Even before the NFL season ends, teams around the league start compiling their "big board" for the NFL draft. Input from area scouts about various different players are brought to the general manager, and the big board remains a fluid list throughout the all-star game circuit and the NFL Scouting Combine.
Teams will begin to solidify their big boards more after the combine, and while it may see some minor changes after players perform during their pro days at their respective universities, the big board typically remains intact following the combine.
Each team in the NFL essentially sends the majority of their staff to evaluate the talent at the combine, and the Chicago Bears are no different.
While there is no way of knowing exactly what Phil Emery's first-round big board looks like, here is my updated Chicago Bears' first-round big board following this past weekend's NFL Scouting Combine.
There is no doubt that the Bears need help defensively, and a playmaker should be at the top of their list. Buffalo's Khalil Mack is the top linebacker prospect in the draft, and after running a 4.65 40-yard dash time over the weekend, he helped solidify that spot.
The NFL Network's Mike Mayock raved about Mack over the weekend, saying:
Mack sometimes relies too much on his speed to get past blockers and will need to develop a countermove at the next level. His flexibility would allow him to play strong-side linebacker on first and second downs, and he could then be used as a defensive end on third downs, similarly to what the Denver Broncos do with Von Miller.
The Bears would jump at the chance to grab Mack at No. 14 overall, but there is a good chance of him being gone—yet, stranger things have happened.
2. C.J. Mosley, Middle Linebacker, Alabama
Despite poor play along the defensive line and the lack of depth, the Bears still need someone who can control the middle of the field. The team has already decided to allow last year's second-round pick, Jon Bostic, at both middle linebacker and strong-side linebacker, according to ChicagoBears.com, likely leaving an opening at one of the linebacker positions.
Bleacher Report's Matt Miller said last week that Mosley was one of the hottest names at the combine over the weekend and is the type of player who can be put in any situation and succeed. He's versatile enough to play inside or outside and does a great job at locating the football and driving through the ball-carrier.
3. Aaron Donald, Defensive Tackle, Pittsburgh
Few have jumped off draft boards as quickly as Aaron Donald has this offseason. He had a strong showing at the Senior Bowl and proved himself even more at the combine.
He finished with a 4.65 40-yard dash time and made a believer out of NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, who tweeted:
Despite his size (6'1" and 285 lbs), Donald is extremely disruptive and uses his short stature to play with a low pad level that is hard for offensive linemen to counteract. He would quickly become a starter for the Bears along the defensive line.
4. Timmy Jernigan, Defensive Tackle, Florida State
The Bears have indicated they want to bring free agent Henry Melton back, via ESPNChicago.com, but even if they do, they still need plenty of help at defensive tackle.
Some have questioned his ability to be disruptive, but according to Rotoworld's Josh Norris, there was a reason behind that:
Timmy Jernigan has the flexibility to play both the 3-technique and nose tackle positions in a 4-3 defense, and he may end up being the first defensive tackle taken off of the board.
5. Anthony Barr, Outside Linebacker/Defensive End, UCLA
Similar to Mack, Anthony Barr has the ability to be a pass-rusher from both the defensive end position as well as outside linebacker. He ran nearly as fast as Mack did at the combine, posting a 4.66 40-yard dash.
Just as Matt Miller eludes to in the video above, he does disappear at times against the run, but overall, he is one of the most talented pass-rushers in this draft and could be a steal if still available at No. 14.
6. Justin Gilbert, Cornerback, Oklahoma State
The Bears currently sit with just Tim Jennings and Isaiah Frey as the only cornerbacks on their roster with actual NFL experience. The return of Charles Tillman is still up in the air, and the team could look to get younger at the position.
Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert combines great athleticism and footwork and is one of the most fluid defensive backs in this draft. He plays the football too aggressively at times and can be susceptible to biting on pump fakes, but he is the type of player who could step in from Day 1 and contribute.
He showed off his speed at the combine, running a 4.37 40-yard dash, best among cornerbacks, and showed off the rare ability to run that fast considering his size, evident by this tweet from NFL on ESPN:
7. Kony Ealy, Defensive End, Missouri
Quick and explosive are two of the best words to describe Missouri's Kony Ealy. He disappointed some this weekend by running a 4.92 40-yard dash but was more than impressive in the three-cone drill as Bleacher Report's Dan Hope put Ealy's 6.83 time in perspective, tweeting:
His terrific first step and spin move made some of the best tackles in the SEC look silly at times, but he will need to work on lowering his pad level and disengaging better in the run game.
8. Ra'Shede Hageman, Defensive Tackle, Minnesota
Minnesota's Ra'Shede Hageman ran a rather average 40-yard dash time at the combine, 5.02 seconds, but considering his massive size (6'6" and 310 lbs), the number looks more impressive.
He showed the ability at Minnesota to play both the 3-technique and nose tackle position and showed off his strength at the combine by registering 32 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press despite having measured out to have 34.25" long arms.
Hageman has all of the tools to be a star in the league but sometimes does not show the full effort on film. Could be viewed as a boom-or-bust prospect.
9. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Safety, Alabama
While the Bears defense needs help at all three levels, safety may be the area that currently has the least amount of talent. Chris Conte and Major Wright both struggled in 2013, and the team desperately needs a playmaker at the position.
Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is a prototypical ball-hawking safety as he consistently has a great break on the ball and has good enough hands to haul in interceptions.
Adding him to the secondary would be a major upgrade in 2014.
10. Darqueze Dennard, Cornerback, Michigan State
Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard is one of the most physical cornerbacks in this year's draft. He can jam well at the line of scrimmage and isn't afraid to get physical when trying to go after the football.
Despite his physical play, Bleacher Report's Matt Miller is still skeptical of Dennard, tweeting:
If he can prove he can limit his desire to grab and show he has the speed to contend in the NFL, he could help solidify the cornerback position that still needs to add depth and youth.
11. Dee Ford, Outside Linebacker/Defensive End, Auburn
Auburn's Dee Ford was one of the top performers a few weeks back at the Senior Bowl and was quickly rising up draft boards. Ford was so confident in himself that, according to ESPN.com, he felt like he was better than Jadeveon Clowney.
Ford, unfortunately, was not able to show everyone that he was better since he had to pull out of the combine, prompting this tweet from NFL Network's Steve Wyche:
Despite the herniated disc, Ford falls into the mold of similar undersized defensive ends/outside linebackers such as Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller. He has the great speed and burst, but assuming he converts to outside linebacker, he will need to improve on his coverage skills in order to become a three-down linebacker.
12. Calvin Pryor, Safety, Louisville
A name quickly rising up the draft boards is Louisville's Calvin Pryor. He is a hard-hitting safety who has the ability to come up in the box and make tackles as a strong safety but also possesses the athleticism and ball-hawking abilities of a free safety.
Pryor's stock has skyrocketed in recent weeks, and he could work his way into being a late first-round pick. The Bears likely wouldn't taken a chance on him at No. 14, but if they can find a way to trade back in the draft, he could be a possibility.
13. Eric Ebron, Tight End, North Carolina
It may seem odd to put a tight end so high on this list after the productive season that Martellus Bennett had in 2013, but considering Phil Emery's history of doing the unexpected, some offensive talent may be too hard to pass up in the first round.
Emery commented on the offensive talent in this draft, telling Michael C. Wright of ESPNChicago.com, "The depth is good, especially on offense. I’m sitting here at 14, there are going to be some really good offensive playmakers on the board"
Ebron had the second-fastest 40-yard dash among tight ends over the weekend with a time of 4.60 seconds. He has great hands and athleticism but will need to work on his blocking at the next level.
Bennett is firmly entrenched as the team's "Y" tight end, meaning the more traditional three-down tight who can catch and block while Ebron could play the "F" tight end who is moved around and can cause matchup nightmares.
14. Louis Nix III, Defensive Tackle, Notre Dame
Weighing in at 330 pounds, it was no surprise that Notre Dame's Louis Nix III ran a 5.42 in the 40-yard dash, but he had a respectable 1.85 10-yard split that helped showcase his explosiveness off of the football.
Nix's game translates best in a 3-4 defensive as a pure nose tackle, but he has the ability to be a two-gap player and often commands double-teams because of his massive size.
Bleacher Report's Dan Pompei was asked if Nix could play in a 4-3 and he believes so, tweeting (full answer in link):
With the Bears sticking with their 4-3 defense, via ChicagoBears.com, Nix may not be the best option, but if they can be convinced that he can improve on his conditioning, he could be a force as a nose tackle in the Bears 4-3 defense.
15. Sammy Watkins, Wide Receiver, Clemson
Just as Ebron is not a real need for the Bears at tight end, Sammy Watkins would not be a direct need for the Bears at No. 14, but he would be very tough to pass on if he was still available.
Watkins ran a 4.43 40-yard dash but looks to have much quicker game speed than his 40-time would indicate. He has terrific body control and consistently burns opposing cornerbacks with a combination of his speed and excellent route running.
It is unlikely that he will make it out of the top 10, but with how nothing is a given in the NFL draft, the Bears may just luck into one of the most exciting offensive weapons in this year's draft.
16. Stephon Tuitt, Defensive Tackle, Notre Dame
Strong and powerful at the point of attack, Notre Dame's Stephon Tuitt could be a perfect fit for the Bears' interior defense at the 3-technique in their 4-3 scheme. He also has the potential to play the 5-technique in a 3-4 defense if they decide to make that switch in the future.
Tuitt plays terrific against the run, both inside and outside, and gets most of his pressure in the passing game rushing from the inside. He needs to work on his explosion off the line of scrimmage, as he tends to pop up instead of explode through the blocker.
He could have bolstered his chances to move up into the middle of the first round at the combine, but due to small fracture in his foot, he was unable to participate at the combine, according to NFL.com.
He is likely a stretch at No. 14 for the Bears, but if the team is able to trade back, he may become an option later in the first round.
17. Kyle Fuller, Cornerback, Virginia Tech
A physical presence on the field, Virginia Tech's Kyle Fuller plays the game like an intimidator, despite his smaller size (5'11", 189 lbs).
He impressed with his speed at the combine, running a 4.40 40-yard dash, and that speed translates on film. He has great awareness and reads and reacts well but will need to work on his footwork at the next level.
While guys like Gilbert and Dennard have been getting most of the spotlight at cornerback, CBS Sports' Dane Brugler prefers Fuller, tweeting:
Much like Tuitt before him (as well as many of the players listed next), Fuller is the type of player who will greatly interest the Bears if they are able to move back in the first round. He has the ability and experience (42 career starts) to develop quickly into a starting NFL cornerback.
18. Jason Verrett, Cornerback, TCU
TCU's Jason Verrett 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.
Many still view Verrett as a raw prospect, but if he develops, he can be a terrific cover corner. Sports Illustrated's Doug Farrar agreed with that sentiment, tweeting last week:
The fear with Verrett will always be his size, but he has the potential to develop if put into the right situation.
19. Trent Murphy, Defensive End/Outside Linebacker, Stanford
Stanford's Trent Murphy is quick and athletic and led all the NCAA FBS in sacks with 15 in 2013, but he is viewed as somewhat of a "tweener"—situated between a hand-in-the-ground defensive end and pass-rushing outside linebacker, similar to what the team already has in Shea McClellin.
The NFL will be a tough transition for a guy who relied heavily on his speed to beat defenders. He sounds awfully similar to McClellin when coming out of Boise State, but Murphy faced better talent and has shown the ability to be able to set the edge against the run.
20. Lamarcus Joyner, Safety/Cornerback, Florida State
Despite his size (5'8", 187 lbs), Florida State's Lamacrus Joyner was a productive player for the Seminoles and has been drawing comparisons to Arizona's Tyrann Mathieu.
Florida State used Joyner at the nickel position as well as at safety, and he has excelled in both man-to-man coverage as well as zone. Despite his size, he does a good job of getting his hands on the ball and has improved his tackling over the years.
He ran a disappointing 4.53 40-yard dash time, but watching him on tape, he plays much faster than his 40-time would suggest.
21. Brandin Cooks, Wide Receiver, Oregon State
In 2013, the Chicago Bears offense took a giant leap into the new-age NFL that prides itself in scoring points. The offense led by receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery broke numerous team records, and they look to keep that momentum going in 2014.
While there are certainly more pressing needs for the Bears this offseason than another wide receiver, Oregon State's Brandin Cooks may be too tough to pass up.
He ran a blazing 4.33 40-yard dash at the combine, and he showed off that speed and shiftiness during his time in Corvallis. He would be a perfect fit with Marshall and Jeffery in the slot, but it may be too difficult to justify his selection in the first round considering all of the Bears' needs on the other side of the football.
22. Ryan Shazier, Linebacker, Ohio State
Ohio State's Ryan Shazier was all over the field for Ohio State throughout his career, making plays against both the run and the pass.
He did not run at the combine, but he did post an impressive vertical leap of 42.0 inches as well as the best broad jump among linebackers with 130.0 inches.
While it may seem odd to look at those numbers as a way of judging talent in the NFL, it proves that Shazier has the explosiveness that teams covet in the NFL. Bleacher Report's Ryan Riddle pointed that out, tweeting:
He has the ability to fly around the field, reads and reacts well and has the ability to play outside linebacker in both a 3-4 and 4-3. He is probably best suited as a 4-3 weak-side linebacker as he is a great tackler, specifically when the football is funneled in his direction.
23. Kyle Van Noy, Outside Linebacker, BYU
Similar to Shazier, BYU's Kyle Van Noy is a "tweener" who could fit in either a 3-4 or 4-3 defense. He has good size (6'3", 243 lbs), is an effective pass-rusher and showed the ability to drop back in coverage.
While his coverage skills still need work, his tape proves he has the ability to develop and could wind up being a strong-side linebacker in a 4-3 defense.
When watching film on Van Noy, he is not a player who wows you down in and down out, but he is effective and gets the job done on a consistent basis.
24. Marqise Lee, Wide Receiver, USC
Just as it was mentioned earlier, wide receiver is not the biggest need for the Bears moving forward, but Marc Trestman certainly would not be disappointed if he got another weapon to add to his already-explosive offense.
USC's Marqise Lee saw a dip in play in 2013 from previous years after losing his quarterback Matt Barkley to the NFL draft and missing three games due to a knee injury during the season.
He runs clean routes, has good speed (ran a 4.52 40-yard dash) and shows the ability to be a difference-maker at times as a return man.
25. Jace Amaro, Tight End, Texas Tech
Just as I eluded to earlier with Ebron, tight end is not a huge area of concern for the Bears heading into 2014. Bennett had a terrific year in 2013, but the addition of guy like Ebron or Texas Tech's Jace Amaro could help make the Bears offense nearly unstoppable.
The Bears thought they were getting a possible "F" tight end when they drafted Evan Rodriquez in 2012, but due to legal issues, he was cut. Amaro possesses the athleticism and good hands to be moved around on the field after spending a lot of time in the slot at Texas Tech.
He would be too much of a stretch at No. 14 but could have value at the back end of the draft if the team opts to trade down.
Players' heights, weights and combine results are from NFL.com.
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