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Chicago Bears Draftwatch: 2016 prospect Robert Nkemdiche and a look at the 2015 rookie class

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The focus shifts to defense with a preview of Robert Nkemdiche, an unbelievably athletic defensive tackle from Ole Miss, along with my weekly take on the 2015 rookie standouts and slow starters.

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The Bears defense is starting to shows signs of life under the watchful eye of Vic Fangio. The amount of pressure they're putting on opposing offenses is growing by the week. While some is better than none in this case, there is still plenty of work to do before anybody mentions the Bears defense in the same breath as the word powerhouse.

Hall of Fame Bears defensive end Richard Dent famously had a "Rule of 3" for building great defenses. He surmised that a team would need 3 pass-rushing threats who could get to the quarterback on any given play to be truly great. If you apply that math to the current Bears defense you end up about 1.5 rushers short. Pernell McPhee was signed to a starter's contract in the offseason. He was expected to lead Fangio's 3-4 unit and be the primary pass rusher. He has elevated his play over the last 2 weeks and started to make Bears fans believe he can fill that role. McPhee certainly looks like part of the solution (rather than the problem) at this point.

After McPhee, Jay Ratliff is the next most dominant player in the front 7 player on Chicago's roster. Age (Ratliff is 34), injuries and a suspension over the past 2 years have limited Ratliff's impact. When he is on the field the Bears are better, but counting on him to be there for a pile of snaps over the next couple of years is a risky call at best. He's a great leader and teacher for younger players but the trenches grind everybody down and Bears need to identify his replacement. Eddie Goldman was selected in the second round of the draft this year to be that player. While there is no guaranteeing he'll rise to Ratliff's heights (first team All-Pro ‘09, 4 Pro Bowls) he's shown rapid improvement and is a tremendously strong player in the nose tackle role.

After those 3 players the Bears have an assortment of veteran rotational guys and couple of young players that may blossom under Fangio's tutelage. Jarvis Jenkins has been better than advertised after he spent 3 years doing very little in Washington D.C. He already has one more sack in 5 games (3) with the Bears than he did in his first 3 years in the league (2). Will Sutton was a player many Bears fans were positive would not be a fit in a 3-4 defense. Despite that Sutton has flashed in his new role and certainly looks to be a young talent worth developing. Ego Ferguson dropped a bunch of weight after his rookie year and looked decent in preseason action, but has only logged 3 tackles since the games that count kicked off.

Andy Benoit of the MMQB had this to say about the Bears defense after dissecting their game film vs. the Chiefs:

Right now opposing offensive coordinators only need to account for McPhee (and possibly Ratliff) on every play. Other players might flash pressure on the QB throughout the game but they are unlikely to be dominant. A "Rule of 1.5" simply won't cut it. If Chicago wants to continue its rise out the cellar of the league's defensive rankings they need more impact pass rushers.

Robert Nkemdiche, Defensive Tackle, Ole Miss

At 6'4" and 300 pounds, Nkemdiche can certainly make an impact. The first thing that jumps out at you while watching his game film is astounding athleticism. There is no way a man of his size should be that quick and that smooth. If he didn't tower over the players he was chasing you'd think he was just a very fast linebacker. He has the balance and change of direction skills of a much smaller player. But he's not small; he's a mountain. Thickly built with long arms, he has little trouble wrapping up most players once he gets his hands on them. If he stays healthy this season his numbers at the Scouting Combine are likely to be eye-popping.

With his blend of quickness and agility, if he wins off the snap an impact play is almost sure to follow. Once he is by his blocker he usually looks like a lion that ended up in the middle of the gazelle herd; somebody is going down and it's gonna be quick. He tends to make at least 2-3 of those plays per game that make you reflexively swear out loud.

So what's the downside to this man-mountain who moves like a race car? He is extremely raw in many facets of his game:

  • His hand use is underdeveloped
  • He generally doesn't shed blocks well
  • If he gets stopped on his first move he rarely has a counter
  • He is a liability versus the run if he doesn't penetrate
  • If his initial move gets thwarted, he doesn't do much at all
  • Many times he is almost totally controlled when facing powerful o-lineman

When you go back and look at his impact plays the majority are based on one thing: penetration. He creates about half of those chances with his own physical gifts. The other half come from basic mistakes made by the opposing offensive line, like leaving him totally unblocked (astoundingly foolish) or failing to get someone in his face right off the snap (him splitting lineman who fail to square up to him quickly enough) . When he wins the first move, he blows things up. When he doesn't, he often disappears.

As is, he'd be an ideal penetrating 3-technique tackle in a 4-3 front. A team that runs Wide-9 alignments would be even better, as he could punch through the large gaps that scheme creates. I am not sure he's a great fit for schemes that make him responsible for controlling 2 gaps at once, or trying to regularly anchor and stop the run. He has the physical talent to excel in any system but will need a skilled and patient coaching staff to help focus his impressive physical prowess into a well-rounded, professional defensive tackle.

Making Their Mark (2015 draftees who are thriving in the pro game)

Thomas Rawls (RB, Seahawks) - Baby Beast Mode has arrived. When he lit up the Bears for 104 yards on 16 carries people said it was because the Bears defense was weak. Well that excuse looks pretty flimsy after Rawls hung 169 yards and touchdown on the Bengals rushing defense last weekend, while averaging 7.3 yards per carry.

Jamison Crowder (WR, Washington D.C.) - Crowder was a 3rd round pick out of Duke last year that looked to have more potential on special teams as a returner than he did on offense as a receiver. However he's been building some chemistry with Kirk Cousins over the past 3 weeks to the tune of 45, 65 and then 87 yards last weekend (best among D.C.'s receivers).

Stephone Anthony (LB, Saints) - Anthony is a very athletic linebacker with great range. He notched 7 tackles and sack against the Cowboys 2 weeks ago and followed it up with 9 tackles last weekend against the Eagles. That kind of production has the arrow pointed up for this Saints rookie.

Failure to Launch (slow starters on the NFL stage)

Clive Walford (TE, Raiders) - If you take away his only catch from last Sunday (33 yards) Walford has only caught 2 other balls for 5 total yards this year. For a third round pick who landed in an offense with a good young QB that's subpar production.

Jordan Phillips (DT, Miami) - Phillips had just one tackle in his first game for the Dolphins, but it was a sack. Since they he has not recorded another statistic in 2 more games (he did not play against Buffalo) this year. To be fair, Miami is mess this year and Phillips is backing up Ndamukong Suh, but 1 total tackle (sack or not) in three games is not great for a second rounder.

Reel-to-Real (tips for watching game film on your favorite players)
"There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics." - Mark Twain. Stats are just one tool in scouting. They can turn you on to a player but never, ever, use them as the sole basis for how good a player is without watching him on tape. Many things can skew statistics in a player's favor that have nothing to do with how good he is. The college system he played in, the players around him, luck and even stat padding (falsification/fabrication) can make a player who is average look great on paper. The only thing that should really worry you in regards to statistics is a player who has none.