Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY Sports

Chicago Bears 2016 Draft Preview: Linebacker (Rounds 1-3)

Detailed analysis on the inside and outside linebackers in the 2016 NFL Draft, with a focus on which players can best fill needs for the Chicago Bears.

The Chicago Bears have talent at the linebacker positions. 

Pernell McPhee, Lamarr Houston and Willie Young have proven their worth at outside linebacker, while the team invested heavily at inside linebacker with free-agent acquisitions Danny Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman. 

Yet age is a concern with this group (Freeman turns 30 next month and Young will be 31 a week into the regular season) as is injury, particularly with the outside linebackers. 

Another concern at OLB is the lack of a pure speed rusher, while depth is still needed at inside linebacker. 

As such, expect the Bears to potentially address both linebacker positions in the 2016 NFL Draft. 

With that in mind, here are the top inside and outside linebackers in this year's class.

Myles Jack, UCLA (6-1, 245)

Jack is an explosive, versatile defender who contributed as both a 4-3 OLB and a running back for the Bruins. A smooth, intelligent linebacker, Jack takes on blocks with power, and has excellent diagnostic ability and closing speed. He's also agile and aware in coverage, so much so that he's been worked out as a safety by NFL teams. Jack's biggest issue is a knee injury that cut his junior year short after just three games. He didn't participate at the combine but was medically cleared for his pro day, although he again was limited in the running drills. If his injury is too big a concern for teams in the Top 10, there's an outside shot Jack will fall to the Bears at 11th overall, where he'd be too good to pass up.
Projected: Top 10

Darron Lee, Ohio State (6-1, 232)

Lee is the rangiest inside linebacker in this year's class. He put on a show at the combine and ran a blistering 4.47 40-yard dash. He's athletic, intelligent and explosive, and he's a sound tackler. He's also very good in coverage and plays with solid instincts. The issue with Lee is that he's small and there are concerns about his ability to shed blocks at the next level. He needs to add strength. He's a very good player but he'd be a backup ILB for the Bears, which might not give him enough value to warrant the 11th pick in the draft. 
Projected: 1st Round

Leonard Floyd, Georgia (6-6, 244)

Floyd is an agile, versatile defender who played ILB, OLB and DE for the Bulldogs. He's a speed rusher off the edge, one who is quick off the snap and can bend and turn the corner. He can also line up at inside linebacker, where he can utilize his quickness and aggressiveness. A pursuit player with an all-day motor, with positional flexibility, could be very valuable in coordinator Vic Fangio's defense. His size is a concern but he played in the 220s and packed on 20 pounds before the combine, which is a good sign. Some don't feel he's worth the 11th overall pick but I disagree, as he'd bring the speed-rush element lacking in Chicago's defense.  
Projected: 1st Round

Reggie Ragland, Alabama (6-1, 247)

The reigning SEC Defensive Player of the Year, Ragland is a downhill linebacker who excels against the run. A team leader and quality open-field tackler, Ragland has the size, diagnostic ability and temperament to be a force on 1st and 2nd down in the NFL. Yet he's limited in coverage and he doesn't possess good speed. As a part-time player who might have to come off the field on passing downs, Ragland doesn't fit the Bears' first-round needs.
Projected: 1st Round

Jaylon Smith, Notre Dame (6-2, 223)

A consensus All-American last season, Smith was a Top 5 overall selection before shredding his knee in the Fiest Bowl. Smith tore his ACL and MCL, and the combine medicals revealed some potential nerve damage. It's an injury similar to that of former South Carolina RB Marcus Lattimore. Before the injury, Smith was a sideline-to-sideline interior linebacker with elite speed, awareness and toughness. He's also fluid in coverage and a force as a blitzer. He's the full package, when healthy. Concerns have built around his knee to the point many believe he'll fall out of the first round entirely. If Smith is there when the Bears pick in the second round (41st overall), GM Ryan Pace will have a tough decision to make. If Smith comes back to full health in the near future, he'll be a Pro Bowl NFL player. But he may never play a snap in the NFL, just like Lattimore. At this point, he's the biggest boom-or-bust player in the draft. 
Projected: 1st-2nd Round

Joshua Perry, Ohio State (6-4, 254)

Perry is a big, downhill linebacker with typical size for a 3-4 ILB. He fills gaps with power and is arguably the best tackler in this year's draft - he had just one missed tackle the last two years combined. He's not great in coverage and will probably have to come off the field on passing downs. With so many other needs on defense, the Bears might forego using a second-round pick on Perry, a limited athlete whose value is tied to run plays. 
Projected: 2nd Round

Su'a Cravens, USC (6-1, 226)

Cravens is an intriguing player whose game most resembles Troy Polamalu. He played safety for the Trojans his junior year but moved to a hybrid linebacker role his final two years. He's hard-nosed player with elite burst, explosiveness and playmaking ability. Cravens can slam inside against the run and cover tight ends man-to-man. For the Bears, Cravens could work in a similar hybrid role, working at both strong safety and in a rover linebacker role. Size is a concern, as he's small for a linebacker and big for a safety. He's ideally suited for a 4-3 WILL role but Cravens could be a weapon at multiple positions for a creative coordinator like Fangio. 
Projected: 2nd Round

Kentrell Brothers, Missouri (6-0, 245)

Brothers is one of the smartest, most productive linebackers of the past two collegiate seasons. He's well built and his diagnostic abilities are top-tier. He had more stops than any other collegiate player in 2014 and 2015 combined. His instincts and overall understanding of the game and the position should create a dependable ILB in the pros. He is not an outstanding athlete and lacks length, so he's not going to beat teams with off-the-charts playmaking. His ceiling is limited but his floor is very high, making Brothers one of the safer linebacker selections in this class. 
Projected: 2nd Round

Dominique Alexander, Oklahoma (6-0, 232)

Alexander was a heavy tackler for the Sooners the past two years, racking up 210 tackles in 2014 and 2015 combined. He has sideline-to-sideline speed and the agility cover man-to-man on tight ends and running backs. He tackles with authority and is willing to throw his body into the pile to disrupt run plays. Alexander doesn't possess good height or length and he struggles to get off blocks. Those are legitimate areas of concern. He can move but he probably won't make a good fit in a 3-4 scheme. 
Projected: 3rd Round

Kamalei Correa, Boise State (6-3, 243)

Correa flashed big at Boise State, posting 19 sacks the past two years combined. He's a quick-twitch athlete who has a full arsenal of pass-rush moves. He can effectively burn the edge and crossover the offensive tackle. He has potential as a 3-4 edge rusher but he's a project in terms of technique and pass-rush awareness. He has some coverage ability but he's better when moving up-field. His burst and straight-line speed create a high ceiling for Correa, who has the athleticism to warrant a third-round pick.
Projected: 3rd Round

Kyler Fackrell, Utah State (6-5, 245)

Fackrell is a standup edge rusher with experience in coverage. He's a tall, long player with outstanding athleticism. He's fluid in his movements, and can change directions and close. His long strides help him close ground quickly, which when added with his all-day motor and aggressiveness, gives him a wide tackle radius. He didn't have elite sack totals but he often dropped in coverage, and most believe he hasn't tapped his potential as a pass rusher. He missed all of 2014 after tearing his ACL, so injuries are a concern, but he stayed healthy in 2015. He's not an explosive player and doesn't do anything great but his movement ability and upside would fit well in Chicago, especially if he's available in the third round. 
Projected: 3rd Round

Deion Jones, LSU (6-1, 222)

Jones only started for one year at LSU but he was outstanding, racking up 100 tackles and 13.5 tackles for loss. He's a chase linebacker with very good speed - he ran a 4.59 at the combine and was reportedly in the low-4.4s at his pro day. He's not an explosive, downhill player but he makes up for it with his burst and acceleration. He's not the best at fighting off blocks and must use his hands more effectively. He needs to add strength as well. He was solid in coverage last year (2 INTs, 3 PBUs) and as a blitzer (5 sacks). Jones is inexperienced and lacks ideal size but his athleticism will make him a quality contributor on special teams, with plenty of upside to potentially contribute on defense. 
Projected: 3rd Round

The Pick

Kyler Fackrell: If the Bears think Floyd is worth the 11th overall pick, or if Pace is able to trade back in the first round and still get him, it would be a solid selection. At 11, he's a bit of a reach and the concerns about his ability to hold up at the point of attack are valid. He's versatility and has a lot of potential, but Floyd also carries a fair amount of risk at a position that isn't a dire need for the Bears. 

Since inside linebacker isn't an early round priority, then a third-round selection of Fackrell makes sense. 

On film, Fackrell shows high-level quickness and burst. He accelerates at high speed and his long legs allow him to eat up space. He also flexible and can effectively dip his shoulder and turn the corner. He has some serious upside as a 3-4 edge rusher and he also has experience and value on passing downs. Dropping into coverage is one of Fackrell's strengths, as he had 8 pass breakups and 4 interceptions during his career. 

He's not a refined pass rusher and he doesn't have great upper-body strength but Fackrell is a high-upside player who has yet to reach his ceiling. He has the potential to be an effective 3-down player in the pros and he'd be good value for the Bears in the third round. 


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