The Bears defensive line in 2016 had sunshine (the success of the newly-acquired Akiem Hicks) and rain (the loss of Eddie Goldman for a large chunk of the season due to injury). They made do, but certainly didn't deliver the results that many expected of them before the season began. Moving into next year the Bears look to have both Hicks and a healthy Goldman set to thrash opponents, but the third spot on the line is not as settled. Ego Ferguson has shown flashes of what he can do but has struggled to stay on the field. Mitch Unrein is a dependable and rugged lunch-pail player, but the opposition certainly doesn't have to gameplan for him. Jonathan Bullard has the talent to contribute in that spot as well, but could not elevate his game enough as a rookie to make an impact.
To reach Richard Dent's "Rule of Three" (teams need three good pass-rushing threats to bring consistent pressure) the Bears could use another defensive lineman who can strike fear into opposing QB's. Luckily for them there plenty of options available in the upcoming draft.
Montravius Adams, Defensive Lineman, Auburn University
Adams has not generated the buzz of several of his fellow draft hopefuls in media circles and I'm not entirely sure why. My best guess is because he isn't terribly flashy and wasn't surrounded by a wave of NFL talent, like players on the Alabama defense were. But make no mistake, Montravius is absolutely an impact player and a force to be reckoned with. At the Senior Bowl his name was one of the most commonly heard answers from his contemporaries when they were asked to identify the toughest player they faced in college. Multiple college stars said that Montravius gave them all they could handle and then some.
The first thing I noticed about Adams is his ability to anchor versus the double team. He should have a sticker on his helmet that says "Thou shall not pass". He is so strong and understands leverage so well that even two men who weigh over 600 pounds combined cannot move him with a concerted effort. That is incredibly impressive. He simply locks his legs out and drives to hold his position. In doing so he mucks up the majority of the interior running lanes for ball carriers. This denial can put a serious crimp in opponent's game plans. As such, it is an incredibly valuable skill that few players truly possess.
Adams has certainly had plenty of chances to hone this skill as he was routinely doubled. It was immediately obvious this year that opponents knew who the major threat on Auburn's defensive line was. Montravius drew double teams early and often, and occasionally even received the ultra-rare triple team. When the other team was forgetful or foolish enough to single team Adams, he quickly reminded them why that was a terrible idea. He can simply manhandle guards when only one of them tries to get in his way. His strength is enough to take your breath away if you know what you are witnessing. He simply mashes his point of contact at the line of scrimmage and nobody gets through.
Montravius can get overexcited and lose his lane assignment from time to time. This allows runners to rush through the spot he vacated. At other times he'll lose sight of the ball, but overall his vision of the play as it unfolds is quite good.
If there is a surprising element in Adams' bag of tricks it’s his movement skills versus the passing game. For a man of his size (6'4", 296 pounds) he is very quick. He shows good burst off the snap and uses his hands fairly well to slip his blocker and enter the backfield. The combination of great burst and his massive strength is almost unfair. I certainly didn't expect a run-stopper of his caliber to win so decisively on the pass rush as well. Montravius even has a decent array of moves to defeat his foes. He showed a great swim/arm over move versus Ole Miss and harassed Chad Kelly more than a few times.
There is very little quit in Adams' game. He competes to the whistle and uses his surprising speed to hustle to the edge. Against Clemson's excellent interior offensive line he was able to rush and flush Deshaun Watson multiple times.
Earlier in the year Montravius got burned on a few screens by being slow to recognize them for what they were. This meant he rushed up field and effectively took himself out of the play. Later in the season his recognition speed of that play increased drastically and he was able to make plays at the sideline on a few of them. That adjustment and growth speaks to his ability to keep learning as a player and not to rely solely on his massive physical gifts. The other area Adams will need to improve is his counter moves, or "second" moves. He uses an initial move to defeat a blocker but if that fails he rarely tries another one, instead choosing to just mash forward. While that occasionally worked in college it won't cut it in the pros. In order to find and sustain success he will have to increase his arsenal of pass rushing techniques and use them frequently.
Adams is an incredibly disruptive player who changes opponent's game plans. They simply have to account for him and if they don't he makes them pay. Considering that his only real pass rushing help was the excellent EDGE defender Carl Lawson, Montravius was forced to create a lot of his success by himself. Based on that level of impact and his obvious physical skills I'm not sure why he isn't getting more buzz as the draft approaches. If the Bears could capitalize on that situation (say at the top of Round 2) they would instantly be closer to achieving their own modern version of "The Rule of Three".
Jonathan Allen, Defensive Lineman, University of Alabama
For months now, Jonathan Allen's name has been associated with the Bears at the 3rd overall pick in the draft. He has been mocked to them countless times and it is easy to see why. Allen comes from an incredibly successful program where he was highly productive statistically, and he fits a perceived position of need in the Chicago defense. On the surface he seems like a perfect fit but after digging a little bit I am not so sure that is the absolute lock it appears to be.
The "Adams to Chicago" bandwagon appears to have hit a major speed bump at the Combine medical checks. There had been whispers about Jonathan's shoulder problems for some time and that bothered me a great deal. The medical checks at the Combine revealed an arthritic condition and that is certainly a cause for concern. Overall, it may be good thing as Allen will probably end up being drafted much later on in the first round and I think that is more in line with true value, especially after digging into his game film.
If Allen does truly have a shoulder problem it doesn't really show up on film. His love for the heavy contact that is required to play his chosen position is obvious. Make no mistake, Jonathan is a talented athlete and he can be incredibly forceful when the need arises. He is not the immovable tank that his predecessor Jarran Reed was at Alabama, but if you squint he can look like that sometimes. His ability to hold position versus a single blocker, then stack and shed that block is quite good. He will sometimes miss the tackle by trying to hit up high without wrapping up but the disruption usually destroys any further gain on the play anyway. If it doesn't, his bevy of talented teammates can clean up the mess well before the runner recovers from Allen's initial impact.
Allen’s weaknesses in opposing the run game are similar to Adams’, although they manifest themselves slightly more often. Jonathan can lose sight of the ball when engaging his blocker and this leads to him coasting out of his area of responsibility, opening up cutback lanes. The other flaw which he does not share with Adams is being late off the snap. I witnessed it several times and it obviously put him at a disadvantage stopping the run or pass rushing.
Allen's ability to burst by a defender at his size (6'3", 283 pounds) exceeded my expectations. He is not able to do it consistently but when he does, it will surprise you. Alabama usually lined him up as a 5-tech defensive end, but they were also prone to move him around for matchup reasons. I saw him lined up as a nose tackle on passing downs as well as in the wide 9 alignment on the edge of the formation as a pure pass rusher. Given his size that is a testament to Alabama's confidence in him as a pass disruptor off the edge.
Jonathan's hand use is good and well-coached. He applies the right move at the right time and when combined with his deceptive speed they are very effective.
One of the things I noted as I watched more film was that his effectiveness was generally better outside than it was inside. He won in both places in the films I watched but his success rate was certainly higher outside. The other trend that stuck out (which concerns me more) is that there seems to be a little bit of rope-a-dope to his game. Whereas Adams rarely takes plays off, Allen will go long stretches with little to no impact and then make a splash play or two in a row before seemingly fading back into the background for a while. This up and down level of production is concerning when you think about taking a guy within the first 10 picks of a draft.
Having more players who can bring pressure is always a good thing, but which one of these defenders offers more bang for the pick?
Jonathan Allen is a bit of an enigma for me. He has well developed skills, excellent physical measurables and produced from a statistical standpoint at one of the very best programs in the country. All of that should add up to player who dominates consistently but that is not what I see when I turn on his film. I see a player who can certainly make amazing plays and does once or twice a game but does not do so with regularity. Many of his sacks came from cleaning up his teammate's pressures. When asked to produce those results with a different supporting cast, I am not sure he can. He is not a consistent creator with his pass rush, and quality run stoppers don't get drafted in the top 10 for that skill alone.
So Allen has the traits but can disappear at times and definitely benefitted greatly from the all-star cast surrounding him at Alabama. That means that with the third overall pick he is out of the conversation for me. But if he were to drop all the way into the top of the second round, the deliberations in the Bears draft room might get a lot more interesting.
What do you think about the Bears defensive line heading into 2017, and would you rather have Adams or Allen lining up in navy and orange next season?
Also, check me out talking NFL Combine with Lester on his latest Podcast;
Thanks for listening!