It feels as if every draft class produces a local product who fights his way from the bottom to latch onto an NFL roster despite being a late-round pick or undrafted free agent. And without fail, every time I see it happen it makes me go “gosh, I wish the Bears had him!” It’s no slight to the guys already on the roster, it’s just that I love local guy does good stories because they warm the soul.
The Bears are in a position to scoop up that type of player this draft season … and not because they’re in the market for a feel-good story. Chicago doesn’t have picks in the first two rounds and has five in total. Because they’re not loaded with draft selections, the Bears’ front office needs to get down to business and unearth some late-round gems and snag some undrafted free agents to bring into the mix. Thankfully, the Bears have a recent history of doing just that, so there should be some confidence they can do it again.
Dane Brugler’s most recent seven-round mock draft has the Bears plucking that type of player with their final pick, mocking Northern Illinois University standout linebacker Sutton Smith to Chicago in Round No. 7 with the 238th overall pick.
Smith did big things for the Huskies defense over the last two years, which led him to forgo his senior season in DeKalb in order to enter the 2019 NFL Draft. His dominance of the Mid-American Conference was eye-opening as Smith earned the MAC’s Defensive Player of the Year in each of the last two seasons and earned first-team All-American honors in 2017. Smith put up huge numbers in 2017, leading college football with 14 sacks and tacking on a whopping 30 tackles-for-loss. He then followed that up with 15 more sacks and 26.5 tackles-for-loss.
And you better believe his highlights are fun for those of us who like quarterback sacks:
Hello, Mr. Smith! You certainly have my attention.
Those types of numbers (and that highlight reel) would otherwise get him a ton of attention from scouts, talent evaluators, and fans of teams who need help at the edge rushing position, but Smith has two things working against him.
First is the competition he played weekly. MAC football is fun and highly accessible because it’s pretty much on at any given time or day during the football season. Unfortunately, the MAC doesn’t reel in a ton of high-end talent and it makes judging those players as draft prospects difficult. And then there is his size. Even though Tarik Cohen would tell you differently, size matters (at least it does to scouts). And until you can prove that a lack of prototypical NFL size doesn’t matter, it’s an up-hill climb for any player at any position – let alone an outside linebacker who checked in at 6-feet, 233 pounds.
So how does Smith fit for the Bears? Let’s allow Brugler to explain:
“What do you do with Smith? He is too undersized to be a full-time pass rusher and doesn’t have the reps as an off-ball linebacker in space. But that is what the seven round is for, taking chances on intriguing talents and Smith (and his 56.0 tackles for loss and 30.0 career sacks) is exactly that.”
In previous years, we would have suggested that Vic Fangio’s defensive wizardry can help Smith attempt to take his leap to the next level. Prior to last year’s stand-out performance by the Bears’ defense, there was an argument to be made that Fangio does more with less than any other coach in football. But with Fangio gone, we’re not 100 percent certain how Smith would work out as a prospect in Chicago. And that’s not a knock on Smith, but since we don’t particularly have a feel for new Defensive Coordinator Chuck Pagano as we did for Fangio, it’s tough to tell where he could slide in.
But still … a player with 29 sacks and 56.6 tackles for loss over the last two years should be able to find a home somewhere. Perhaps it won’t be all that far from his old college stomping grounds.