Chicago Bears Huddle draft notebook: Evaluating the defensive line

Chicago Bears Huddle draft notebook: Evaluating the defensive line
Is it time for the Bears to say goodbye to an aging Julius Peppers?

Kicking off my Chicago Bears Huddle draft notebook, I look at the Bears’ top needs, my top 15 prospects for the team, my opinion on the defensive line, and a quick six round mock draft:

2014 Draft Big Board

  1. HaHa Clinton-Dix – Safety, Alabama
  2. Khalil Mack – DE/OLB, Buffalo
  3. Kony Ealy – DE, Missouri
  4. Louis Nix – DT, Notre Dame
  5. Rashede Hageman – DT,  Minnesota
  6. C.J. Mosley – ILB/OLB, Alabama
  7. Darqueze Dennard – CB, Michigan State
  8. Justin Gilbert – CB, Oklahoma State
  9. Trent Murphy – DE, Stanford
  10. Travis Swanson – C, Arkansas
  11. Stephon Tuitt – DE/DT, Notre Dame
  12. Vic Beasley – DE/OLB, Clemson
  13. Cyrus Kouandijo – OT, Alabama
  14. Taylor Lewan – OT, Michigan
  15. Ifo Ekpre-Olomu – CB/S, Oregon
  16. Jace Amaro – TE, Texas Tech
  17. Ryan Shazier – LB, Ohio State
  18. Marquise Lee – WR, USC
  19. Eric Ebron – TE, North Carolina
  20. Marcus Roberson – CB, Florida

Chicago Bears’ Top Needs

Defensive Tackle: I would love to see Phil Emery bring back Jeremiah Ratliff, but they will certainly need to do more than that to significantly upgrade the position.

Safety: I don’t want to see Chris Conte or Major Wright on my television screen in 2014; Phil Emery will definitely need to solidify this position in both the draft and free agency.

Defensive End: It’s looking more likely that the Bears could move away from Julius Peppers. If they do indeed go in that direction, they will be in the market for a high impact pass rusher.

Cornerback: The Tim Jennings signing was a pretty good one for the Bears, but the team is still hurting for depth in this area.

Third Wide Receiver: Marquess Wilson should fill in that spot, but it wouldn’t hurt for the Bears to add competition.

Back-up Running Back: Michael Bush was a big disappointment in his last two seasons. The Bears need to find a capable backup to relieve Matt Forte.

Backup QB: Josh McCown will likely be too expensive for the Bears once he hits the open market. If so, Emery will need to find another capable veteran to back up Cutler.

Repairing a Broken Defensive Line

How refreshing to start an off-season evaluation without first mentioning the offensive line and how that unit needs improvement and upgrading. Instead, the unit that will be a focal point all off-season is the Bears’ defensive line.

This group had a complete drop off in 2013. That drop off starts with the biggest name on the line in Julius Peppers. The film evaluation will suggest it’s time to move on from Peppers, and so does the money.

The Bears need weekly consistency from their DL, especially at a position like RDE. Too many times we saw Peppers get shutdown by some of the league’s average LTs. What will also make Pep expandable is the play of Corey Wootton, who will likely be a priority FA for the Bears.

Wootton’s versatility can be valued in any scheme Phil Emery and head coach Marc Trestman implement moving forward. And no matter what scheme they run next season on the defensive side of the ball, Emery is going to need to improve the defensive tackle position.

Opposing RBs had great success running up the middle against the Bears’ DTs. If the Bears are moving to a more hybrid scheme — and I assume they are — bringing back Jay Ratliff makes more sense than spending big to bring back Henry Melton, who is strictly a three-technique DT in a 4-3 front.

Stephan Paea is a keeper on that front four in my opinion, but I would draft someone to challenge him for his starting position.

It was encouraging to hear Emery admitting a mistake in Shea McClellin. “Putting him at defensive end, that’s on me,” Emery said, “not giving him the ultimate opportunity to succeed.” McClellin’s combination of speed and athleticism is best suited at OLB.

He’s not a player you can trust on the LOS because of lack of strength, but at OLB his speed and athleticism would be best highlighted.

Emery has a lot of work to do on that defensive line this off-season; he’s likely got to make a decision on Peppers, find a way to get the most out of McClellin, figure out the DT position, and find out what he has in young guys Cornelius Washington and David Bass.

Mini Bears Mock Draft

First Round: Khalil Mack – DE/OLB, Buffalo – Assuming the Bears and Peppers go their separate ways, Chicago is going to be in need of a high-impact pass rusher. Mack can get to the QB from either a two- or three-point stance.

Second Round: Dion Bailey – S, USC – You’re likely going to see two new starters at both safety positions. USC’s Bailey was an outstanding playmaker for their defense (five INTs, 62 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, 0.5 sacks and six passes broken up) after moving from weak side LB.

Third Round: Da’Quan Jones – DT, Penn State – Even if they bring back Ratliff or Melton, the Bears are going to need depth at DT. Jones not only could provide that depth but has the talent to challenge for a starting position in year one.

Fourth round: Colt Lyerla – TE, Oregon – You can never have enough playmakers on the offensive side of the ball. The Bears need depth behind Martellus Bennett, and the combination of Bennett and Lyerla in two TE sets could make this offense scary.

Fifth round: Aaron Colvin – CB, Oklahoma – The Bears brought back Tim Jennings, but they still need depth at the CB position. If Emery can get a pretty good man corner in Colvin here it would be quite the steal for the Bears.

Sixth round: T.J. Jones – WR, Notre Dame – The Bears likely have something in Marquess Wilson, who projects as the Bears’ third WR next season. A quick shifty slot guy like Jones could provide the Bears nice depth and another weapon when the offense is in four WR Sets.

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