There is still a long way to go in the draft evaluation process, which kicks off this week with the East-West Shrine Game in St. Petersburg, Fla. Saturday but I thought it would be good to get an all-too-early look at where the prospects are ranked right now, and who is on fans' and teams' radar.
It's no secret that the Bears will likely be focusing on the defense come May since that unit is currently lagging well behind the offense. It's hard to know what the team's needs will be looking at when the draft rolls around and free agency is over, but GM Phil Emery has stated that he wants to get younger on defense.
It's likely that the team's needs will be some of the following: DE, DT, S and CB. In the later rounds the Bears could be looking for a center, a linebacker and possibly a backup running back. Draft positions aren't solidified yet because the NFL will hand out compensatory picks in March but, Adam Hoge listed the Bears' current selections:
Round 1: 14th
Round 2: 19th
Round 3: 18th
Round 4: 17th
Round 5: 16th
Round 6: 7th (from Tampa Bay)
Round 6: 15th
And underclassmen have until Wednesday to declare for the draft so the prospects could change slightly still.
Now then, who will Emery be targeting? It's a tough question because in his first two drafts he picked a player few had predicted would be taken where they were. Emery loves athletic players who are versatile. I'm going to list a few prospects whom I see ranked in the 11-25 range and use various sites to see what's said about those prospects at this time.
Ra'shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
Athletic and versatile? If those are the two buzzwords Emery covets more than any and he wants a defensive lineman then this is a slam dunk pick. Here's what CBSSports.com says about Hageman, who they have ranked as the 21st best prospect and number two at his position:
Alternately lining up over the nose or as a three-technique, Hageman consistently pushes his counterparts deep into the backfield, demonstrating rare upfield burst for a man of his size, as well as impressive strength. A brute in the middle, combining excellent size and power to push blockers deep into the pocket.
CBS' Dane Brugler has the Bears taking Hageman in his latest mock draft and WalterFootball.com had him in one of their earlier ones.
Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame
Nix is probably the name I am most seeing associated with the Bears in these early mocks as I brush up ahead of draft season. Nix is a guy I've seen play live and living in the backyard of Notre Dame I know by his nickname Chocolate Thunder. Nix isn't a pass rush specialist but he is a well-rounded player who is a force in both facets of the game and should command double teams in the NFL. He has some knee-injury concerns though and that's knocked him down some depending on which rankings you're looking at. From SBNation:
For a while, Notre Dame defensive tackle Louis Nix appeared to be in a tier of his own in the defensive tackle rankings. The Irish nose tackle was dominant in his team's run to the National Championship in 2012 and was picking up where he left off in 2013. Recently, he's been more inconsistent, part of which has to do with a knee issue which seems to be lingering for him.
Ha'Sean "Haha" Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
Ha'Sean is the top ranked safety in the draft. Chris Conte haters would probably love to the see this guy in navy and orange next fall as he has shown the ability to play both the pass and the run at Alabama. From CBSsports:
Clinton-Dix changes directions fluidly and accelerates smoothly. He reads the quarterback's eyes well and breaks on the ball, showing a late burst to close downhill. He has plus hands for the interception and shows vision and natural open-field running skills with the ball in his hands. Clinton-Dix anticipates the run well, attacking the line of scrimmage to make some impressive stops up close.
He projects to be a top 20 pick.
Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame
Tuitt had a disappointing start to the year as he dealt with an injury but he came on strong towards the end of the year and finished with 7.5 sacks. CBSsports likes Tuitt's versatility
Tantalizing upside. Highly athletic frame despite massive size. Impressive combination of length, power and surprising quickness. Scheme versatility for the 3-4 and 4-3, possessing the size of most interior linemen while maintaining the quickness to provide a rush off the edge.
Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
Cornerback rankings seem to be all over the place site-to-site so that's a position group to keep an eye on moving forward in the draft process. Gilbert has a first round grade from most outlets I checked and has value as a kick returner as well. Walterfootball.com writes:
He finished the regular season with some clutch performances. Gilbert has really improved his game as a senior and demonstrated more disciplined. He has the skill set to be a starter in the NFL.
Gilbert has the size to play on the outside. He is good in bump-and-run and also functions well in off-man coverage.
Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
Verrett is listed as the top cornerback on a couple of sites and a second rounder on others, demonstrating the difference in the evaluations at this time. Verrett is 5'10" which hurts his grade a bit, but he's had a solid college career and is known as a shutdown corner at the college level. From SBNation:
Jason Verrett of TCU doesn't have an overly impressive stat line. He's not among the national leaders in interceptions. For a cornerback, that is a compliment. Verrett can be a tough evaluation because on occasion he'll get beat over the top. But that can be a symptom of TCU's lack of a pass rush or questionable safety play. Verrett, a Senior Bowl invite, has the instincts and ball skills to excel in man coverage situations.
So what prospects are you watching? What position do you think the Bears should target at no. 14?
Further reading: SBNation's Top 100 Prospect