'Pre-drafting': What Senior Bowl revealed about OL, prospects

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'Pre-drafting': What Senior Bowl revealed about OL, prospects

Exactly what player, what position or even what side of the ball the Bears will address in the first two rounds of the 2013 draft (they dont currently have a third-rounder) wont truly be set until they send a card with a players name up to be read by Commissioner Roger Goodell beginning Thursday, April 25.

But several players have made impressions on veteran observers and if the draft breaks the Bears way, the possibilities at No. 20 of the first round becoming intriguing:

OT Eric Fisher, Central Michgan -- Fisher has wowed observers all week, coming in at 6-7, 305 pounds and performing well enough for NFL Network draft expert Mike Mayock to remark that Fisher reminded him of 49ers Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Staley, also from CMU, but the more I see of him, I think hes a better skill set than Staley was coming out of college. Mayock would not be surprised to see Fisher go in the first 10 picks.

OT Lane Johnson, Oklahoma -- Fellow NFL Network analyst Charles Davis termed Johnson a little more of a potential pick but and projected that Johnson, like Fisher, could put on 20 more pounds of muscle and slip into the first round as well. Johnson has agility a former quarterback and was a Sooner teammate of current Bear OT Corey Brandon, and Johnson was a tight end as a sophomore when Brandon was a senior.

But the draft scenarios can and often do change based on what happens in free agency. If the Bears land a starter-grade OT, or if they decide theyre OK with Brandon, Gabe Carimi, Jonathan Scott and JMarcus Webb as a group, the focus could be on guard, tight end or a best-available defensive player. The fate of Henry Melton also projects to affect Bears draft targets:

DE Alex Okafor, Texas -- If coaches decide that Shea McClellins future is not confined to hand-on-the-ground defensive end, the need will be for a pass rusher. And no team can have too many of those. Okafor impressed Mayock specifically with his work against Fisher, whod handled Okafor early but the power-rushing ability netted Okafor 12.5 sacks in 2012.

DE Datone Jones, UCLA -- Jones had 19 tackles for loss last season and Davis alluded to Jones suddenness as well as his ability to work at different spots in sub-packages. Mayock added the variable of the juniors, who are not working in the bowl practices but who have first-round quality as pass rushers and outside linebackers.

Nick Kwiatkoski Chicago Bears NFL Draft Profile

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Nick Kwiatkoski Chicago Bears NFL Draft Profile

As part of our coverage leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft we will provide profiles of more than 150 prospects, including a scouting report and video interviews with each player.

Nick Kwiatkoski (LB), West Virginia

6’2” | 243 lbs.

2015 stats:

85 tackles, 11.5 TFL, 4 sacks, 3 INT

Selection:

4th round, 113rd overall to Chicago Bears

Scouting Report:

"Kwiatkoski is known for his weight room work and has transitioned his body type from safety to inside linebacker. He has some physical limitations that could prevent him from becoming a full-­time starter, but his mean streak and ability to finish as a tackler could serve him well as a special teamer which is likely how he will have to make a team." - Lance Zierlein, NFL.com

Click here for more NFL Draft Profiles

Evaluations will come, but Bears got players, traits, intangibles they wanted

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Evaluations will come, but Bears got players, traits, intangibles they wanted

And the grade for the Bears’ 2016 draft is… let’s wait at least until, as coach John Fox consistently says, the players get “on the grass.”

Collective bargaining rules prohibit real competition between offense, defense and special teams units. Five of the Bears’ top six picks were on defense, which aren’t allowed to hit the offensive guys until camp (and vice versa), and the sixth – second-rounder Cody Whitehair – is a guard, and linemen evaluations are really only worthwhile when pads come on.

But poor drafts undid two Bears general managers in the span of four years (Jerry Angelo after 2011, Phil Emery after 2014) and the evaluation process now moves from college campuses, bowl games and scouting events to NFL venues.

The Bears are in major need of GM Ryan Pace equalling or exceeding his first (2015) draft. His head coach thinks that’s happened.

“Obviously experience helps,” Fox said. “The more you do it, the better you get. Ryan’s got a great skill set and we’ve got a great relationship between the coaches and personnel. I think he does a tremendous job. I thought we had a tremendous draft a year ago and I anticipate this year being even better.”

Pace came to the Bears from a New Orleans Saints background heavy on the pro-personnel side. But one school of NFL thinking is that personnel evaluators with roots on the pro side are better suited to oversee drafts simply because their expertise is in seeing what NFL players look like.

Pace’s first draft netted starters at nose tackle (Eddie Goldman), center (Hroniss Grasu), running back (Jeremy Langford) and safety (Adrian Amos), plus theoretically wide receiver (Kevin White) but for a season-ending stress fracture to his left leg. Not all of those are guaranteed starting jobs this season because of the organization’s commitment to competition, but it was a better start than most recent Bears drafts.

Several key directions were evident within the nine picks made by Pace, coach John Fox and their staffs this extended weekend.

Defense, teams priorities

While the prime draft directive was best player available, the Bears moved around in the various rounds to suggest that they were targeting players, and most of them were on defense.

Of the Bears’ eventual nine picks, six were on defense. Of those, four were defensive backs. Among those are expected to be impact players on special teams, and if one wins a starting job the way Adrian Amos (fifth rounder) did last year, the 2016 draft stands to be special.

“You saw us struggle [on special teams] early in the season a year ago,” Fox said. “Getting to know your team, understanding how they react, the speed – trying to increase our team speed even to the deadline to start the season. We got better as the year went on and I think we’ll get better this year.”

QB-lite

Despite indications that the Bears liked some of the quarterbacks down in the mid-round range, they did not select a quarterback for the third time in the last four years. One scenario is that they would add a veteran backup, which they did with the signing of Brian Hoyer, who worked with offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains as a Cleveland Brown, to a one-year deal.

“I like the idea of having an experienced backup there,” Pace said. “It’s important for that position and it just gives us security going forward. I think it’s key, like we’ve talked about in free agency, I love it when we have familiarity with these guys from coaches. I feel like it reduces some of the risk and some of the questions we may have. Dowell was passionate about this player and then watching the tape, I was to. I’m glad we got him in the mix.”

The Bears did trade two first-round picks to the Denver Broncos for Jay Cutler in 2009. But they have actually not drafted a quarterback higher than the fourth round (Kyle Orton, 2005) since 2003 when they took Rex Grossman in the first round.

With all of the draft choices (9) at their disposal going into this draft, the Bears made trades to move up or back for targeted players. None of them were quarterbacks.

Old guys

Not every pick will work out, but the Bears minimized risk in one area, taking college players with extensive resumes on tape, Pace’s stated standard of evaluation. Of Pace’s first eight picks, six of them were four-year college players, with only first rounder Leonard Floyd and fifth rounder Jordan Howard passing up their senior seasons for the NFL. Seventh-rounder Daniel Braverman missed his sophomore season due to injury but played the following two years and will turn 23 in September.

“Some of these guys are three or four year starters,” Pace said. “I think it talks about the caliber of players they are. A lot of these guys are team captains. We talk about that. But really it’s just individual tape and who are the best guys when looking at the talent. But the fact these guys are multi-year starters, and team captains, that is significant.”

Competition stoked

Pace and the entire coaching staff has wanted intense competition, not simply for starting jobs, but also for roster spots. And that was created with more than just numbers of picks, but the quality.

No. 1 pick Floyd projects to take a job from season-end regulars and sack leaders Lamarr Houston or Willie Young, both of whom reportedly were shopped during the early rounds of the draft.

Despite signing interior linemen Ted Lawson and Manny Ramirez this offseason, and drafting center Hroniss Grasu in the 2015 third round, the Bears used a second-round pick on Whitehair. It will be an impossibility for Grasu, Lawson, Ramirez and Whitehair to all start. And that does not factor in Matt Slauson, one of the Bears’ best linemen as recently as 2014 but now clearly on the outside looking in.

“I’m not getting into that,” Fox said. “It’s a fluid process. But right now we’ve helped build competition on our football team.”

The use of a third-round pick on defensive end Jonathan Bullard improves the pass rush of the down-linemen portion of the 3-4. But that likely comes at the expense of Ego Ferguson, returning from knee surgery, and Will Sutton, a seven-game starter and all-purpose defensive lineman but who had zero sacks for his two Bears seasons.

Just as with the interior offensive line, linebacker signings (Jerrell Freeman, Danny Trevathan) did no signal any end to serious competition. The Bears used the first of their three fourth-round selections on West Virginia linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski, whose abilities in coverage make him a threat to starters.

Ka’Deem Carey and Jeremy Langford impressed coaches enough that Matt Forte was not brought back. But the fifth-round pick spent on power running back Jordan Howard was not done for special teams.

‘Teams competition was addressed in part with the picks of two safeties and a cornerback in rounds 4-6. How much those additions challenge for starter jobs is one thing, but they were not picked up just to fill out a training-camp roster.

“The common trait with all these guys,” said Pace, “I would say is toughness and instincts, something we've emphasized and something we've drafted today for sure.”

Bears agree to deal with quarterback Brian Hoyer

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Bears agree to deal with quarterback Brian Hoyer

The Bears have agreed to a deal with free agent quarterback Brian Hoyer, Ryan Pace confirmed Saturday.

The Bears opted not to draft a quarterback with any of their nine selections but will have an experienced backup behind Jay Cutler.

Hoyer, a 31-year-old seven-year veteran, started nine games for the Houston Texans last season. In 11 games he threw for 2,606 yards, 19 touchdowns and seven interceptions. In the Texans' 2015 playoff loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, Hoyer was 15 of 34 for 136 yards and four interceptions.

The Bears will be Hoyer's fifth team. He was drafted out of Michigan State in 2009 by the New England Patriots. He made stops in Arizona, Cleveland and Houston.

Current Bears offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains was the Browns' quarterback coach in 2014 when Hoyer started 14 games in Cleveland.

Stay with CSNChicago.com for more updates throughout the night.