10 NFL Combine invitees to watch closely:
- Ra’Shede Hageman, DT/DE, Minnesota: Hageman will be a guy many talent evaluators will keep a close eye on because he looks the part of a physically imposing player with the quickness and athleticism to go along with it. The 6-6, 318 pound DT could see his stock rise with a great performance throughout his drills.
- Dominique Easley, DT, Florida: Easley might not be able to do much at the Combine, but scouts, coaches, and GMs would like to see how far along he is in his recovery from a torn ACL suffered last September. Before Easley got injured, he was considered a future first-round pick. He is an explosive athlete who has the versatility to play in any defense. If his knee checks out okay, he should be on the Bears’ radar in the second round.
- Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State: Jernigan’s name has been linked with the Chicago Bears in many mock drafts around the web. NFL Network’s draft expert Mike Mayock is suggesting that the Bears should sprint to the podium to get Jernigan. Scouts will be seeing how explosive Jernigan can be off the snap, which should start to answer questions about his potential as a pass rusher.
- Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri: In Mike Mayock’s positional rankings on NFL.com, he has Ealy as his second best DE behind Clowney. Most mocks have Ealy going late in the first round, and some don’t have him in the first at all. Ealy has all the tools to be a great DE at the next level, and the Combine is just a stage for his speed, quickness, and athleticism to be put on display.
- Jeremiah Attaochu, DE/OLB, Georgia Tech: Attaochu had a strong Senior Bowl week, where coaches saw his flexibility lining up at SAM LB (4-3), OLB (3-4), and at DE (4-3). Attaochu has the physical attributes along with the production to match (45 tackles with 16 tackles for loss, two passes batted and 12.5 sacks in 2013). He’s pegged as a second-round prospect, but a great Combine performance could shoot him into the late first round.
- Ha’Sean Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama: Clinton-Dix is an extremely gifted athlete at the FS position who has developed quickly under the tutelage of Alabama’s coach Nick Saban. However, Louisville FS Calvin Pryor is quickly gaining steam to be the first safety called in May. Clinton-Dix will need to use the Combine to separate himself further away from Pryor. He certainly has the higher ceiling but will need to show teams that he’s ready to step in day one and have an impact.
- Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State: Dennard is very technique sound and has the physicality you want out of a cornerback. The question scouts want to know is if he has the speed to cover WRs deep down field. His 40 time will be the main focus for scouts and coaches.
- Colt Lyerla, TE, Oregon: Lyerla is an extremely gifted athlete at the TE position, but coaches will be putting more stock into his interviews to see if his troubled past is really behind him. Lyerla left the Oregon program, and after leaving the team he was arrested and later pled guilty to unlawful possession of cocaine. He’s certainly a talented TE prospect, but he will need to convince teams that he’s learned from the experience and is a changed man.
- Jimmie Ward, S, Northern Illinois: Jimmie is undersized at 5-11, 190 pounds, but look at the highlight tape and you will see that he doesn’t play like his size. He’s Mike Mayock’s third best safety in the draft, and he could solidify himself as a second prospect with a strong performance at the Combine.
- DeAnthony Thomas, RB/WR, Oregon: Thomas’s size is a concern, but he’s a pure offensive weapon. Injuries in his junior year really hurt his stock, as he could have likely had a similar rise to Tavon Austin in last year’s draft. A fast 40 time and great performance in drills could help him.
Prospect Spotlight: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
STRENGTHS: Stays light on his feet with good movement skills for a 300-pounder, showing smooth hips and fluid lateral range to work up and down the line of scrimmage. Jernigan does a nice job using his hands and footwork to sidestep blockers and collapse gaps, and has active hands and the upper-body strength to bully blockers. Jernigan also shows improved ball awareness and can anchor against multiple blocks.
WEAKNESSES: Jernigan needs to improve his snap anticipation and is too often the last lineman to move off the ball. He's still developing his technique and figuring out how to properly use his limbs.
My Analysis: At 6-2, 300 pounds, Jernigan is one of the better athletes as a DT prospect. He can beat opposing OGs with quickness, or use his strength to blow up blockers. With most young DTs coming into the league, their pass rush ability is usually ahead of their run defense; that is not the case with Jernigan. Jernigan displays excellent upper body strength, quickness and play recognition against the run. His active hands and explosiveness off the snap let us know that he certainly has great potential to be a force as an interior pass rusher.
With the Bears sticking to the 4-3 base defense, and not knowing for certain if Emery is going to bring back Melton, Jernigan makes a whole lot of sense for a team that struggled mightily to stop the run and was just as bad rushing the passer.
First round: Ra’Shede Hageman, DT/DE, Minnesota: The top two safeties, Ha’Sean Clinton-Dix and Calvin Pryor, are intriguing options at pick No.14, but defensive line is a pressing need for the Bears. Henry Melton and Jeremiah Ratliff are pending free agents, and even if general manager Phil Emery decides to bring back one of them, it still would benefit him to go DL early. Ra’Shede Hageman is a physically imposing player at 6-6, 318 pounds. He has a great combination of power and quickness to overwhelm opposing interior linemen.
At Minnesota, they lined Hageman up all over the DL, which makes him an intriguing player for teams that run hybrid defenses. He has the power to line up at one-technique and the quickness and explosiveness to line up at three-technique in a 4-3 front. In a 3-4 front, he can line up at NT and as a five-technique DE.
The Bears’ DL had a lot of problems stopping the run and getting to the QB. The addition of Hageman in the middle should help their run defense and interior pass rush woes.
Second round: Jeremiah Attaochu, DE/OLB, Georgia Tech: The Bears’ defensive line lacked speed and athleticism on the outside last year. Shea McClellin was supposed to be that player for the Bears but has shown so far that he has trouble rushing the QB from a three-point stance and also setting the edge in run defense. McClellin struggled so bad at DE that the team is moving the former 2012 first-round pick to OLB.
Attaochu fits the prototype pass rusher Emery covets. At 6-3, 252 pounds, Attaochu has great speed and quickness, along with natural dip and bend ability to get around opposing OTs. In Georgia Tech’s hybrid defense, they used Attaochu as an OLB in their 3-4 look and also as a DE in their 4-3 front. As an OLB, Attaochu has not only shown that he can effectively get after the passer, but he can drop into coverage and cover RBs. On the edge, he’s not one dimensional and has good recognition against run and has good understanding of gap integrity.
Attaochu would give the Bears an athletic, quick, long-arm pass rusher who they can line-up anywhere in their front seven.
Third round: Jimmie Ward, S, Northern Illinois: Problems in the front seven had an effect on the safety play. Chris Conte and Major Wright looked like a young safety tandem on the rise in 2012, but 2013 was a completely different story. The two of them regressed, and now the Bears front office and scouting department are back to finding an effective starting safety duo. I expect the Bears to go after a veteran safety in free agency but also expect them to select a safety somewhere in the first three rounds of the draft.
Jimmie Ward is not a big safety at 5-10, 191 pounds, but he has all the tools to be a solid starting FS at the next level. Ward has the ball skills, quickness, speed and instincts to defend the deep parts of the field. For his size, he’s a solid tackler and a violent hitter who is more than capable of coming down hill to help stop the run. Ward’s toughness, instincts and ball skills would be a breath of fresh air for the Bears at the safety position.
Fourth round: Pierre Desir, CB, Lindenwood: It’s still unknown what the Bears will do at CB. Do they believe that Charles Tillman has enough left in the tank? Did they see enough in Zach Bowman to bring him back and pair him with veteran corner Tim Jennings? Do they have someone in mind in free agency? Whatever the Bears do in free agency at the CB position, I still fully expect them to address the position at some point in the draft.
A young player like Pierre Desir would be just the developmental project to stash behind a veteran CB. The 6-1, 195 pound Desir has the size that most defensive coordinators covet in an attempt to matchup with the big physical WRs in today’s league. He’s still a bit raw as far as technique, but his size, athleticism and ball skills are intriguing, especially for a developmental player.
Fifth round: Crockett Gilmore, TE, Colorado State: Head coach Marc Trestman got a big season last year from free agent addition Martellus Bennett, but they lacked depth behind him from a receiving standpoint. Crockett Gilmore had a great week down in Mobile for the Senior Bowl, putting himself on the radar for NFL talent evaluators. Gilmore is not the caliber athlete of an Eric Ebron or Austin Seferian-Jenkins, but like Bennett, he’s a TE who blocks and makes plays down the field.
The Bears’ offense needs better depth at the TE position, and Crockett would give Trestman that, plus another weapon in the passing game when in two TE sets.
Sixth round: Storm Johnson, RB, UCF: Matt Forte came away with his best season as pro in 2013. Although Forte turned 28 toward the end of the year, he still looks like he has a few more monster seasons left in him. However, Trestman will need to lighten his work load a bit in order to preserve Forte throughout the season and not wear him down. Forte’s back up last year, Michael Bush, doesn’t look like a good fit in OC Aaron Kromer’s zone-blocking system. On top of that, he is carrying a 3.85 million dollar cap hit for 2014, so he’s a likely candidate to be released at some point this off-season.
UDFA Michael Ford has the talent to be a serviceable backup for Forte, but I expect the Bears to bring in competition for that backup RB spot.
Storm Johnson is a big, explosive RB, who can be tough to bring down once he gets a full head of steam. Johnson has shown good ability to pick the right open lane, gain yards after first initial contact and be a solid receiver out the backfield. Johnson would provide the Bears with a cheaper option at the second RB spot, with upside to someday be a starter.
Sixth round: Gabe Ikard, C, Oklahoma: Roberto Garza quietly had a solid year for the Bears in 2013. The long time veteran graded out as the 12th best Center in the league. Garza expressed interest in coming back, and I assume Emery will bring him back on a short-term deal. However, the team needs to plan for the future and develop a young player behind Garza. Ikard is a developmental project they can stash behind Garza for a couple years before bringing him into the starting line-up.
Subscribe to Chicago Bears Huddle:
Type your email address in the box and click the "create subscription" button. Our list is completely spam free, and you can opt out at any time.