Will a linebacker be available at no. 20?

USA TODAY Sports

With the calendar flipped over to April, it's time to turn the attention to the NFL Draft. It's now just weeks away and there will be no shortage of speculation with how the Bears will spend their first selection.

It's no secret that general manager Phil Emery has worked extremely hard during the free agency period to give him and his staff flexibility when it comes to make to make the team's first round selection.

Emery has filled holes at linebacker, guard, tackle and tight end with the idea that he can do whatever he feels like with the 20th pick; trade back or select the best available player.

While the team doesn't currently appear to have the ammunition to trade up, that can't be ruled out if there were multiple moves made (i.e. trade down and then back up) but that too seems unlikely.


MORE: Should the Bears trade up for a guard?

The Bears' main concern when it comes to drafting will be to bring an influx of youth to an aging roster, especially on the defensive side. Many defensive starters are on the wrong side of thirty and while there are some young players, many of them have question marks of their own.

One position that a lot of mock drafts have the Bears addressing is linebacker. Since the public break up with Brian Urlacher, the team will be in the market for a young, franchise-face caliber defensive player to replace him. That guy could be taken at number 20.


MORE: SBN Bloggers Pick: Bears Select Brown

Linebacker is a tough position to forecast in the draft. There are plenty of first-round graded players in this year's class but it's tough to predict where they will be taken.

In order to do that, I studied the last 10 drafts to get an idea of where middle linebackers are taken. It's difficult to figure it out and it can be even tough to figure where a linebacker plays because teams move them around so much and the rise in popularity of the 3-4 defense means that there are less true, old school MLBs roaming NFL fields.

Here is the info I was able to gather regarding MLBs draft position over the last ten drafts:

2003 - One MLB taken: Nick Barnett at no. 29
2004 - One MLB taken; Vilma at no. 12 (Two inside LBs were drafted in round one in total: Vilma and DJ Williams at no. 17)
2005 - No MLBs (Demarcus Ware was the first LB taken at no. 11)
2006 - No MLBs (A.J. Hawk was the first LB taken at no. 5)
2007 - Patrick Willis was the first MLB taken at no. 11, two overall were taken with Jon Beason taken at no. 25
2008 - No MLBs (Keith Rivers was the first LB taken at no. 9)
2009 - No MLBs taken (Aaron Curry was the first LB taken at no. 4)
2010 - Ronoldo McClain was taken at no. 8 and was the only MLB taken
2011 - No MLBs were taken, but Von Miller was the first LB taken at no. 2
2012 - Luke Kuechly was the first MLB taken at no. 9, only other inside LB taken was Dont'a Hightower at no. 25

I counted Hightower as a MLB because scouts seemed to report that he could play nearly any LB position in any defense. I also only counted prospects drafted to be MLBs, not guys who ended up in the middle. Overall though, looking at the numbers, MLBs are generally taken between numbers 9 and 29. With the influx of 3-4 defenses, teams want OLBs that can rush the passer and pass rushing has become more of a premium than a three-down LB that can play the run as well as the pass.

That fact benefits the Bears who could perhaps even move further down from no. 20 and still grab a potential franchise-caliber MLB.

This year's crop of MLBs include; Manti Te'o, Alec Ogletree, Kevin Minter and Arthur Brown.

Now, it depends on what you read as to whether teams think Ogletree projects as a MLB or a 3-4 OLB but given his history as a safety, I think he would work in the Bears' 4-3 scheme as a MLB.


MORE: Bears need to build foundation

Most mock drafts I have seen have all four of these guys available from 20 or below, so should the Bears stay put or move back, they will likely have at least two of these guys to choose from.

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