Bears Draft Stock Watch: 8 Players Rising and Falling on Chicago's Board
In just more than a month, each NFL team will congregate at the Radio City Music Hall in New York City with the hopes of improving their team through the NFL draft.
Since the end of the 2013 draft, teams have been formulating their own big boards, watching players rise and fall throughout the year and into the offseason.
Just like all of the other teams in the NFL, the Chicago Bears have been doing the same, changing the status of a player on their big board after watching a game, his performance at the NFL Scouting Combine, his pro day and after his private workouts.
A player's draft stock will continue to rise and fall throughout the next few weeks, but here are eight players that are rising and falling down the Chicago Bears' board.
Rising: Aaron Donald, Defensive Tackle, Pittsburgh
Since the end of the 2013 college season, few players have catapulted up draft boards quite like Pittsburgh's Aaron Donald.
In his latest scouting notebook, Bleacher Report's Matt Miller has Donald going to the Bears in his mock draft. Along with having Donald going to the Bears at No. 14, he lists him as one of his "five up" players for the week, writing:
The love affair with Donald's game isn't so much about these new discoveries on his film, but rather about the instant impact he can bring to an NFL defensive line. If you're a team in need of a 3-technique pass-rusher, he's your guy. No questions asked.
The Bears have done a nice job of solidifying their defensive line by bringing back Jeremiah Ratliff and Nate Collins along with signing Lamarr Houston, Willie Young and Jared Allen (via ChicagoBears.com), but the team still needs a dominant 3-technique defensive tackle with burst and speed, and Donald fits that bill.
One of the biggest knocks on him is his size, measuring in at 6'1", 285 pounds, which is a bit undersized for an NFL defensive lineman.
He addressed the concerns about his size at the combine, saying in a press conference (via SI.com), "[My height] is what it is. Thinking about it isn’t going to get me no taller. All I can [do] is go play the game of football the way I play it: hard-nosed, out there trying to make plays."
Despite the questions of his size, he has been impressive this offseason throughout the Senior Bowl and the NFL Scouting Combine and appears to be someone that fits the Bears' needs perfectly.
Falling: Ra'Shede Hageman, Defensive Tackle, Minnesota
One thing we have learned during Phil Emery's tenure as the Bears' general manager is that he covets athletic players with high ceilings in the draft and is not afraid to go against the norm in order to get the player he wants.
Measuring in at 6'6" and 310 pounds, Minnesota's Ra'Shede Hageman is the exact type of player that Emery has targeted in the past. He has an unbelievable combination of size and athleticism. He shows a great burst off of the football and has the ability to play nose tackle or the 3-technique, and he could even play the 5-technique in a 3-4 defense.
Despite his versatility and explosiveness, some are concerned with his game tape. Bleacher Report's Matt Miller recently wrote that with Hageman, "The potential is all there, but the drive to be great doesn't always pop on film." That is not the type of thing that teams want to hear about a guy who has the potential to be a first-round pick.
While the strength, athleticism and explosiveness are all there and he has tremendous upside, he has already been hit with the "boom-or-bust" label by NFL.com's Nolan Nawrocki.
CBS Sports' Dane Brugler has not bought into the Hageman hype, tweeting:
What am I missing with DT Ra'Shede Hageman? Tough to justify using a top-40 pick on him IMO #NFLDraft
— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) March 13, 2014
While the talent level is there with Hageman, it will be up to Phil Emery to determine if the potential results outweigh the risks of taking him No. 14 overall.
Rising: Jimmie Ward, Safety, Northern Illinois
A virtual unknown among most college football fans, Northern Illinois' Jimmie Ward has been streaking up big boards this offseason.
He finished the season with a team-high 89 tackles—57 solo—and a career-high six interceptions to lead the MAC and tie for 13th in the country. He made his impact known in some of the team's biggest games of the year, notching interceptions against both Iowa and Toledo.
The Bears have brought in competition at the safety position, signing Ryan Mundy, M.D. Jennings, Danny McCray and Craig Steltz to compete with the incumbent, Chris Conte, but despite those signings, Emery has stated that he is not done looking at improving the team's safety position, as reported by the Chicago Sun-Times: "We’re definitely going to look at the safety position. Continue to look at it extensively in the [free-agent] market and the draft and post-draft.”
Ward has the speed and athleticism to cover the middle of the field but also has the ability to play up in the box and attack the ball-carrier.
Bleacher Report's Matt Bowen wrote about Ward's chances of being drafted in the first round, writing:
Given the versatility Ward brings to the position, plus the production he put on tape at NIU, there is a real possibility the safety jumps up into the first round this May during the opening night of the NFL draft.
Ward is likely not an option for the Bears at No. 14, but he could entice the team in the back end of the draft if they are able to find a way to trade down. His abilities against both the run and the pass would greatly improve the team's safety tandem from last season.
Falling: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Safety, Alabama
While Jimmie Ward has catapulted up draft boards, Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix's stock has stayed relatively the same.
In a mock draft earlier this year, Bleacher Report's Matt Miller said of Clinton-Dix, "like Eric Reid and Kenny Vaccaro from the 2013 class, the Alabama safety can step in and make an impact from his first day on the job."
Clinton-Dix has been described as a prototypical ball-hawking safety, as he consistently has a great break on the ball and has good enough hands to haul in interceptions.
He can play well up at the line of scrimmage and against the run but has a tendency to take bad angles at times when tackling and will need to improve on his strength when facing bigger and stronger receivers in the NFL.
While everything about Clinton-Dix's game sounds good, Charlie Campbell of WalterFootball.com believes that Clinton-Dix and Louisville's Calvin Pryor (another projected first-round pick) are likely sliding down draft boards. One source told him, "Neither one of these guys is an Earl Thomas-like athlete," meaning they do not possess the elite speed that is required of a "stud" safety in the NFL.
There is little question that Clinton-Dix has the talent and ability to be a solid NFL safety, but considering the players that could be available when the Bears pick at No. 14 and the depth at the safety position later in the draft, he may have fallen down their draft board slightly.
Rising: Kyle Fuller, Cornerback, Virgina Tech
Despite the Bears bringing back both Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman, they will still need to address the cornerback position in this year's draft.
While Jennings, Tillman and Kelvin Hayden are all competent starters, the team lacks youth at the position, and the cornerback talent pool in this year's draft is one of the best in years.
Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert and Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard have gotten most of the publicity at the position, but Virginia Tech's Kyle Fuller has slowly been moving up draft boards.
A physical presence on the field, 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.
CBS Sports' Dane Brugler prefers Fuller over Gilbert, tweeting in February:
Great to see CB Kyle Fuller getting some love, he's deserved it the past few years. Very natural. I'll take him over Justin Gilbert— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) February 25, 2014
Fuller's strong offseason may be enough to push him into the first round of the draft, but if he is still available for the Bears in the second round, he may wind up being one of the steals of the draft.
Falling: Darqueze Dennard, Cornerback, Michigan State
While Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert may be getting much of the attention at the top of the draft, the next closest cornerback to him in terms of ability has been Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard.
At the combine, he officially ran a 4.51 40-yard dash, slower than many of his peers at the position. He plays physical and quicker on film and has the ability to match up with many wide receivers, but he often gets too physical and can miss tackles.
Really worry about Darqueze Dennard as a tackler. He consistently let Stanford runners get outside him and make big plays. Poor angles, too.
— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) January 9, 2014
While the Bears could likely afford to draft a guy like Dennard in the first round and develop him behind their current starters, the team still has plenty of needs on defense and may need to go another direction.
The talent and skill level is there with Dennard, but his history of injuries, combined with the team's needs at other positions, may force the Bears to push him down their draft board.
Rising: Ryan Shazier, Linebacker, Ohio State
Strong linebacker play has been the key to the Bears' success throughout the team's history. Bill George, Dick Butkus, Mike Singletary and Brian Urlacher all come to mind when thinking of the Chicago Bears defense.
After the departure and retirement of Urlacher last offseason, the team went with a veteran lineup at linebacker: James Anderson on the strong side, D.J. Williams in the middle and Lance Briggs on the weak side.
Injuries decimated the Bears defense as a whole last year, with both Williams and Briggs missing significant time. The team was forced to use rookies Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene as their starters, and both struggled to adapt to the NFL game.
There is still hope for both Bostic and Greene to continue to develop, but the team needs to continue to add youth and depth, and Ohio State's Ryan Shazier could help bolster that linebacking group.
Shazier had an impressive 42-inch vertical leap and a 10-foot, 10-inch broad jump at the NFL Scouting Combine but was hampered by a hamstring injury and was unable to run the 40-yard dash.
Earlier this month he was able to impress scouts with an impressive 40-yard time.
Ohio St. OLB Ryan Shazier reportedly clocked a 4.36 at the Buckeyes Pro Day. 42-inch vertical at the Scouting Combine too. #1stRoundTalent— Scott Wright (@DraftCountdown) March 7, 2014
According to USA Today's Jim Corbett, NFL.com analyst Bucky Brooks told him, "Ryan is always the model of what you're looking for at the linebacker position. Ryan is very fast, super athletic and has that positional versatility you look for. He can cover tight ends but also rush off the edge."
His strong combine and pro day numbers help solidify him being a first-round pick, and he has the flexibility to play either the strong side or the weak side in a 4-3 defense. He may not be an option at No. 14 for the Bears, but he would be worth a look if they can trade down in the first round.
Falling: C.J. Mosley, Linebacker, Alabama
Through no fault of his own, Alabama's C.J. Mosley has seen his stock drop in recent weeks.
Following the NFL Scouting Combine, Bleacher Report's Matt Miller said that Mosley was one of the hottest names at the combine 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.
He opted to only participate in a handful of drills at the combine, prompting speculation from some teams, according to WalterFootball.com, that there could be a knee issue. Teams are now unsure about Mosley's health.
He did run in Alabama's pro day and ran 40-yard dash times in the 4.65-4.72 range, and he also looked “fluid” and “loose” in positional drills, according to those in Tuscaloosa (via CBSSports.com).
He answered some of the questions regarding his knee at his pro day, telling Chase Goodbread of NFL.com:
Everything went well. Before the combine even happened, in January, I got MRIs on everything I hurt in the past all the way to my freshman year. Everything was good then. (There) weren't no red flags thrown up or anything they had questions on, I got an MRI or X-Ray on, so it turned out well.
Mosley's versatility to play all three linebacker positions in a 4-3 could make him a very real option at No. 14 for the Bears, but considering the questions about his knee and the team's greater needs, the team may end up passing on him if he is available.