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2020 NFL draft: Top sleepers at each defensive position

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The Bears could be able to find some potential Day 3 gems on the defensive side of the ball in the form of these prospects.

St Louis Battlehawks v DC Defenders Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

The Bears have one of the league’s better defensive units, but that doesn’t mean it’s one without room for improvement.

The safety position doesn’t have a clearcut starter next to Eddie Jackson yet. The same goes for the starting cornerback spot alongside Kyle Fuller, as a hodgepodge of young players who are either unproven with decent potential or have proven themselves through disappointing play early in their careers. With Nick Kwiatkoski and Kevin Pierre-Louis now gone, the depth at inside linebacker is lacking, too.

Chicago’s defense is still a talented group, and their addition of Robert Quinn gives them one of the most dangerous front-sevens in the NFL on paper. While the offensive side of the ball is the bigger weakness for the team right now, they could still stand to add some depth or competition at some of the current holes on their roster.

Having already taken a look at some of the potential Day 3 sleepers on offense in the 2020 draft, let’s dive into some defensive prospects who could outplay their draft status.

Defensive line: James Lynch, Baylor

James Lynch’s draft stock is admittedly all over the place at this stage in the draft process. Some mock drafts have him going as late as the fifth round, while a mock draft from NFL dot com’s Chad Reuter has the Panthers trading up to select him late in the first round. Regardless of where he actually ends up, he has flown under the radar more than he should.

A defensive lineman-edge rusher hybrid at Baylor, Lynch was the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year in 2019 after tallying 13.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles for a loss. The 6-foot-4, 289-pounder has a lengthy frame that carries his weight well and could pack on more if deemed necessary. He has good acceleration off the ball and plays with solid overall short-area quickness for his size. He has quick and active hands and does a good job of fighting to obtain inside leverage and optimal placement in that regard. Lynch plays with a high motor on a down-to-down basis, and he has shown effort as a backside defender or when turning the corner in pursuit of the quarterback.

Lynch is a bit of a tweener at this stage and can do a better job of holding up blocks to eat gaps in run support. He can also do a better job of keeping his pads low when he engages with a blocker. He’s likely a Round 4, borderline Round 3 prospect at this stage, which combined with the Bears’ lack of a need at defensive line would make him a highly unlikely target, but he’s still a talented player whom not enough people are talking about.

Edge rusher: Jonathan Garvin, Miami (FL)

Robert Quinn will provide the Bears with a much-needed reliable edge rusher alongside Khalil Mack, but the depth behind the two starters is underwhelming, making it likely they will target prospects off the edge in the draft.

Enter Jonathan Garvin, who has the athletic ability to execute a versatile role similar to Leonard Floyd at the next level. The 6-foot-4, 263-pound Hurricane standout has good length off the edge, and he complements that well with plenty of athleticism. He accelerates well off the snap and has the speed to be a legitimate threat to opposing offensive tackles who aren’t great lateral athletes. Garvin is a fluid defender for someone as big as he is, managing to change direction easily, bend his hips when turning the corner and maintain momentum at the arc of his rush. He plays with a high motor in space, has good range as an open-field tackler. and can work off of blocks well in run support.

While Garvin’s play strength and plan as a pass-rusher can be improved upon, he has the athletic tools to serve as a solid rotational edge defender early in his career. The overall projections for him appear to lie around the fifth round, making him an enticing depth option for the Bears on Day 3.

Linebacker: Davion Taylor, Colorado

The Bears lack depth at the inside linebacker position. While losing Nick Kwiatkoski is the bigger departure, losing Kevin Pierre-Louis means the Bears no longer have his athleticism, special teams value and versatility in coverage.

Davion Taylor is a player who fits all of those criteria. The 6-foot, 228-pound linebacker is a bit undersized for his position, but he makes up for it with athleticism and his tackling ability. He is a true sideline-to-sideline defender who has great acceleration coming out of his breaks, very good hip fluidity and downhill speed that makes him a threat in space. He takes good angles to the ball-carrier in the open field, and his speed allows him to consistently get to the ball. Taylor brings value in coverage, where he has the fluidity to match up with most of his opponents in man and can effectively cover in zone due to his range when he drops back. He is also a quality tackler who wraps up ball-carriers consistently and plays with pretty good form, especially when tackling from an angle, which should help him on special teams, where he already has some experience.

Taylor is a bit of a project, considering he didn’t play football in high school and only has two FBS seasons to his name after playing in junior college his first two years in college. He doesn’t have significant play strength, and he’s much more reactive than instinctive at this stage in his career. However, he has the tools to be a talented special teamer and a solid backup, which could make him an intriguing option for the Bears in the fifth or sixth round.

Cornerback: John Reid, Penn State

It’s fun to have a versatile chess piece of a defensive back if you’re a defensive coordinator. A player like John Reid could be an option on Day 3 for teams looking for exactly that.

Reid is a scrappy nickel cornerback who has the ability to play safety and enough physicality that he could potentially serve as a backup at either of the outside cornerback positions. He is an intelligent defender who does a good job of reading the quarterback’s eyes and recognizing and anticipating routes. He has solid overall fluidity and can change direction pretty well in space, as well as burst coming out of his breaks. Reid brings toughness and competitiveness on every snap, as he fights hard with receivers through their stems and plays through contact while showing the discipline to not get caught up with holding penalties.

Reid isn’t a stellar tackler, and his good-but-not-great athleticism caps his ceiling a bit. He’s also a bit smaller at 5-foot-10 and 187 pounds, and he has two major knee injuries to his name. He projects best a nickel, which could make him less of a fit for the Bears, who already have Buster Skrine and Duke Shelley on the roster. Overall though, Reid is a fun Day 3 prospect who could be solid depth around the sixth round.

Safety: Kenny Robinson Jr., West Virginia/XFL

When the XFL ceased operations for the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 outbreak, players became available to sign contracts with NFL teams. All players except for one: Kenny Robinson Jr.

After spending two years as a star in West Virginia’s secondary—he had 7 interceptions in that span—Robinson was kicked off of the team for academic fraud. Unable to transfer elsewhere due to his academic concerns, he decided to play in the XFL, where he was a member of the St. Louis Battlehawks, snagging two picks in five games for them. The 6-foot-1, 202-pound safety has insane range up high, as he has top-notch lateral quickness, very good burst coming out of his breaks and the lightning-quick processing abilities to act upon his reads. When tasked with covering underneath, Robinson’s instincts allow him to read the quarterback’s eyes and jump routes while breaking downhill. He has very good ball skills for the safety position, as he can track down the ball well and adjust his body to make difficult grabs or make a play on the ball. His size also gives him plenty of upside in contested-catch situations.

The issue with Robinson is that we haven’t seen his exact route to the NFL been executed before. He missed out on the ability to perform at the Combine, and he doesn’t have as much tape from this season for scouts to go off of. On the field, he’s an inconsistent tackler who has shown the willingness to lower the shoulder on some plays, but a complete disinterest in making contact with a ball-carrier the next. Off of his tape alone, Robinson is one of the most talented safeties in this class, but he will likely fall to Day 3 of the draft: likely around the fifth round. If the Bears want to have another rangy safety duo like they had with Eddie Jackson and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, then Robinson would definitely be worth a look, but he has the potential to make an impact for some team at the next level either way.