The Chicago Bears found an immediate plug-and-play starter at inside linebacker when they drafted Georgia’s Roquan Smith in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft. Although that move was received to a lot of fanfare - and rightfully so - the Bears may have also found another future starter at the position with their fourth-round pick, Western Kentucky’s Joel Iyiegbuniwe.
The pick was a surprising one for many, considering the fact that Chicago had drafted an inside linebacker just three rounds before. Plus, Iyiegbuniwe (pronounced ee-yay-BOO-nee-way) had fallen under the radar for most of the time leading up to the draft. However, he figures to be an immediate contributor on special teams who has the potential to eventually form a formidable duo with Smith for years to come.
To get to know the Bears’ fourth-round selection, we sent a few questions to Fletcher Keel, who runs The Towel Rack, a blog that covers all things Western Kentucky sports.
1. As someone who has watched Iyiegbuniwe numerous times, what would you say his biggest strengths are?
Keel: He’s fast and physical (I know, that’s something you’ve never heard anyone say about any football player, ever). But, he isn’t physical in the “I’m going to body someone up as soon as the ball is snapped,” type of physical - once he has hold of someone, he isn’t going to let them go. Also, he’s elusive - nothing is going to stop him from getting to the ball carrier.
And the impressive thing about his speed (but maybe a given considering his position) is his lateral movement - he’s just as fast going east to west as he is north and south. Again, nothing is going to stop him from getting to the ball carrier.
2. What will Iyiegbuniwe have to work on if he wants to become a starter in the NFL?
Keel: I think just getting into NFL shape. Not that he’s out of shape, by any means, but he’s used to playing Conference USA offenses and it might be a bit of an awakening for him. Granted, he had solid games over the last couple of years against the likes of Alabama, Vanderbilt and a very down Illinois team, but what he will look like in terms of speed and strength against some of the best football players on the planet is what I’m interested to see.
He seems to have the speed, he seems to have the strength and the football sense to succeed at the NFL level, but now it’s all about getting him to that level with NFL players.
3. Chicago fans tend to gravitate towards players who are relatable or have big personalities. Did Western Kentucky fans get a glimpse of “Iggy’s” personality when he was there?
Keel: This is going to sound insulting but it’s in no way meant to be - not really. This is actually a question I’ve never been asked before, but as I think about it there isn’t a ton of personality on the football team outside of “nice guy/dude”. The last real personality we had was Andrew Jackson and the “They Spose to be SEC” thing.
But, by all accounts, Iggy is a nice dude and is a hard guy to dislike. Don’t let the lack of outlandish/crazy personality fool you. Maybe he’ll have one emerge while in Chicago!
4. The Bears run a base 3-4 defense. What defensive scheme do the Hilltoppers run? How can Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio maximize Iyiegbuniwe’s abilities?
Keel: The Tops run a base 4-3, but Iggy isn’t a stranger to setting up on the outside edge on blitz packages. If the Bears want to add an extra linebacker to show blitz for speed, Iggy wouldn’t be a bad option to have on one side of the line or the other.
As for his other abilities, just give him opportunities where he’s able to have space to make plays (I apologize for sounding generic) as he loves to be the guy to bring the ball carrier down.
5. What do you see Iyiegbuniwe doing at the next level?
Keel: My heart says he’s the next great Bears linebacker. My head says it’ll take a couple of years for him to earn his spot on the field over the other talented linebacker corps in Chicago, but he certainly has the capabilities (in my mind, at least) to become an impact player for the Bears.