Happy Draft Day! It's here. At long last it's actually going to happen. Hundreds of new dreams will begin in the NFL over the next few days, and in the way life always rotates and revolves, more than a few will end too. There will be new Bears. You cheer loudly for some and lament opportunities missed with others. Either way, joyful or sad, excited or suspicious, remember that ultimately the game will decide who is a success and who is not. It always does.
In this jam-packed edition of Draftwatch I'll give you a final late-find player profile, my take on the priority of Bears draft needs (that I teased yesterday in Draft Bytes), choices for some of the biggest positional values available in the draft and some parting shots before the festivities kick off in earnest.
If you are going to grind through hundreds of player's college tapes, you will find some gems early (Kenneth Dixon, Josh Doctson, Joe Schobert) and by the simple force of numbers you will find some later on (Bronson Kaufusi, Ryan Smith, etc.). Such is the case with the final Draftwatch profile target for this season. I'd seen him play a bit but had some preconceived notions about his size, and overall game. Once I turned on his tape and focused on him alone those concerns evaporated. In a matter of minutes he went from an afterthought, to "How did I miss this guy?" to "I think I might bang the table for this guy if he was available in the 2nd round". I present to you the final Draftwatch player profile for the 2016 NFL Draft:
Jonathan Bullard, Defensive End, University of Florida
Bullard is a defensive lineman who the Gators moved all over their defensive formation. I saw him play at least 3 of the 4 traditional DL spots from a 4-3 alignment and play with 5-tech responsibilities when Florida dropped into a 3-man line. That's impressive versatility. So how did I wait to watch a player with this much talent until 2 weeks before the draft? That is an interesting scouting story.
A few months back when I was trying to divide the huge pile of defensive lineman I had to study into more manageable groups, I tried to break them up into what their best fit might be in the pro game. To make the initial cut I started dividing them up by size. Very few 280-pound players will start at DT in the NFL and conversely guys that weigh 330 pounds are not going to be pass rushing DE's. After that there were still plenty of ties and questions marks so I watched a bit of film on each player and looked for a few traits that could help me place them in the proper category. Jonathan is 285 pounds and showed tremendous quickness and penetration at first glance, so I placed him in the "4-3 DE" pile and moved on to focus on 5-technique candidates for the Bears, or so I thought.
When I got back to Bullard's tape last week I was immediately struck by his build. He has a very powerful lower half and big shoulders; not a typical build for a speed-based DE. After just a few minutes of film it was very clear he can hold the point of attack on run plays and control his gap using power. I immediately went back to his measurements and looked again: 6'3", 285 pounds, almost 34" arms and 10" hands. Justin Smith was 6'4" and 285 pounds during his time in San Francisco. I started to watch Bullard's tape very differently.
The first thing you see on Jonathan's tape is that he is first. He wins off the snap on basically every snap, more consistently than any player I've watched since Aaron Donald. Bullard is lightning quick. However there is always a concern with players who show that ability. The worry is that they are a "snap jumper": a player who simply masters more simplistic college snap counts and uses that (rather than athleticism) to win. After Bullard left the combine testing circuit in a pile of smoking ruins most of the worries that he couldn't win with his athletic traits were gone. At 285 pounds he ran sub-5-second (4.93) 40-yard dash, jumped 32" vertically, 116" horizontally and pulled off a very respectable 7.31 second 3-cone drill. For a very large man he can really move and that's evident on his film time after time.
I watched Florida versus Ole Miss first and Bullard had a very impressive all-around game. The next game I wanted to see was Tennessee. The Volunteers are a run-first team and I really wanted to see Jonathan perform (or fail) against an attack that was trying to run him over with power consistently. The first quarter was not pretty for him. As expected Tennessee attacked him with combo blocks (2 offensive lineman working together) and shifts focused directly towards him. He fought back but didn't make much impact. I started to think I'd found another flashy, penetrating Florida lineman who could not take a stand against the power run game.
In the second quarter things changed dramatically, Bullard learned from his beatings and went on the attack. For the final 3 quarters of that contest he absolutely wrecked the Volunteers. So much so that you could build a highlight reel from that section of tape alone. It is packed with impact run stops and tackles for loss (TFL's). Jonathan has the ability to be an every-down impact player at the 5-tech position and all of the skills needed to do that are plain to see on his film.
Bullard's pass rush is impressive and he can really close the last few yards between him and a QB. His speed surprised many SEC QB's and they obviously panicked when he bore down on them so rapidly. He's a good finisher when he arrives and his tackles regularly leave a lasting impact. If he has an area to improve it would either be his pad level or continuing to move his feet when his initial rush move is thwarted. When that happens he usually looks to stand up and try to bat the pass away, instead of countering and attempting to continue his rush. Focus on keeping his pad level low and developing one or two more counter moves could make an already impressive player into an every-down wrecking machine.
The Bears have definite need for pass rushing talents and one of their starting 5-tech spots open for competition. If Bullard manages to slip out of the 1st round due to a loaded defensive line class, the Bears would be wise to pounce and bring this forceful, versatile defensive lineman to the Windy City.
Chicago Bears Draft Needs Prioritized
Yesterday I laid out the Bears needs on both offense and defense in no particular order. Today, on the eve of the draft, I'll rank them in order of importance, based on the way I see the team's current roster shortcomings:
- Cornerback (CB) - If Fuller were to be injured in the preseason the Bears would be looking at contesting a 16-game slate with only Tracy Porter as a proven starter. That's a scary thought. The need is so dire I could see Ryan Pace selecting two corners in the draft and grabbing a couple more in the UDFA scramble after it ends.
- Outside Linebacker (OLB) - A month ago I would have said DE/5-tech but I've changed my mind. Speed kills on defense and the Bears lack a single speed threat rusher, unless you count Willie Young. Young is crafty and effective at getting to the QB, but Vic Fangio needs another young threat here who can truly strike fear into opposing offenses on 3rd-and-long.
- Safety (S) - Adrian Amos is a nice player and will improve in his second year in the scheme. Other than that the Bears will be trotting out an aging, injury-prone vet (Rolle) and/or a young player would look a lot better as a reserve/3rd S/5th DB (Jones-Quartey). A safety with range would really open up Vic Fangio's options for calling coverages.
- Running Back (RB) - Langford and Carey are both solid players but Chicago fans have been spoiled by years of watching Matt Forte perform at such a high level. I want another back on the roster who could win the top spot and if Chicago's sincere interest in free agent CJ Anderson was any indication, so do they.
- 5-technique/Defensive End (DE) - The Bears have plenty of players to fill this hole and perform at a serviceable level (Ego Ferguson, Mitch Unrein, maybe even Cornelius Washington) so it falls a bit lower on my priority list. That being said I am all for competition at every spot, so if the Bears can snag a value player to add to the rotation in the later rounds I'd encourage them to do so.
- Tight End (TE) - Another spot where the Bears have backup bodies (Rob Housler, Khari Lee and Gannon Sinclair) but no real plan for the future. This is an incredibly weak year for TE's so one would have to fall (doubtful) to present much of a value as compared to the rest of the board.
- Left Tackle (LT) - I think Charles Leno played fairly well in his first season as a starter and will continue to grow and improve moving into his second season. His understudy/swing backup may already be on the roster (Tayo Fabuluje), so in terms of priority this position slips. However, if one of the top two tackles (Tunsil or Stanley) should fall to Chicago in the draft - all bets are off. You have to take him.
- Wide Receiver (WR) - There are some terrific pass catching talents that will be available very late in the draft (and even into the UDFA process). The Bears have a solid receiver core so they could snag a developmental guy and stash him on the practice squad to hone his game so he can compete for a roster spot next year.
Biggest Value Picks in the Draft - I'll highlight one player I think is seriously underrated and would provide excellent value to the team that picks him.
QB - Vernon Adams, Oregon - I think he can play... in the NFL, and be successful. He'll be drafted late and if you hit on a gamble like that it's gold in today's QB-pay-scale-crazy NFL.
RB - Jonathan Williams, Arkansas - If he had not been injured last year we'd be talking about him as one of the top three runners in this draft. Some team will snag him in the 4th round (or later) and laugh all the way to the playoffs.
TE - Nick Vannett, Ohio State - Not sure why people are sleeping on Vannett in such a down year for TE's. He is a great all-around football player who will be a productive pro. He'll likely get chosen in the 3rd round.
WR - Tie: Malcolm Mitchell, Georgia/Leonte Carroo, Rutgers - Two very different players who are both very skilled and primed to contribute right away.
T - Joel Haeg, North Dakota State - When you are watching all the highlights of Carson Wentz over the next few days, keep an eye on the pockets he gets to throw from... they are amazingly clean. Haeg was a big reason for that.
IOL - Joe Thuney, North Carolina State - Thuney played on a trainwreck of an offensive line, so his skills can be hard to see. If you dig deeper he was the glue that kept it from going completely off the rails.
DT - Tie: Willie Henry, Michigan/DJ Reader, Clemson - A couple of incredibly stout dudes who also offer more pass rush than you might think. Henry will be chosen first but Reader might last all the way until the 5th... which is the true value of such a loaded D-line class: very good players will be available way down the board.
DE - Bronson Kaufusi, BYU - a terrifically talented player who might get overshadowed in such a loaded class by lesser players from larger conferences.
EDGE/OLB - Travis Feeney, Washington - Tons of folks are projecting Leonard Floyd to be chosen in the top half of the opening round while a guy that has a very similar build and flashed very similar skills (Feeney) is likely to last late into the 5th round or later. Don't overlook Travis, he's even better against the pass than Floyd is.
Off-Ball LB - Kentrell Brothers, Missouri - Led the SEC in tackles but you'd never know it listening to people talk about his draft stock. He'll be chosen in the first 3 rounds but that might still be a value given his smart play and production.
CB - KeiVarae Russell, Notre Dame - Another player who if it wasn't for injury would likely be in the discussion as a top-3 player at his position. Excellent cover skills, ferocious and decisive versus the run (such a rare quality to find in CB's these days) and ridiculously athletic. Might be available in the 3rd and could start his rookie year.
S - Darian Thompson, Boise State - An extremely experienced and complete safety with all the tools and size you could ask for... but I see him ranked lower than lesser players over the past few weeks. Some team will get a steal on a solid starting safety after players like Vonn Bell have already left the board.
KR/PR - Tie: DeMarcus Ayers, Houston/Morgan Burns, Kansas State - One offensive (Ayers) and one defensive player who could both add an explosive element to team's return game while also contributing at their native positions (Ayers=WR, Burns=CB). As the saying goes in the NFL "The more you can do the more likely you are to stick on a roster".
Windy City Gridiron will be slathered in draft coverage over the next 4 days. We'll have open threads and articles profiling the Bears most recent picks as always. New this year, I'll be live with #AskEJ Q&A sessions on both Friday and Saturday during the festivities. So be on the lookout for those and come join in to get answers for all your draft questions you just don't trust to any other sources. No matter how you celebrate it, enjoy the draft. It's the most wonderful time of the year.