5 Mid-Round Pass-Rushers Who Will Interest the Chicago Bears in the Draft
The Chicago Bears appeared to be a shoo-in to take a pass-rusher with the seventh overall pick in this year's draft, but after signing outside linebacker Pernell McPhee to a long-term deal earlier this month, the team may wait to address the position in the middle rounds.
The Bears are making the switch from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 defense in 2015, and general manager Ryan Pace spoke earlier this offseason about what he is looking for in an outside linebacker.
“Pass rush is the first thing that comes to mind," he said, according to John Mullin of CSNChicago.com. "Edge speed. The ability to hit the quarterback. And then also the ability to set the edge and get off a block."
The Bears have a handful of players currently on the roster who have the potential to get after the quarterback from the outside, but a team can never have too many pass-rushers.
While the draft is heavy at the top with talented pass-rushers like Florida's Dante Fowler, Nebraska's Randy Gregory and Missouri's Shane Ray, there are plenty of players who could still be available in the middle rounds who could make an impact on the field next season.
Here are five mid-round pass-rushers who will interest the Bears in this year's draft.
Nate Orchard, Utah
One of the fastest risers up draft boards this offseason has been Utah's Nate Orchard.
He finished last season with 84 total tackles, 21 tackles for loss and 18.5 sacks after finishing the 2013 season with just 50 tackles, nine tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks.
He is explosive out of a three-point stance, but he projects better as a stand-up outside linebacker in a 3-4. He is not extremely fast—he ran a 4.80 40-yard dash at the combine, according to NFL.com—but he has a quick first step and a relentless motor.
He has underrated strength and can stack and shed against the run, but he is at his best when asked to get after the quarterback. He possesses a good arsenal of pass-rushing moves, and CBSSports.com's Dane Brugler compared him to New England Patriots linebacker Rob Ninkovich.
"Although they have their struggles vs. the run, both Ninkovich and Orchard use savvy pass rush ability and a nonstop motor to be effective," Brugler wrote.
He spent the majority of his time at Utah as a 4-3 defensive end, but he said he is also comfortable standing up in a 3-4 defense.
"I've had my hand on the ground for the last 10 years, so I think that's probably where I'm most comfortable," Orchard said, according to Max Henson of Panthers.com. "But a transition to outside linebacker (in a 3-4 scheme) wouldn't be a problem just because I've been dropping into coverage a lot. It's something I'm used to."
He will likely be available for the Bears in the second round, and while he does not have much experience playing as a stand-up linebacker, his talent may be too difficult to pass up.
Hau'oli Kikaha, Washington
One of the NCAA's most accomplished pass-rushers, Hau'oli Kikaha will likely slide in this year's draft due to his medical history.
He tore the ACL in his left knee in 2011 and again in 2012, but he bounced back and registered 46 tackles, 15.5 tackles for loss and 13 sacks in 2013. Last season he finished with 53 tackles, 25 tackles for loss and led the nation with 19 sacks.
Even though Kikaha put up big numbers the last two seasons, Bleacher Report's Matt Miller is not sold on the pass-rusher.
"Two ACL surgeries in the past and a subpar Senior Bowl week for Hau'oli Kikaha—and more film study on my part—have me souring on the Washington star after having him as early as a late-first-round pick at one point," Miller wrote in February.
The Senior Bowl was the first time Kikaha was asked to play exclusively out of a two-point stance, and while Miller thought Kikaha struggled at the Senior Bowl, Kikaha felt differently.
"I thought I did extremely well according to the coaches at the Senior Bowl and those at home watching," Kikaha said, according to Bleacher Report's Brent Sobleski. "It was something that I've never done. Each day was totally different when you compare them side by side. The feedback I got was really good."
He spent most of his time at the Senior Bowl as a 4-3 outside linebacker, but he is likely best suited standing up as a 3-4 outside linebacker.
He relies mostly on his speed to beat opposing blockers, but he uses his hands well and does a nice job of gaining leverage against stronger offensive linemen. He will need to add additional pass-rushing moves, but he could be a steal for a team like the Bears in the middle rounds.
He would not be expected to beat out one of Chicago's veterans for a starting role in 2015, but he could develop into a situational edge-rusher on passing downs.
Lorenzo Mauldin, Louisville
As a three-year starter at Louisville, Lorenzo Mauldin registered 30.5 sacks and 32 tackles for loss.
Brugler summed up Mauldin's strengths, writing:
Hits like a truck and his pursuit is always in full-go mode. Active, emotional and fiery player with natural leadership traits, looking to educate his teammates. Versatile starting experience at end and linebacker, rushing from a three point stance and also standing up as both a rusher and coverage defender. Self-motivated hard worker who has shown the ability to overcome adversity and keep his priorities straight.
Mauldin's ability to overcome a rough upbringing is something that has impressed some NFL scouts.
"He overcame a tough childhood and developed a mindset that nothing is going to stop him," an NFC North scout said, according to NFL.com's Lance Zierlein. "He works his butt off and he wants to be great. I'm cheering hard for this kid and I'll bang the table for him when the time is right."
He split time between defensive end and outside linebacker at Louisville, and it may take some time for him to adjust to playing one position. He needs to get stronger at the point of attack and has to prove he can do a better job of shedding blockers.
Mauldin is the type of player who would benefit from playing for a creative defensive coordinator like Vic Fangio who is known for putting his players in the right position to succeed. Just like Kikaha, Mauldin likely would not come in and immediately compete for a starting role, but he could develop into a solid rotational player for the Bears.
Max Valles, Virginia
If the Bears want to look at an extremely raw player with a lot of upside, Virginia's Max Valles could be an intriguing option.
He finished the 2014 season with 55 total tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, nine sacks, one interception and two defensive touchdowns after registering 23 total tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss and four sacks in 2013.
Valles surprised many by leaving college early, including Virginia head coach Mike London.
"Based on the improvement and development he showed the past two years, I felt Max Valles was a player who could really benefit from playing another year of college football," said London, according to Doug Doughty of The Roanoke Times. "I believe he was on the verge of blossoming into a dominant player."
According to NFL.com, he measured in a 6'5" and 251 pounds at the scouting combine and ran a 4.83 40-yard dash.
He struggles with his technique because of a lack of experience and relies more on pure speed and explosiveness to beat offensive linemen. While he was able to get away with that at the collegiate level, he will need to improve his pass-rushing moves in the NFL.
While he has many of the tools to become an effective pass-rusher, he is still a work in process.
"He's an athlete and not a football player right now," an AFC defensive line coach said, according to Zierlein. "If it starts to click for him and he starts to put the tape work together with the talent—look out, buddy. If it doesn't click, you've got a backup defensive end."
If Valles is still on the board in the fourth or fifth round, he may end up being a steal for the Bears if he can develop under Fangio and outside linebackers coach Clint Hurtt.
Obum Gwacham, Oregon State
A former wide receiver, Oregon State's Obum Gwacham is an extremely raw edge-rusher who has a lot of potential.
He measured in a 6'5" and 246 pounds at the combine, ran a 4.72 40-yard dash and had a 121-inch broad jump, according to NFL.com.
Mark Banker, Gwacham's defensive coordinator at Oregon State, was impressed by Gwacham's play early in the season after the transition from wide receiver to defensive end.
"When he made the switch, we looked at him in the spring and we were like, 'Oh wow, he's not afraid of contact,'" Banker said, according to Connor Letourneau of The Oregonian. "I wouldn't expect so quickly that he's having the success that he's having."
He finished 2014 with 28 total tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss and four sacks in 12 games.
Despite being raw, he has tremendous upside because of his athleticism. While he spent a lot of time with his hand on the ground at Oregon State, his speed would be better utilized with him standing up in a 3-4 defense. He has a relentless motor, but he struggles with his hands and needs to get stronger.
He will likely be taken somewhere in the fifth or sixth round solely because of his speed, and he could interest the Bears as a developmental player who can learn playing behind guys like McPhee and Lamarr Houston. While he likely would not see the field much as a pass-rusher in 2015, he could be viewed as a core special teams player next season because of his team-first attitude and athleticism.
Statistical information courtesy of Sports-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
Matt Eurich is a Chicago Bears Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America.