Offseason Review: The Defensive Ends, Part 2

shearodgerssackIf you missed the first defensive end post from Friday, it’s here; I covered Julius Peppers, David Bass, and Cheta Ozougwu. (I came very close to spelling that last one correctly without having to look it up again.) Today, I take a look at the disappointing Shea McClellin, the versatile (and unsigned) Corey Wootton, and the nearly invisible rookie Cornelius Washington.

Shea McClellin, DE

McClellin was Phil Emery’s first draft choice as the GM of the Bears, and I’m hard pressed to describe his performance as anything other than underwhelming. (In fact, that might be too kind.) Shea was a 3-4 outside linebacker in college, and he’s struggled as a 4-3 defensive end. He’s a bit undersized for the position (he’s not small, per se, but compare him to Julius Peppers or even someone like Israel Idonije) and though he’s quick, he’s been unable to translate that speed into sack production (like Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, for example; other undersized 4-3 ends who have succeeded with speed as their primary attribute.)

McClellin tallied just four sacks this season, despite playing 62% of the Bears defensive snaps. He did record the most important sack of the season when he (along with Isaiah Frey) drove Aaron Rodgers into the Lambeau Field turf, injuring Rodgers for an extended period of time. (Just not quite extended enough.) In fact, that game was McClellin’s masterpiece; he had three sacks that night. Of course, when you do the math, that means he had just one sack the rest of the season (in fact he had a half-sack in Week 1 and 16) which is not exactly the level of consistent pressure you want from a player taken solely to rush the passer.

Therein lies the problem, of course; he’s been forced to play outside of the role in which he might be most effective. McClellin is not a well-rounded, every down defensive end. (At least not at this point in his career.) If the Bears stick with a 4-3 scheme, his best role would be as a situational pass-rusher, coming in for obvious passing downs and going for the opposing quarterback. The Bears had a similar player in Mark Anderson, who had 12 sacks as a rookie for the 2006 Bears. He relied primarily on speed, and he was the third defensive end behind Alex Brown and Adewale Ogunleye. The Bears attempted to increase his role following that season, with disastrous results; his sack totals plummeted. He simply wasn’t an every-down defensive end.

So what should the Bears do with Shea? If they decide to move to a 3-4 scheme, or even a hybrid-type look that would allow him to play a more comfortable role, I think he might look a lot more comfortable. But I’m not sure how high the ceiling is for a player who looks so undisciplined against the run. Opponents seemed to target runs at him later in the season, and with good reason. If in a perfect world, McClellin is a decent pass rusher who remains terrible against the run, I’m not sure what sort of long-term future there is for him. I don’t think his speed would play at outside linebacker in a 4-3 system, and given how poor his run-defense instincts seem to be, I struggle to envision him playing any sort of reliable coverage.

I hesitate to throw around the “bust” term for a player in Shea’s situation; he obviously has some physical tools, and he’s been asked to do a lot very early in his career. But I haven’t seen anything from him that makes me think he’ll have a long career in Chicago. (The fact that the Bears passed on Chandler Jones (currently tearing it up for the Patriots) in order to take Shea doesn’t make it any easier.) Next season is a very important one for McClellin. Emery and Trestman seemed to hint that they’d look at ways to better utilize his gifts; if they can’t get anything out of him in a more suitable role, his stay in Chicago might be a fairly short one.

Corey Wootton, DE/DT

Wootton has been an incredibly valuable player for the Bears, thanks in large part to his versatility. A fourth-round pick in 2010, Wootton had a breakout year of sorts in 2012, recording seven sacks. This season, he was forced to move to defensive tackle after injuries to Henry Melton and Nate Collins, and he gave the Bears a healthy body on the defensive interior, playing 81% of defensive snaps (second only to Julius Peppers.) He also contributed on special teams, playing 34% of those snaps. (Again, he’s versatile.)

Wootton has more traditional size for a 4-3 end; 6′ 6″, 270. He’s also a free agent, but he seems like a good candidate to return. Emery and Trestman professed their desire for versatile players, and Corey certainly seems to fit that particular bill. He can play all over a 4-3 line, and I’d think he could play in a 3-4 system as well (although probably not at nose tackle.) I’d be more than fine with the Bears bringing him back to start at his more natural position, assuming better health and more depth at defensive tackle allows him to remain outside. I view him as a more disciplined player versus the run than McClellin (which, you know, is a low bar to clear), and he seemed like a more natural fit across from Peppers in 2012.

But money is money, and we’ll have to wait and see how his market unfolds. Another team might value the same things Chicago does, and if that’s the case the Bears may have to look elsewhere in hopes of replacing his versatility.

Cornelius Washington, DE

Washington played just 11 snaps all season, 10 on defense and 1 on special teams. When you consider the amount of attrition along the defensive line, the fact that the Bears were unwilling to plug the rookie sixth-rounder from Georgia into the lineup should give you an idea about how raw he is. He’s of a similar build as McClellin, and of the same mold: an undersized, speed rush-type defensive end. He seems like a typical late-round lottery ticket, and if he can develop into a productive NFL player, the Bears will have obviously gotten tremendous value. Of course, the odds of that happening are long. But you never know.

Jay Rigdon is the editor and lead writer at Bleacher Nation Bears, and can also be found @BearsBN on Twitter.