To borrow from Lester: "It's 2014 Mock Draft time! This is the time of year when everyone speculates on which player will go where. We'll do our best to pick out a few reputable mock draft sites, feature their Chicago Bears selection, then ask you to tell us how they did."
Today it's USA Today's Nate Davis' mock draft 2.0, in which he has the Bears rolling with Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald with the 14th overall pick. He's the first defensive tackle off the board in this mock (Timmy Jernigan goes to the Cowboys at #16).
The Bears' myriad free agent issues will probably preclude a new deal for injured DT Henry Melton. But the requirement to replenish the defensive line and bolster the league's worst run defense remains. Enter Donald, whose athleticism could make him a star in a scheme that relies on interior quickness.
Donald hasn't featured nearly as prominently in previous mock drafts as the likes of Louis Nix and Timmy Jernigan, and has only come up once before as Mike Tanier's pick for the Bears in Sport On Earth's triple-header mock. Check Lester's original thoughts on the pick here.
It's worth looking at Dan Pompei's take, before the Combine:
He isn't highly enough regarded (at least not at this point) to be taken 14 overall. And I would not expect that he would last until the 19th pick in the second round, where the Bears currently are sitting. He will likely be chosen somewhere in the late first round to early second round range.
So why bring Aaron Donald up again? Well, if you've been following the reports, you'll be aware that perhaps no other defensive lineman prospect, if not prospect overall, did more for his stock at the NFL Combine than Donald. He will, no doubt, continue to be linked to the Bears between now and the start of the Draft on Thursday May 8th... so, with that in mind, here's a handy rundown of what's been said about Donald in the past week.
SI.com's Doug Farrar, among others, compares Donald to the Cincinnati Bengals' two-time All-Pro Geno Atkins, whom he describes as "perhaps the league’s most purely disruptive tackle over the last two seasons when he’s been healthy" and of whom none other than Bill Belichick said "There’s no question the guy can ruin a game by himself". It sounds like hyperbole to say this of a player who's yet to play a down in the NFL, but Atkins himself agrees with the comparison.
Former Bears Director of College Scouting Greg Gabriel, writing for NationalFootballPost.com, was impressed as well:
I figured Donald would be a late first or early second, but now he could go as high as the teens. He is a very good fit for a one gap 4-3 team as a three-technique.
CBSSports.com's Rob Rang goes as far as to say that Donald, not Clowney, was the big winner from the Combine, despite the latter's sub 4.50 40-yard dash times. He also thinks that Donald's smaller frame limits him to the Bears and Cowboys in the first round. Dallasnews.com's Jon Machota rounds up some recent mocks and notes that half of them have the Cowboys taking Donald at #16.
USAToday.com's Brent Soblieski agrees that Donald measures up to Clowney, adding:
The only knock against Donald is his size. He’s 6-0 tall and weighs fewer than 300 pounds. It’s all about finding a position for this highly talented defensive tackle. Whether he’s a 3-technique (lines up on the outside shoulder of the guard) or a 1-technique (lines up on the outside shoulder of the center), Donald is a first-round talent.
The Tribune's Brad Biggs points out that:
Donald's lack of size is a legitimate concern, but there were similar knocks on Geno Atkins when he was a fourth-round pick by the Bengals in 2010. No one questions Atkins' size anymore, and there isn't a defensive lineman — tackle or end — with more production on tape than Donald.
Biggsy's Tribune colleague Dan Wiederer notes that:
Donald is proud of his versatility, noting his college experience playing nose tackle and three-technique as well as operating some in a 3-4. But he said he’s most comfortable at the three-technique and hopes to find a team that will use him to attack from that spot.
It's not all one-way traffic, though. The Sun-Times' Adam L. Jahns joined Pat Boyle [Video] and said that, while Donald was very, very impressive, the Bears "can bring back Henry Melton if they want to" and, hence, the secondary might be a higher priority at the top end of the draft.
CSNChicago's Moon Mullin has noted that Phil Emery has stated the defense will remain primarily a one-gap front, which "typically points toward smaller, quicker defensive linemen", but wonders if height might not be an issue as well, and warns that:
(Donald), like Atkins, may prove an exceptional talent, but hoping for an "exception" at No. 14 is the definition of high risk.
...and final word circles back around to Doug Farrar:
When you pull off the grand slam of postseason awards at his position (Outland Trophy, Bronko Nagurski Trophy, Rotary Lombardi Award and Chuck Bednarik Award), you have to be special. Donald is.
A 3-technique is still paramount in this defense and Melton's return, both to full effectiveness from injury and in terms of agreeing to a dollar amount, is not yet certain. Has Aaron Donald's performance in the Combine brought him to your attention and/or swayed your thinking, and how would you feel if the Bears took him with their first pick of the 2014 NFL Draft?