Previewing What the Chicago Bears Will Be Looking for at the Scouting Combine
The NFL's annual meat market is just over a week away, as the Chicago Bears will be one of 32 teams to take a close look at the prospects entering the NFL draft at the annual NFL combine on February 22-25.
At the combine, teams interview players and run them through a series of tests to see how they match up with their peers physically and mentally.
The Bears puts a lot of stock in the combine. In Phil Emery's two years as general manager, he has spent his first-round picks on players who tested well at the combine. In fact, nearly all of his selections have graded out well physically at either the combine or their pro day.
It's important to remember that the combine is just part of the process. A player may not work out well there for a variety of reasons but could do better at his pro day or show more on tape than he did in the workout.
That said, here are some things and players the Bears could be considering when they head to Indianapolis later this month.
All combine results courtesy of NFL.com's results tracker.
Depth at Defensive Line
The Bears' biggest area of need is at the defensive line, where 56 players signed up to compete at the combine.
The big names and potential early-round targets are well-known, but the combine is where a less-known prospect can become a household name.
A lot of names on the list of combine invites are mostly unknown at this point. A fast 40-yard dash time or a high number of bench-press reps could send them shooting up draft boards.
For the Bears, they don't just need starters on their defensive line—they need depth. Their biggest issue last season was what happened when their starters were injured. They had to rely on a street free agent in Landon Cohen to play far more snaps than he should have because they didn't have any young prospects who were waiting in the wings.
A player like Ethan Westbrooks of West Texas A&M (pictured) may have a good workout and force the Bears—and the other 31 teams in the league—to take another look at his tape.
It seems that a lot of people are down on the Michigan State middle linebacker, but he's an interesting prospect to watch going forward.
While he was never seen as a high draft pick, Bullough took a big hit when he was suspended for the Rose Bowl for violating team rules. His stock may have fallen even further at the East-West Shrine Game when he showed up 20 pounds over his playing weight, per The Detroit News.
Those were two very bad signs, but he can start to turn it all around at the combine, and the Bears have to keep an eye on him. Jon Bostic looked lost in the middle of the Bears defense last year, and the team needs to bring in some competition and a possible replacement if he doesn't improve.
Following a very productive career at MSU, where he was a three-year starter, Bullough is the fourth highest-rated linebacker by Scouts Inc. (subscription required). The service rates his intangibles to be "exceptional" in a report that was clearly done before the Rose Bowl suspension. Prior to that, there was no reason to think he would be trouble in the NFL, and his tape looks like that of a future quality pro linebacker.
Teams need to see if he was able to get his weight down, or if the added weight will have a major impact on his athleticism. They'll also want to interview him to see if the suspension was a fluke mistake or a sign of things to come.
Bullough is entering the biggest interview of his life, and the Bears are among the teams that should be taking note of how he fares.
After a big junior season, Will Sutton put on a bit of weight and struggled as a senior. If he shows up to the combine in better shape, it could have a big impact on his draft stock.
After his junior season, Bleacher Report's Dan Hope said Sutton would be "projected as a top-10 selection in the 2014 NFL draft" if he were a few inches taller. Already battling questions about his height at under 6'2", questions about his weight came this season when his sack total dropped from 13 to four and he had 10 fewer tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
According to NFL.com's Chase Goodbread, Sutton played at 267 pounds as a junior before ballooning up to 330 pounds as a senior. Goodbread said Sutton weighed in at 315 pounds at the Senior Bowl, so it will be interesting to see what he weighs at the combine.
What he should weigh is an interesting question, but I'm entirely sure the answer matters if he works out well. If Sutton works out better at 315 pounds than some do at 290, who really cares what the number on the scale says?
There is very little question about his talent; it's all about the measurables. It sounds very similar to what was being said about Alshon Jeffery as he entered the 2012 draft. Perhaps Bears general manager Phil Emery could get another steal in the second round with Sutton.
Dominique Easley could end up being the best defensive lineman in the draft if he can hold up physically.
He was thought to be a strong, athletic and versatile option anywhere along the defensive line. In the above video, you see Bleacher Report's Matt Miller compare him to Greg Hardy of the Carolina Panthers, noting all of those traits.
The problem is durability, and his most recent injury makes it hard to project what he will be from here on out.
In 2011, Easley tore the ACL in his left knee, and this past September he tore his right ACL. Torn knee ligaments may not be an issue going forward, but NFL teams need to know what kind of player he's going to be after suffering severe injuries to both knees.
San Francisco 49ers running back Frank Gore suffered multiple torn ligaments before entering the NFL, and he's had a long career, but it's hard to say what kind of player he would be if he'd never been injured. He was an explosive talent at Miami and has been a pounding, physical running back in the NFL.
It's unknown what—if anything—Easley will do at the combine, and that is part of what's worth watching. NFL teams will want their doctors to take a look at him and see where he is in terms of recovery.
If Easley looks good and a team feels he can perform at the same high level he did before his most recent injury, don't be surprised if he's taken early in the second round. He could be the kind of scheme- transcending talent that Bears general manager Phil Emery references so often.
Per NFL.com, Dee Ford knows he helped himself during the Senior Bowl and has a chance to solidify himself as a high pick at the combine.
He dominated practices during Senior Bowl week and picked up two sacks in the game after notching 10.5 sacks at Auburn. NFL teams always want and need players who can get to the quarterback, and Ford appears to among the best in the draft when it comes to that.
If the Bears are in fact switching to a hybrid or 3-4 defense, they may eye a player like Ford to play outside linebacker and some defensive end on passing downs.
The big question is if he can drop back and defend the pass. He's a little small to be a defensive end, and if he's going to play linebacker—even in a 3-4 scheme—he's going to have to drop back at least occasionally.
Despite his dominance at the Senior Bowl, there doesn't seem to be a consensus on where Ford should go. Some have projected him as a late first-round pick, while others some see him as a second-round player.
We should find out more about what kind of player he can be at the combine. If he blows everyone away, the Bears could have a hard time passing on him at No. 14.
In the above video, Bleacher Report's Matt Miller refers to Ra'Shede Hageman as a "freak," which is the kind of player Emery tends to like.
Hageman is viewed as a player who can play anywhere along the defensive line, and at 6'6" and 318 pounds, he's a handful for opposing blockers.
If the Bears are switching to a hybrid or 3-4 defense, Hageman could line up at 5-technique where he can set the edge on running downs and move inside to get pressure up the middle on passing downs.
The question about him is production. He totaled just 10 sacks and 24 tackles for loss in three years at Minnesota. How could someone who is thought to be as much of a physical freak as he is not produce more than what some players did in one season?
There could be quite a few legitimate answers to that question, but NFL scouts are going to want a close look at him to see if he is as much of a physical presence as many think.
The Bears need to be more physical up front to stop the run and have more of a push up the middle on passing downs. Hageman could help them in both areas.
Louis Nix III
Regardless of what kind of scheme the Bears run, they could use a player like Nix, but his athleticism could show where he fits.
The common thought is that he can be a nose tackle in a 3-4 defense, but the question is if he can fit in multiple schemes or play multiple positions.
National Football Post's Greg Gabriel—formerly the director of college scouting for the Bears—thinks Nix has the athleticism to play in a 4-3 front, noting his ability to pressure the quarterback.
Another question for teams that are running 3-4 schemes is whether he has to play on the nose or could possibly play some 5-technique defensive end like Vince Wilfork, B.J. Raji and Haloti Ngata. The more Nix can do, the more he can help himself.
The combine will be a big day for him. If he can put up similar workout numbers as those who are much smaller than him, he would greatly improve his draft stock.
While most seem to think Kony Ealy will be drafted in the first round, there doesn't seem to be a consensus as to how high he will go.
The Missouri defensive end is compared to San Francisco's Aldon Smith by Bleacher Report's Matt Miller in the above video, as he looks long and strong.
The question is: How athletic is he really?
There doesn't seem to be any doubt that Ealy is athletic enough to be a defensive end in the NFL, but there are going to be some teams—the Bears included—who will want to know if he can rush from a two-point stance. If he can play linebacker in a 3-4 or hybrid scheme, he will provide much more versatility to the team that drafts him.
At 6'5" and 275 pounds, Ealy looks like he's ready to play in the NFL right now. If he shows enough athleticism to line up at linebacker, he might not last until the Bears' pick.
At this point, Aaron Donald's dominance has made him a household name. If that continues, he could be a player whom the Bears consider at No. 14.
He was dominant at Pittsburgh, picking up 11 sacks and 28.5 tackles for loss last season, which are more than Minnesota's Ra'Shede Hageman collected in his entire career. Donald also had 11 sacks as a sophomore, as he's continuously showed the ability to get to the quarterback.
The most recent showing of that was at the Senior Bowl where he was viewed as one of the best players and named the top defensive lineman by former NFL executive Phil Savage, who noted his 12-3 record in one-on-one pass-rush drills. Hageman, by comparison, was 6-9.
What more does Donald have to prove?
For starters, his size is thought to be an issue by some. He measures at under 6'1" and 288 pounds, which is commonly thought to be on the small side for defensive tackles in the NFL.
He has to show that the quickness he has used to make up for his lack of size in college will still be enough at the NFL level. If he tests out similarly to players who are much larger, a team could lean toward those players with the thought they can be coached to be better.
The lack of size has led some to believe that he lacks scheme versatility. He has to show he can hold up at the point of attack in the NFL, or he'll be limited to a situational role. Teams typically don't like to spend first-round picks on situational players.
If Donald proves to be as quick as he looks on film and Bears general manager Phil Emery thinks he can hold up at the point of attack, he could be the pick at No. 14.
One of the most interesting position comparisons is at safety, where Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Louisville's Calvin Pryor are both expected to be first-round picks. One of them might go to the Bears at No. 14.
At this point, the consensus is that Clinton-Dix is the top safety in the draft, but Pryor has been gaining ground in recent weeks.
They're graded close to each another on Scouts Inc. (subscription required) where Clinton-Dix has a grade of 92 and Pryor an 89. ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper thinks Pryor could leapfrog Clinton-Dix on draft day.
As it was last year for tight ends Tyler Eifert and Zach Ertz, the combine will be big in determining which safety is taken first. If Clinton-Dix has a big performance, he could solidify himself as the top player at the position. If Pryor puts on a show, however, his name could be the first one called at the position.
While it may be a two-man race to be the top safety taken, the Bears will also likely be keeping an eye on some others like Ahmad Dixon of Baylor, Deone Bucannon of Washington State and Jimmie Ward of Northern Illinois.
With free agency yet to play out, it's unknown what the Bears will do. They could be planning on rebuilding their defensive line through free agency and secondary through the draft. If that's the route they go, they'll have a close eye on these safeties.