The Chicago Bears parted ways with three pretty significant contributors at the linebacker position this offseason, when they waived farewell to inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman, as well as outside linebackers Pernell McPhee and Willie Young. But if it’s any consolation, several performances on Sunday at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis should have served as a reminder of how loaded the position will be come draft weekend.
Shaquem Griffin stole the show and was the weekend’s biggest winner. He ran the 40-yard-dash in 4.38 seconds (the fastest for a linebacker since 2003) and did 20 bench press reps with a prosthetic on his left hand. Griffin’s hand was amputated at age 4, but it didn’t stop him from being a stud on the college gridiron for UCF on Satuday. Griffin’s athleticism was most impressive and his versatility could make him very attractive to a creative defensive coordinator at the next level. NFL.com projects him to be a Round 5 or 6 pick, but his stock should rise after this weekend’s performance.
Another prospect whose stock is on the rise because of a strong showing this weekend is Boise State’s Leighton Vander Esch. He was among the top performers in the vertical jump (39.5 inches), 3-cone drill (6.88 seconds), 20-yard (4.15 seconds) and 60-yard (11.57 seconds) shuttle, while also having a solid showing in the bench press (20 reps) and 40-yard dash (4.65 seconds). But what might stand out most in the player comparison NFL Network insider Ian Rapoport is hearing from front office decision-makers.
“Most people hadn’t even heard of a couple of weeks ago, now the comparison I get from scouts and general managers is very simple – Brian Urlacher,” Rapoport said. “His drills really stood out … I think what’s happening most is coaches are now looking at his film and going ‘Wow, this guy can really, really play.'”
Vander Esch is projected to go in either the first or second round, though if that Urlacher comp sticks, the Boise State product might find a home in the first round.
Tremaine Edmunds’ standout performance would have been the most eye-catching from the group of linebackers, but Griffin really popped after going from feel-good story to prospect on the rise. On any other Combine weekend, Edmunds’ 4.54-second 40-yard dash would have jumped to the top of our post – especially after he measured in at 6-foot-5, 253 pounds. Edmunds has the build of an explosive pass rusher, and his showing in Indianapolis probably cemented his place as a top-10 pick. What’s left to be seen is whether or not Edmunds possibly moved into the top-5.
Fellow projected first-round picks Bradley Chubb (North Carolina State) and Marcus Davenport (UTSA) also posted impressive 40 times that solidified their spots among the draft’s best pass-rushing prospects. Harold Landry (Boston College) probably would be in that mix had it not been for an ankle injury that literally (and figuratively) slowed him down in 2017. Landry reminds me a bit of Eddie Jackson in that he was a stellar player and highly-thought-of prospect two years ago before injuries kept him from reaching his peak before declaring for the draft. With that in mind, Landry’s stock is going to be worth keeping an eye on this spring.
Georgia’s Roquan Smith finished the 40-yard-dash in 4.51 seconds, which is pretty darn great in its own right. However, Pro Football Talk’s Charean Williams reports the inside linebacker prospect did not participate in the bench press as he continued to build strength as he is recovering from a shoulder injury. Teammate Lorenzo Carter might have had Bears fans feeling like they saw Leonard Floyd’s doppleganger after watching the 6-foot-6, 250-pound outside linebacker complete the 40 in 4.46 seconds. To put it in perspective, Carter ran the 40 faster than two running backs he shared the field with at Georgia – Nick Chubb (4.52) and Sony Michel (4.54).
So while wide receivers are all the rage (and rightfully so), the Bears are expected to be in a place where they’ll need to address their linebacker problem in free agency and the draft. Lucky for them, the prospect pool to choose from looks deep right now.