The first time we asked you guys to vote on the Chicago Bears' biggest needs this offseason you told us it was inside linebacker. To check out some free agent and draft options at ILB be sure to check out last week's article right here. In that article we put Chicago's #2 need to a vote and the winner was defensive end.
The Bears have two free agent defensive linemen they may want to re-sign this offseason. I thought both Jarvis Jenkins and Mitch Unrein played decent football last year, but in order for defensive coordinator Vic Fangio to take the defense to the next level, he needs better than decent. He needs impact players and I honestly don't see one on the current roster that will line up at defensive end.
The Bears have a few young guys that they hope will take the next step in play, but in looking over the roster they are missing The Guy. The Bears need a disruptor at defensive end. Someone that can command the occasional double team, but also quick enough to get after the quarterback.
Fangio needs a player like Justin Smith, The Guy he had in San Francisco, A player that he could line up anywhere along his front line and allow him to play the match-up game. But a player with that size/strength/quickness combo is rare and they usually don't make it to free agency. Here are a few free agent defensive ends the Bears could target.
The number one free agent 3-4 defensive end is Muhammad Wilkerson of the New York Jets, but the Jets are willing to use the franchise tag on him if they can't work out a long term deal. The 6'4", 315 pound Wilkerson would look great in a Bears' uniform, but I don't see him leaving the Jets.
The Bears could turn to Denver for help if they allow Malik Jackson to walk. Jackson (6'5", 293) was a part time player his first few years in the league, but last season he started all 16 games making 5 sacks and having 7 pass breakups. He's a 26 year old ascending player that the Broncos may not be able to keep, especially after they just gave fellow DE Derek Wolfe a $36 million extension.
Another free agent with ties to Bears' head coach John Fox from their time in Denver is the New York Giants' Robert Ayers. He had 14.5 sacks in 24 games for the Giants during the 2014 and 2015 seasons. The 6'3, 275 pound 30 year old was probably the Giants best defender last year.
New England's Akeim Hicks (6'5", 324, 26 years old) started 33 games for the Saints from 2013 to 2015 before a trade brought him to the Patriots last September. He played 13 games for the Pats in 2015, all as a back up along their defensive line. New England would like to bring him back, but he may see a better chance to start with a different team.
Jaye Howard (6'3", 301) had a breakout season for the Kansas City Chiefs in 2015 with 5.5 sacks and 57 tackles. The Chiefs have a lot of free agents to deal with on the defensive side of the ball, and they may look at using the transition tag on the 27 year old Howard.
2016 DRAFT PROSPECTS
This draft seems fairly deep in players that fit the mold of a 5-Technique defensive end. Depending on what specifics you're looking for in a 3-4 defensive end, there could be as may as 15 such players with either a 1st or a 2nd round grade. The Bears could certainly go DE at 11th overall, but they could possibly find a talented plug and play prospect in the 2nd or even 3rd round.
Before he had to bow out with a minor injury, Louisville's Sheldon Rankins was having a good time at the Senior Bowl. The 6'2", 303 pounder was drawing comparisons to Aaron Donald. Chicago did talk with him last week and his draft stock seems to be on the rise.
The Bears were spotted chatting with a couple late round prospects at the Senior Bowl (click here for that article), and our very own draft guru, EJ Snyder, spotlighted Ole Miss' Robert Nkemdiche and UCLA's Kenny Clark.
In scouring the various mock drafts out there I keep coming across a few names that are dropping off the boards around 11. Oregon's DeForest Buckner, Alabama's A'Shawn Robinson, Clemson's Shaq Lawson and Oklahoma State's Emmanuel Ogbah. All of these guys have the power to play some 2-gap stuff, but are also quick enough to penetrate into the backfield.
The Bears will have a plethora of options in the 1st round, and depending on how the draft falls, they could pluck a 1st round talent with their 2nd round pick, just like they did last year when Eddie Goldman fell into their laps.
I have two questions for you guys now;
If the Bears go the free agent route, who would you like to see them pick up?
Who are some of your favorite prospects that could be had in the draft?
Oh yeah, one more thing, be sure to vote in the poll for the Bears #3 need this offseason.