NFL Combine Primer: My Watchlist for this week in Indy

By: Thomas Gibbons

Kevin White, 5 games, out of future plans. Leonard Floyd, 22 games, cornerstone on defense. Mitchell Trubisky, 12 games, hopeful franchise quarterback.

That is a quick recap of Ryan Pace’s first round selections in his three drafts as the general manager of the Bears. He moved up twice in two years to land Trubisky and Floyd and for White, injuries have defined his time in the NFL the past three years.

As for other rounds in the draft, Pace has done a solid job finding impact players. Eddie Jackson, Cody Whitehair, Eddie Goldman, Adrian Amos, and Tarik Cohen standout.

This year, the Bears have a new man in charge, Matt Nagy and look to not place last in the NFC North for a fifth straight year. Cuts have begun, notably Jerell Freeman and Pernell McPhee, Pace declined Josh Sitton’s 2018 option as the Bears look to get younger at guard and the entire roster. And that road starts at the combine in Indy.

The Bears have a lot of holes to fill once again this season. Trubisky needs weapons as the wide receiver corps was very bare last season. With the release of McPhee, the Bears have a hole to fill at outside linebacker opposite Leonard Floyd. Who will replace Josh Sitton? Cornerback and tight end are other areas of need.

In this article, I’ll highlight a few players to watch this week at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Arden Key, LSU- I’ve seen a few mock drafts where Arden Key went to the Bears at eight overall. I’m here to tell you they are not crazy.

Key, finished his career at LSU with 20 sacks, was one of the best pass rushers in the SEC over the past few seasons. His quick first step and strength made him stand out above the rest. He currently stands at 6′ 6″, 265 lbs. Big man. I think he will test very well and should put out a solid 40 time, 4.6-4.65 is my guess.

We could obviously guess right now who are top 10 players in the NFL draft. But the combine boosts a lot of players stock and can become top 10-15 guys come April. Key is no doubt a first-second round player but if he blows away the competition at the combine, we could see him in the same sentence with Bradley Cubb as the top pass rushers in this class.

Key fits that versatile, athletic freak that Pace has gone after in the first round. If he puts up big numbers in drills and nails the interviews, Key’s stock is going to rise.

Roquan Smith, Georgia– Another athletic freak, Smith recorded 6.5 sacks and 14 tackles for loss in his last season  for the Bulldogs.

Standing at 6′ 1″, 225lb, Smith will have to add some weight at the pro level. But his tape shows speed, and great open field tackling. With the Bears need of getting younger and continuing to building up their defense, Smith is a great place to start.

At 21 years of age, Smith should be another guy who will put off the chart numbers in drills. The Bears still need play makers on both sides of the ball and Smith fits that mold. I’m excited to watch him this week.

Smith is also praised by his coaches as a “tremendous leader.” The Bears need plenty of those on a young team. Smith could be another option at 8 for the Bears and I don’t think I would hesitate to take him if he was the best player on the board.

Tremaine Edmunds, Virginia Tech- Edmunds is going to be just 20 years old when he takes the field for the first time in the pros. Crazy right?

Edmunds had 108 total tackles in his final college season. When you turn on the tape, you see a fierce player who run sideline to sideline with purpose. He is undoubtably a guy you want to continue to build your defense around.  Key and Smith are going to test well, but I think Edmunds is going to put up insane numbers in every category.

From his NFL.com draft profile, Edmunds draws an NFL comparison to Hall of Famer Brian Urlacher. Wow. The size, speed, and explosivness at the position was just the player Urlacher was during his career in the NFL. “They don’t come like him. I don’t think there has ever been a linebacker that has had his size and speed,” an NFC regional scout said. He’s right. Guys like Edmunds do not come around often. He’s a generational talent and a impressive showing at the combine could solidify a top 10 spot.

Calvin Ridley, Alabama– There are not too many questions when it comes to the Alabama star.

Ridley is a great route runner and makes it look so easy in separating from defensive backs. So when exactly will everyone be watching Ridley? The 40 yard dash. Ridley has to post 4.3 speed if he expects to be a top 15 player.

A big concern as well with Ridley is his small frame. Listed only at 190, the Crimson Tide product is no Julio Jones. He will need to add a lot of strength but the ceiling for NFL success is very high. He is exactly the kind of player Trubisky needs to be throwing to but are the Bears going to go WR at eight?

Pace may not feel Ridley is the top player on the board when he is on the clock. Could the Bears trade down and select him in the middle of the first round for better value? I could see it. Pace has not been shy to trade down and acquire more picks.

I would love Ridley in a Bears uniform, but there is going to be a lot of talent on the board at eight. This wide receiver class is not the deepest it’s been but the Bears could find a solid WR at the top of the second round.

I enjoy the NFL combine. It’s not the senior bowl with pads but you get to see these players go through drills and put up crazy numbers on the stopwatch. Bears have a lot of homework to do as they try and put together a roster that can win more than five games.

Reminder: Pace and Nagy will meet the media on Wednesday. Players will be allowed to speak with the media as soon as Thursday.

Questions: 

I expect the Bears to be very busy when it comes to making the players they like are healthy. The Bears cannot afford to draft someone and find out later he’s got an injury that needs to be addressed. In terms of specific players, Key could be one. He underwent finger surgery in November and had shoulder surgery before that. So he is one guy that I’d say the Bears got to do their homework on.

Andrew Norwell may be the top guard to hit the free agent market this offseason. The Bears declined Josh Sitton’s option and there are many reasons why. The injuries began to pile up and will be 32 once the 2018 season stars.

Norwell is 26 and can be your long-term solution. If Kyle Long is 100%, you would have a great interior line with Norwell and Whitehair at center. In terms of money, I could see Norwell demanding at least 11-12 million dollars a year. He is very talented and I’d pay him that kind of money. The Bears got to protect Trubisky and keep their strong running game going. Jordan Howard ran well even behind a banged up offensive line last year. If you got Long and Norwell there, healthy, Howard would have some nice running lanes.

Could the Bears go to the draft for a guard? Of course they can. Quenton Nelson is the best guard in the draft but do you really want to select a guard at eight? He’s a fantastic talent but there are going to be so many other names that the Bears cannot pass up for a guard. Will Hernandez from UTEP and Billy Price from Ohio St. are players the Bears could target at the top of the second round if they don’t solidify a starter in free agency.

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