Chicago Bears Combine Preview: Top Targets, Sleepers and Prospects to Watch

Matt Eurich@@MattEurichAnalyst IFebruary 16, 2014

Chicago Bears Combine Preview: Top Targets, Sleepers and Prospects to Watch

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    During a short four-day stretch in February, college football's most elite athletes get an opportunity to put their talents on display for all 32 NFL teams.

    In that short span, players are able to show off their athletic abilities in various drills and get an opportunity to sit down with NFL executives with a chance to sell themselves to prospective teams that may be interested in drafting them this May.

    Like the 31 other teams in the league, the Chicago Bears will do their best this coming weekend to determine which players are a fit for their team. Many players are well known and can already be viewed as targets for a team, while others can elevate their statuses with strong showings in Indianapolis.

    Here are the top targets, sleepers and prospects to watch for the Chicago Bears in the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine.

Sleeper: Caraun Reid, Defensive Tackle, Princeton

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    After a strong showing in the Senior Bowl, Princeton's Caraun Reid may slowly be shedding his "sleeper" tag in favor of being called a legitimate second-day prospect.

    CBS Sports' Dane Brugler currently lists Reid with a fourth-round grade, while Bleacher Report's Matt Miller has him pegged to go in the fourth round as well in his latest mock draft.

    Reid was invited to the Senior Bowl, and Miller was impressed with what he saw, tweeting:

    #Princeton DT Caraun Reid has been fun to watch. Short, squat body but explosive. And really good hand use to disengage, swat.

    — Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) January 22, 2014

    CBS Chicago's Adam Hoge also came away impressed with Reid at the Senior Bowl, writing: "At the Senior Bowl, I saw a capable defensive tackle who can be disruptive up the middle and stout against the run. He would provide good value in the fourth round as someone who could rotate in right away."

    Scouts will question the level of talent he faced in the Ivy League, but he has a good enough first step to find a role at the next level. He was at his best when asked to bull rush to the quarterback but will need to improve against the run in the NFL.

    If he can continue to impress scouts during the drills at the combine, as well as in the interview process, he could find himself climbing up team's big boards. If the Bears do not go after a defensive tackle in the first two rounds, Reid will likely garner some sort of consideration when the team picks in the third round.

Target: Jason Verrett, Cornerback, TCU

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    One story this offseason that continues to unfold for the Bears is the return of Charles Tillman. I wrote about why the team needs to bring him back next season, but even if it does, it still needs to find depth at the position.

    One option in the early rounds is TCU's Jason Verrett. He has shown great footwork and fluid hips that allow him to turn quickly and make breaks on the football. He plays a physical style of football and is not afraid to jam receivers at the line of scrimmage, but his size (5'10", 176 lbs) may scare teams away from drafting him.

    He has the skill set to be a first-round pick, and while he will likely be available when the Bears pick at No. 14, there is no telling whether or not the team would be willing to select him that high.

    He sometimes struggles against the run, particularly when trying to set the edge, but he has all of the tools to step in immediately and contribute at either cornerback or nickelback. The Bears went with second-year man Isaiah Frey in the nickelback spot in 2013, but if the team re-signs Tillman, it could use Verrett in the nickel and then transition him to cornerback when Tillman ultimately moves on.

Target: Aaron Donald, Defensive Tackle, Pittsburgh

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    Last week, I listed Aaron Donald as a player who could an instant starter for the Chicago Bears in 2014 and firmly believe he will be someone the team targets in the upcoming draft.

    A bit undersized at 6'0" and 285 pounds, Pitt's Donald is another quickly rising defensive tackle. CBSSports' Dane Brugler said Donald had been an "unstoppable force" at the Senior Bowl practices and showed off his great quickness and aggressiveness. His explosiveness is what has made him such a great player, and despite his smaller size, he still has the potential to be a solid NFL player.

    The Bears will likely spend a lot of time focusing on the defensive line at the combine and will want to see what Donald can do not only in the 40-yard dash but, more importantly, his 10-yard split time. While teams may become enamored with a player's 40-yard dash time, their 10-yard split times are far more important for linemen, as it shows how quickly they can get off of the line of scrimmage.

    Donald has seen his stock rise since the Senior Bowl, and he could continue to move up big boards. With Chicago's need for help along the defensive line, he may be one of the team's biggest targets at the combine this weekend.

Prospect to Watch: Pierre Desir, Cornerback, Lindenwood University

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    At 6'1" and 195 pounds, Pierre Desir looks the part of an NFL cornerback. He is tall and lean with quick feet and has tremendous athleticism. He has very fluid hips that give him the ability to turn quickly with wide receivers and shows the ability to play physical against an opponent or against the run.

    While his size and abilities are coveted by NFL teams, some may be scared off due to the fact that the majority of his success came against lesser talent while playing at Lindenwood University, a Division II program located in St. Charles, Mo.

    Bleacher Report's Matt Miller commented on how quarterbacks shied away from him at practice during the Senior Bowl, tweeting:

    Pierre Desir was rarely targeted at Lindenwood. And today, no targets. And he's BIG.

    — Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) January 25, 2014

    While few teams were willing to go after Desir in college, he did prove that he can struggle against quicker receivers and will need to get stronger at the point of attack. Because of the lesser talent he faced, he was able to rely on his own athleticism to bail him out on occasion but will be need to become more technically sound at the next level.

    The tools and ability are all there for Desir, but he may benefit from being able to sit and watch in 2013. If the Bears opt to bring back Tillman and fortify their starting cornerback duo, and Desir impresses at the combine, he could be the type of player who could learn from Tillman and eventually supplant him in the coming years.

Sleeper: Antone Exum, Cornerback/Safety, Virginia Tech

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    While much of the focus for the Chicago Bears this offseason will be on improving the defensive front four, the cornerback and safety positions both need to addressed.

    I already have Verrett from TCU and Desir from Lindenwood University pegged as a target and prospect to watch, respectively, but Virginia Tech's Antone Exum is one of the more intriguing sleepers for the Bears to watch at the combine.

    Due to his recovery from an ankle injury and an ACL tear, Exum was limited to just two games in 2013, and some teams may be scared off by his slow recovery time from his torn ACL. 

    When on the field he proved himself to be one of the most physical cornerbacks in all of college football, using his great size (6’1", 224 lbs) and strength to overwhelm his opponents. He has the versatility to play cornerback or free safety and could become a good developmental player out of the later rounds.

    Just as Matt Miller eluded to in his player comparison video above, Exum does play heavy-footed at times and might not have the elusive speed to catch up to plays behind him. He will likely drop in the draft because of his injury history, but he would be the perfect type of player to draft in the later rounds if the team is able to bring in a starter at either cornerback or free safety he can learn from in the future.