great range and intercepted seven passes the past two years combined. At 6-3, 211, he's a physical specimen, yet he doesn't play physical. He struggles in run support, so he'll likely be pegged as a single-high, free safety only, one who doesn't have value near the box. Powell can cover ground but he's one-dimensional. Projected: 5th Round
K.J. Dillon, West Virginia: 4.53
Dillon is a hybrid safety who can press tight ends or roam the deep middle. He was inconsistent as a tackler, which makes him a better fit at free safety. He has good burst and awareness in zone coverage. Dillson is an aggressive, smart player with developmental traits. Projected: 5th Round
DeAndre Houston-Carson: 4.54
A four-year starter who transferred from corner to free safety his senior year, Houston-Carson put down some impressive collegiate tape. He was productive and dominant at the FCS level. Some feel he's best suited to move back to cornerback, as he struggles to tackle in space. At 6-1, 201, he has good size for either position, and the speed to keep pace with NFL-level receivers. Projected: 3rd-4th Round