The Chicago Bears invested heavily in free agency at inside linebacker, signing arguably the top two players at the position, Jerrell Freeman and Danny Trevathan. Yet that didn't stop the club from selecting another inside linebacker in the fourth round of this year's draft, Nick Kwiatkoski from West Virginia.
Described by GM Ryan Pace as a "throwback" linebacker, Kwiatkoski was a three-year starter for the Mountaineers, racking up 275 total tackles those three seasons combined. He played all three LB spots for WVU, lining up at WILL, MIKE and SAM, yet he spent most of his time on the strong side last year.
The Bears believe Kwiatkoski can eventually develop into a starter, but why?
To answer that question, I broke down game film of Kwiatkoski from three contests last season. Here's what I found.
vs. Kansas State
-0:00, zone coverage, pass thrown over his head, jumps up and swats it away, good awareness and reaction.
-1:28, zone coverage, gets a good chuck on the tight end but then turns eyes back to QB and loses receiver, pass completed over his head. Not all his fault, as it was zone coverage, but he missed an opportunity to make a play on the ball.
-1:50, takes on lead blocker and fills gap, puts FB on his butt, forces RB to cut outside to his help. Strong run fit by Kwiatkoski.
-2:55, rush off the edge, stonewalled by Cody Whitehair, no use of any pass-rush move, although he never quits on the play.
-3:20, zone coverage, Kwiatkoski drops toward right hash, his head is on a swivel, pass thrown at him, he locks on to the crossing receiver and breaks up the play.
-3:50, edge rush, WR tries to block him, Kwiatkowsk explodes into the block and dumps the receiver, gets a hit on the QB.
-4:50, stretch play his direction, Kwiatkoski hurries to the corner and tries to cut back to the RB but he loses his footing and is dumped by the OL. Lack of balance a problem on this snap.
-5:02, lead play run right at him, Kwiatkoski lowers the boom on the fullback. He’s in the backfield so quick that the pulling guard gets distracted by him, which allows the rest of the KSU defense to engulf the ball carrier behind the line of scrimmage.
**Editor's Note: This film is of WR Corey Coleman, as the KSU game was the only cutup of Kwiatkoski I could find. He's No. 35, the white linebacker not wearing any sleeves. I highlight where he's lined up on each snap.**
-0:00, lined up at weak-side OLB, play run up the middle, Kwiatkoski tracks ball and takes proper angle of pursuit, takes down ball carrier to prevent a huge gain. Solid fundamentals to backtrack on a play run away from him.
-0:28, middle run, Kwiatkoski reads the play before ball is even handed off, explodes into the backfield and takes down ball carrier behind the line of scrimmage. Play recognition and aggression on display.
-3:08, lined up on LOS, play run right at him, Baylor uses a DT as lead blocker, Kwiatkoski attacks the DT but he’s put on his heels and is unable to recover. RB goes right by him.
-3:55, lined up behind the LDE, he blitzes into the backfield and destroys the RB. A clear example of his ability to convert speed to power.
-5:22, lined up at ROLB, blitzes, TE stands in to block, Kwiatkoski explodes into his chest and drives him into the face of the QB.
vs. Texas Tech
**Editor's Note: This film is of RB DeAndre Washington, yet it's great tape to view Kwiatkoski, who is No. 35 and not wearing sleeves.**
-0:00, lined up at ROLB, stretch play run right at him, Kwiatkoski attacks the lead blocker and rocks him on his heels, he’s then held, which doesn’t allow him to disengage and make the play.
-0:30, lined up at ROLB, play run B gap his side, Kwiatkoski is unblocked and shuffles down to make the play. Sticks his nose in.
-0:36, zone coverage, slow-developing backside screen play, Kwiatkoski is in the middle of the field when pass is caught, OL right in front of him, he uses a RB-like juke to go right around the blocker and make the tackle. Good quickness, patience and understanding of how to work past the OL in space.
-0:49, run play right at him, Kwiatkoski rocks the lead blocker, sheds and makes the tackle at the line of scrimmage. Impressive, physical snap.
-2:08, lined up at LOLB, sweep run his direction, lead blocker uses cut block, Kwiatkoski is unable to get his hands on the blocker and his legs are taken out from underneath him. Not good hand usage to keep blocker off him.
-7:02, lined up at ROLB, stretch play run right at him, FB tries to take out his legs, Kwiatkoski extends arms and drives the blocker to the ground, then finds RB and takes him down for a loss. Much improved hand usage.
It's clear from the game film that Kwiatkoski is not afraid of contact. He's an active, versatile defender who consistently attacks the line of scrimmage. He brings contact to the blockers, which is a great sign in terms of his potential at the next level.
Kwiatkoski isn't the biggest or fastest guy on the field but he's arguably the most intelligent and is rarely caught out of position.
Against tight ends and running backs, he's a load to handle as a pass rusher, although his lack of a pass-rush arsenal doesn't help him against bigger offensive linemen. He also doesn't have the flexibility to bend and turn the corner, so don't expect the Bears to use him as anything more than a pure ILB.
Kwiatkoski plays a downhill brand of football and takes good angles of attack. He has decent awareness in coverage and understands how to cover ground in zone sets, although he lacks ideal quickness and burst to close on passes fit into tight windows.
While he's a physical defender, Kwiatkoski doesn't possess exceptional power and can be swallowed up by offensive linemen once they latch on. There were no big splash plays in any of the three games analyzed for this piece.
He has athletic limitations but his toughness, experience, intelligence and determination are all traits the Bears can use to build a potential starting inside linebacker down the road. He'll also provide immediately value on special teams, where his aggressive demeanor and sound tackling technique will be a big boost to the coverage units.