Predicting the Chicago Bears' Next Great LB
With the Brian Urlacher era likely over in Chicago and Lance Briggs on the wrong side of 30, it's time to take a look at who could be the Bears' next great linebacker.
With Briggs being the only returning player with significant experience from last year's team and two free agents signing one-year deals, the Bears figure to look to the draft, where they hope to find the next great player.
One thing to remember for the Bears is that general manager Phil Emery has been a firm believer in the theory that speed kills.
In his time as a scout with the Bears, Chiefs and Falcons, Emery's teams have drafted eight linebackers in the first four rounds. Six of those eight ran the 40-yard dash in under 4.7 seconds, the only exceptions being Rosevelt Colvin (taken in the fourth round in 1999) and Lance Briggs (taken in the third round in 2003). It's worth noting, however, that Emery was just an area scout for the Bears at that time and neither came from his area. According to his bio on the team's website, he was the Northeast scout in '98 and '99 then moved to the Southeast until 2004 when he was hired by Atlanta.
In his four seasons as director of college scouting for the Falcons, they drafted six linebackers. Only one of those—2008 fifth rounder Robert James—failed to run a time faster than 4.7 seconds.
While we have no real way of knowing who the next great Bears linebacker will be, it's safe to say he will be fast.
Here are some projections on who that person may be.
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The most logical place to start is with the guy who is going to get the first crack at replacing Urlacher.
In his last full season—2011—Williams received a grade of negative 12.2 from Pro Football Focus (subscription required), including a negative 9.7 in run defense. By comparison, Urlacher received a negative 11.3 grade and was negative 13.6 in run defense from PFF (subscription required) this past season.
Williams graded out positively on PFF (subscription required) last season but only played 162 snaps.
It's hard to know what to make of Williams' performance with the Broncos. They play a scheme he isn't necessarily a good fit for and they never locked him into one position while he was there.
The Bears' Cover 2 scheme should be a much better fit for Williams' athleticism. It will also help if the Bears keep him at one position, unlike the Broncos.
Although he's 30, Williams should have plenty of gas left in the tank, especially after barely playing last season. If he can give the Bears a few great seasons, he may be remembered as another one of their great linebackers.
However, it seems more likely that Williams will be a stopgap. The next Bears linebacker may be coming from the draft.
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In terms of physical skills, there may not be a better prospect in this draft than Florida's Jon Bostic.
Although he had a great workout, Bostic did not look nearly as fast on tape. In his ESPN draft profile (subscription required), a lack of athletic ability was referenced twice. Is Bostic just a workout warrior, or was he overshadowed on a talented and athletic Florida defense?
Part of the problem is that he doesn't always recognize plays. In this play you see him run into a blocker as the player with the ball runs right into the hole he vacated for a long touchdown. Those are the kinds of plays a linebacker absolutely can't make.
Still, what I love about Bostic is his unselfishness. What could be seen regularly in this highlight clip against Vanderbilt was that he would take on blocks, allowing teammates to make plays.
I think Bostic is going to take some coaching, but with a veteran like Briggs on the team and defensive coordinator Mel Tucker having success with Daryl Smith in Jacksonville, the Bears could get the most out of Bostic.
Ogletree has been a popular pick for the Bears in mock drafts and could end up being their pick in the first round.
Being a former safety, Ogletree may not yet have the instincts some others possess, but he has been improving and should continue to in the NFL.
Ogletree had a solid workout at the combine and did even better at his pro day, reportedly running the 40-yard dash in 4.63 seconds.
However, it's hard to say if he's ready for the physical play of the NFL. He was occasionally pushed around and completely taken out of plays last season. Even with that, he was exceptionally productive, making 99 tackles last season.
He is the top rated inside linebacker and 12th overall prospect on Scouts Inc. (subscription required).
The biggest issue with Ogletree is his off-the-field behavior.
He was suspended for four games for a failed drug test in 2012 and was arrested for a DUI before the combine.
Even with those blemishes, Emery has shown the willingness to take a risk on a player. Last year he drafted Evan Rodriguez despite some legal issues, and he recently signed D.J. Williams, who was suspended twice last season.
Brown is another many project to be Urlacher's replacement, including Bleacher Report's Matt Miller.
I have Brown and Ogletree neck and neck, because Brown's ability to shed blocks and his natural instincts make up for whatever edge Ogletree has on him in terms of size and natural athletic ability.
The Kansas State linebacker always seemed to be around the ball. Once he arrived, it often wasn't pleasant for the ball-carrier.
Brown had a very good workout at Kansas State's pro day, reportedly running the 40-yard dash in 4.67 and 4.68 seconds.
What stands out to me about Brown is his constant pursuit, which is evident in a highlight clip of the team's bowl game against Oregon this past season.
Brown may not be as tall as some would like, but he's fast, aggressive and physical, traits necessary to play the position. His ceiling may not be as high as Ogletree's, but there's a good chance he'll end up being the better player.