One of the best moves Chicago Bears GM Ryan Pace made in 2016 was the signing of free agent ILB Jerrell Freeman.The former Indianapolis Colts linebacker was a standout on a front seven that was a bright spot for the Bears last season. Freeman finished with 110 tackles and was the clear-cut leader on defense.
While Freeman excelled, former Denver Broncos linebacker Danny Trevathan was felled by injuries for most of the season. Trevathan was another free-agent signee but never found his groove. He missed seven games and ended the season on IR after rupturing the patella tendon in his knee, an injury that could bleed well into the 2017 regular season.
Trevathan is just 26-years-old, so he's a quality defensive piece for a team building around youth, but he may not be ready for Week 1 and could miss multiple weeks in the 2017 season.
The Bears drafted linebacker Nick Kwiatkowski in the fourth round of the 2016 NFL Draft but he's limited in coverage, which means Pace may be looking to select another ILB in this year's draft.
Here are the inside linebacker prospects likely to go in the first three rounds of the 2017 NFL Draft.
Reuben Foster, Alabama (6-0, 229)
Foster didn’t participate in any drills at the scouting combine due to an incident with a hospital worker. He was sent home early and issued an apology to all NFL teams. Foster has the talent to be a Top-15 pick in the draft and is the best inside linebacker prospect. He’s already met with the Bears in Chicago and could be a wild card pick at number three. Foster has the size and skill set to be an immediate-impact, first-team NFL linebacker. It’s just up to Pace to decide if he wants to go this route at number three or trade back in the draft and stock picks.
Projected: Top 15
Raekwon McMillan, Ohio State (6-2, 240)
The Ohio State product started on a Buckeyes team that was loaded with defensive talent in 2015. For his effort, he was named the Butkus Award winner that season. He followed that up with a nice 2016 campaign (110 tackles, 7 tackles for loss) which earned him second-team All-American honors. What really stands out about McMillan is his ability to read a play, something that would help the Bears in the middle right away. It's much more likely Pace will spend his second round pick on McMillan, rather than number three on Foster.
Projected: 2nd round
Jarrad Davis, Florida (6-1, 238)
Florida has NFL prospects all over the defensive side of the ball, including Davis. The ILB prospect has great play recognition and a knack for getting into the backfield quickly. He’s a little undersized for the middle and does struggle in coverage, which is why he's considered a mid-round pick. Davis will likely be a project linebacker but his upside might make him a Day 2 pick for the Bears.
Projected: 3rd round
Anthony Walker Jr., Northwestern (6-1, 238)
Finding an inside linebacker could be as easy as looking in the Bears own backyard with Northwestern linebacker Anthony Walker. He has good worth ethic and his field awareness is a big positive. Walker’s frame is ideal for an inside linebacker but he has to work on his downhill pursuit and lateral movement. If Walker is still on the board on day two, Pace could turn to the local kid to help fill a need.
Projected: 3rd round
Kendell Beckwith, LSU (6-2, 243)
The four-year starter had 91 tackles before he tore his ACL against Florida in November. Beckwith’s biggest concern is the knee injury and the recovery that comes with it. He’s expected to be ready for training camp but will that scare away NFL teams from picking him on the first two days? Beckwith has a frame ideal for playing middle linebacker in the NFL and he’s played in both a 3-4 and 4-3 scheme while at LSU, which could appeal to Pace and Bears brass.
Projected: 3rd-4th round
Bear Report Pick: Kendell Beckwith
Despite Jerrell Freeman's age (31 at the start of the season) and Danny Trevathan's knee injury, the Bears do not have a huge need at inside linebacker. With Kwiatkoski in the wings, and a versatile linebacker like Christian Jones providing good depth, there isn't a need for Pace to go big on an ILB in this year's selection process.
With so many other needs on the roster, it would behoove the Bears to acquire a mid-round player like Beckwith, whom they might be able to land on Day 3.
Beckwith is limited athletically but he plays a downhill brand of football similar to Freeman. His ACL injury will has hurt his draft stock and he may not be 100 percent to start the season but the Bears wouldn't need Beckwith right away.
When healthy, Beckwith is has the skill set to be an NFL starter. He was a four-year starter at LSU and was named All-SEC last season despite the knee injury.
Beckwith would be a value pick for the Bears that could pay high-end dividends in a year or two.