The Bears are like every other team in the league in that they need to stockpile as many pass-rushers as possible, but they don’t need to use the seventh pick in the draft to do it.
We’ve heard about the Bears need for pass-rush, but that need and the available talent in the draft may be overstated.
Pass rush has always been the most important way to disrupt a great quarterback, but the Bears weren’t exactly terrible in that department last year. The Bears had 39 sacks last year, one fewer than the Super Bowl Champs and two more than Seattle, the team that shut down Aaron Rodgers twice.
This isn’t to say the Bears shouldn’t try to add a sack master, but it doesn’t seem like they’re going to be able to do so with the seventh pick.
The pass rushers coming out in the draft this year have been highly-touted, but as more information is coming out, the hype seems to be fading. In my opinion, there are only two pass rushers with the talent to go in the top 10: Vic Beasley and Randy Gregory.
Beasley won’t be there. In fact, I don’t think he’s going to get past the fourth pick. Oakland head coach Jack Del Rio had Von Miller in Denver the last few seasons and Beasley is a carbon copy.
Gregory has some issues. I’m not down on him because he failed a drug test at the combine. Or necessarily that it was his third failed test. Or even that he missed three games with injury last year and all of the 2012 season with another. Or that he wasn’t academically eligible to enroll in Purdue coming out of high school. Or that he’s under 245 pounds. Or that he’s exceptionally raw. I can handle all of those things individually, but add them all together and it’s hard to be comfortable taking him that high. Whether it be because of injury or otherwise, he might have a tough time staying on the field.
The others that people have projected to the Bears — Dante Fowler Jr., Shane Ray and Bud Dupree — simply lack physical talent. As I wrote for cover32 there is a pretty direct connection between times in the three-cone drill to sack totals. Since 2011, 93.1 percent of the edge players who had 10 or more sacks ran a three-cone times better than 7.4 seconds, which is the time Fowler ran and the best of the three.
It isn’t just sacks. If you want to overrule their importance like Pro Football Focus does with their Pass Rush Productivity, 22 out of their 26 highest rated 4-3 ends or 3-4 linebackers also topped that time.
This is something the NFL has seemingly noticed. Since 2010, 22 of the 24 edge players drafted in the first round have had better times.
A slow three-cone time doesn’t mean a player will suck and a fast one doesn’t mean he’ll be good, but 93.1 percent is an awfully high number.
Fowler is a player most highly sought after and it’s popular to say he’s “more athletic on tape.” Go to Draft Breakdown, watch him vs. Florida State and count how many times Jameis Winston made him miss. Now try to figure out how he’d ever get his hands on Rodgers. Former NFL defensive end Stephen White has been scouting the edge players and his take on Fowler was particularly interesting.
It’s possible that Fowler was nursing some sort of injury or illness that we don’t know about at the combine. He could put up a better time at his pro day. If he does, maybe he gets reconsidered, but it’s hard to get the image of Winston sidestepping him out of my head.
Dupree grades well in almost every other athletic category, but he doesn’t have any pass rush moves and his 7.46 three-cone time makes me think he’ll never rack up sacks.
And Ray…forget about it. He can run fast, that’s it. And he isn’t even that fast. Before you point to college production, allow me point to Mike Sam on Dancing With the Stars.
It isn’t that these guys are all going to be bad players. I actually think Fowler and Dupree are going to be solid starters, but the Bears have solid starters, they need a sack artist and only sack artists should go in the top-10. Why spend the seventh pick on what you already have?
The Bears added Pernell McPhee and — most recently — Sam Acho in free agency to go with Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston and Willie Young. Those are five quality players to play two positions. None of them are LT, but all of them are capable and having five capable pass rushers is a scary thing.
With McPhee, the Bears have a Swiss Army Knife who can rush from anywhere. Acho isn’t well-known, but his Pass Rush Productivity on PFF rated better than Clay Matthews did. Obviously that stat is flawed since Matthews is who he is because he gets sacks and Acho is going to be playing on a “prove it” deal. The point is that, Acho got to the QB at a decent rate, a decent enough rate that he played a lot for a team with a terrific defense. If he’s the Bears third or fourth best edge defender, they’re in good shape there.
The three returning players are question marks. Allen was better than he got credit for last year. It’s hard to rack up sacks when the secondary can’t cover. Young led the team in sacks — although, he could be the latest to benefit from playing opposite Allen — and Houston got pressure, although didn’t get sacks.
Houston likely never will be a double-digit sack guy and neither Allen nor Young are likely going to get there again. McPhee certainly has that potential and Acho has shown glimpses. The Bears would certainly like to add an elite pass-rusher to make all of the other guys better, but the seventh pick might be too rich for this year’s crop.
Then there are the young guys. Cornelius Washington started to show flashes last season, David Bass has made plays the last two seasons and if Christian Jones keeps improving like he did last year, he could have a major impact.
Should they pass on an edge player in the draft, the Bears will have plenty of options. It seems likely that one of the top two receivers — Amari Cooper or Kevin White — or Leonard Williams will drop to them. Or they could grab a defensive end like Arik Armstead or maybe even safety Landon Collins, although that may be a bit of a reach for him. Or maybe they just try to stockpile guys who can cover like Seattle has.
By not reaching for an edge rusher at seven, the Bears will push the entire group down the board and increase the chances that one of them will drop to them in the second round. The edge class may not be overly strong at the top, but it is inarguably deep. Guys like Danielle Hunter and Eli Harold are just as likely to terrorize quarterbacks as those projected to go much earlier.
The Bears can win with the pass rushers they have. If a great one were to fall in their lap, they’d find a way to use him. It seems more likely that if that is going to happen it’ll be later in the draft than with the seventh pick.