In this version of the series I’ll be diving into one of the strongest position groups on the Bears Roster. Still, there are never enough pass rushers and in this scheme Edge Defender plays a vital role in pressuring the Quarterback. With that, Let’s get down to it.
Khalil Mack: Fortune favors the brave and 2018 favored Bears GM Ryan Pace in a big way. It started with the hiring of Matt Nagy who only went on to win coach of the year. Than, he retained the entire defensive staff that guided the unit to the very top of the league in the most important defensive categories. Than he had a very good free agency and an excellent draft. That alone would have most General Managers sitting on their laurels happy and content going into a season with low expectations but not Pace. Instead Pace made the ultimate win now move ratcheting up expectations and placing more pressure on his shoulders by trading away his next two 1st round picks and signing Mack to the second highest contract for a defensive player in league history.
Mack did not disappoint making an immediate impact having a great game to open the season versus the Packers. The dominance continued as not only defensive player of the year award was being talked about for Mack, but even league MVP. Than the ankle injury happened which had him finish the game he injured it in but playing inneffectively. He than played versus New England playing mostly in coverage unable to push off due to his high ankle sprain.
He was then shut down the next two games and didn’t look full speed his first two games back. This put a serious dent in his DPOY hopes even with a strong Finish to 2018. Still, he did manage to take away 6 first place votes from the eventual DPOY winner Aaron Donald, the only other defensive player to get votes. Even though he did put up gaudy numbers in spite of the injury his impact went far beyond numbers. He opened up things for his teammates to make plays and they did just that as the Bears were at or around the top in interceptions, Sacks, pressures, hits, forced fumbles, total takeaways, touchdowns, points against, and the list goes on. Mack was clearly the Bears MVP and helped the Bears to the top of the league as the best defense. With better health in 2019 expect another run at DPOY and a deeper run in the post season.
Leonard Floyd: Before the beginning of the 2018 season Floyd was looking to build off of a promising Sophomore campaign and looked to be well on his way to his best season as a pro. After having a good camp and an impressive pre-season and now with the majority of the attention being paid to Mack, Floyd was on the precipice of realizing his immense potential.
Than he broke his hand in the Bears preseason game against the Broncos. This wound up being a very debilitating injury for Floyd as he played with a club on his hand for a good portion of the first half of the season. Apparently, not being able to use his fingers to grasp hurt his game significantly. Floyd struggled mightedly with his hand in a cast in the first half of the season. He did have a resurgence in the second half of the season and had his 5th year option picked up when it seemed like he was destined to be a restricted free agent going into the off-season.
Aaron Lynch: Lynch is the highest profile Edge free agent of the Bears. Being a veteran on two high profile Vic Fangio defenses has given Lynch a lot of positive exposure. Lynch had shown when surrounded by elite talent and coaching knowing how to use that he’s a very productive Edge Defender. Lynch is solid in both the run and pass. More so as a nickle down pass rusher, however. Before coming to the Bears there were questions surrounding Lynch. It appears he has answered them and likely has priced him out of the Bears price range. Denver seems like a logical destination due to his connection to Fangio and the fact they’ll likely be losing 2 young talented Edge defenders to free agency who I’ll be highlighting as possible Bears free agent targets later in this blog.
Kylie Fitts: Fitts was a combine monster displaying speed (4.69 40), agility & short area quickness (6.88 3-cone), and a quick get off with blazing shuttle runs (4.19 short shuttle) and strength (31 reps on the bench press). Pace being the traits guy he is took a flyer on Fitts in the 6th round. He has an impressive tool kit to use. If he has the work ethic, Fitts has a chance to be yet another draft steal by Pace in the Mid – late rounds.
Isaiah Irving: Irving has an intriguing skill set. He falls a little short of the protypical Edge rusher in size, length and his workout numbers but plays like someone who profiles perfectly for the position. He has a lightning quick get off. Almost always flashes when he does play. Like Fitts I expect he gets a lot more snaps in 2019 with the Bears.
Sam Acho: logic tells you Acho while being a great team guy, a leader, excellent special teamer and proven reserve is a prime candidate to let walk in free agency as he is unrestricted. However, you never know with the Bears. The way they value intangibles and the locker room culture may find them bringing Acho back. He’ll cost no more than vet minimum so it wouldn’t kill them with the cap and he is a proven performer. He is getting up there in age and is coming off an injury requiring surgery and ending in an IR stint though. This may be enough to find his way out of Chicago. Coin flip on this one.
James Vaughters: To be completely honest I don’t know a whole lot about Vaughters. He was originally signed as a college Free Agent by the Packers out of Stanford in 2015. He bounced around the league a bit with stops in New England and San Diego. Bears signed him to a reserves/futures contract and he will compete for a spot on the roster in camp. He does have a nice 3-cone time of 7.09 which is the most common indicator of success for Edge Rushers as far as workout metrics are concerned. It’s an extreme long shot he is anything more than a camp body but here it’s on a team that shows they give fair chances regardless of status. Still, the competition is high.
Free Agents: This is an impressively fertile crop of Edge rushing free agents. A lot of the names on this list won’t even make it to the market as they’ll get tagged or signed by their current teams. The top ones that do make it to free agency will certainly be way out of the Bears price range which is why they won’t be on this list. On this list I’ll be featuring young, cheap options loaded with traits the Bears may be interested in developing.
Shaquil Barrett: Barrett is a nice young up and comer developed by the Broncos who seem to know a little bit about drafting and developing good Edge Defenders. With the tape out and the metrics the way they are everyone knows who Barrett is and what he can do. PFF for example has him highly rated. Good young Edge Rushers are a valued commodity in the NFL and he should be highly sought after by a multitude of teams. I find it difficult to believe the Bears will be in the market for an Edge Defender period which makes Barrett possibly being a Bear unlikely. However, you never know. His contract shouldn’t be that unreasonable.
Shane Ray: Ray has been a bit of a disappointment after getting drafted in the 1st round by the Broncos in 2015. Still, he was a beast at Missouri and won SEC defensive player of the year as a junior. Part of the issue has been injuries most recently struggling with a wrist issue the past couple of seasons. Ray will likely be getting a prove it one year deal so he may be an affordable option for the Bears should they feel the need to add a young talented veteran Edge Rusher looking to turn his career around and put himself in position for a big contract in 2020.
Jeremiah Attaochu: Attaochu was someone I was expecting the Bears to take a flyer on last off-season. Of course they did one better and traded for arguably the best defensive player in the league. Attaochu is coming off of a couple down seasons and comes with injury issues (reaching the IR for a concussion sustained in week 15) so that should keep his cost down. Attaochu brings a lot of traits (4.58 40, 37.5 vertical, 4.64 Short Shuttle, 1.55 10 yard split) with him and some success as a pass rusher and is still young (just turned 27 in January) and did I mention cost effective?
Benson Mayowa: Mayowa, is coming off a very productive season with the Cardinals. He produced 4 sacks, 4 passes defended, 11 QB hits, 1 FF, 69 tackles 11 for loss. He’s young and has some traits too (4.73 40, 1.64 10 yard split, 7.05 3-cone, 37.5 vertical, 10 foot broad jump) so he fits in with a typical Pace bargain FA signing.
Eli Harold: Harold, a former 3rd round pick is yet another talented young Edge Rusher who has fallen short of expectations which could make him a bargain signing if his next team can unlock his untapped potential. He’s coming off his best season as a pro with the Lions accumulating 4 sacks, 5 QB hits, 1 PD, 4 TFL’s) in 13 games playing 41.1% of the defensive snaps. He’s very traitsy too with combine scores of a 4.6 40, a blazing SS at 4.16, 11.81 long shuttle, and a nice 3-cone time at 7.07. Could be a nice under the radar signing.
Dion Jordan: Jordan, fits more in line with a 4-3 End body type and is a little tall (6’6″) For an Edge bending 3-4 OLB but he has all the traits you look for in an Edge Defender (4.6 40, 7.02 3-cone, 4.35 S.S.). Jordan is another disappointment after being selected 3rd overall in 2013 by the Dolphins. He has everything you need physically so if he can be solved he has a lot of good seasons left to make an impact in this league. What better team than the one with the best defense in the league to get the exposure to resurrect a dying career.
Draft picks: Like free agency this is a very talented and deep group which makes this the most likely avenue the Bears will use to add at the Edge position rather than in free agency. Pace has shown he has a real knack for identifying talent on day 3 in the draft which is where the Bears will have to make noise given the absence of a first and second round pick and just one pick on day 2 in the late 3rd round.
Justin Hollins: Hollins is coming off an excellent senior season. He had 6.5 sacks, 7 pass breakups and 5 forced fumbles while adding 64 tackles and 14.5 of them for loss. Hollins is just starting to tap into his potential as a pass rusher. He has a nice size to athleticism ratio and shows a plan while rushing the passer. He does have to show more consistency. He has the potential. Just a matter of if the coaching he gets at the next level can get it out of him. Should contribute on special teams immediately.
Carl Granderson: Long, lean athletic Edge Rusher. Granderson physically resembles Leonard Floyd. Unlike Floyd however, he doesn’t excel against the run. He does show plenty of potential as a pass rusher though and will likely be a situational pass rusher early in his career as an NFL Edge. He had a big Junior season voted first team All conference. Had a down year his senior season but still made 2nd team all conference in the Mountain West.
Jalen Jelks: The second of a talented tandem of Oregon Edge Rushers Jelks, teamed up with Hollins to give opposing offensive lines fits. Another long edge defender in a draft filled with them. Lots of potential and value for what looks like a third day pick. Very fluid hips given his size 6’6″ 250. Shows potential as a plus handfighter as well as using his length to keep blockers off of him.
Christian Miller: Miller is another plus athlete on the defensive side of the ball for the Crimson Tide. Miller falls in line with the underlying theme of this group and that’s long, athletic pass rushers who have to develop in the run game to be more than situational pass rushers at the next level. Had an impressive statistical season in limited playing time starting only 4 of a possible 14 games. Still, he managed to add 8.5 sacks, 36 tackles with 11.5 of them coming behind the line of scrimmage. Even broke up a pass. He’ll likely go on day 2 so he may be out of range for the Bears. If not, he could be a future starter for the Bears.
Wyatt Ray: If you squint real hard Ray might actually look like Harold Landry a little bit. He isn’t quite the athlete however, but plenty good enough to find himself getting drafted mid to late day 3. He did get third team all ACC honors his senior season with 9 sacks and 11.5 TFL’s. He has nice length and some decent pass rushing moves that can be developed at the next level with good coaching.
D’Andre Walker: Walker has the potential to be an impact pass rusher from day one. Comes around the edge with impressive speed and bend. Like everyone else I’ve highlighted he’s going to make a living getting after the Quarterback as a situational pass rusher and special teams contributor early on. Can get bullied off the line with power and has to show he can hold the edge consistently if wants to be more than a Nickle down Edge Rusher.
Chase Winovich: Winovich is the one rusher of this group that is probably better as a run defender than a pass rusher. That’s not to say he can’t get after the Quarterback at all. He has 13 sacks the last two seasons with the Wolverines. There is potential he could be a 3 down Edge Defender. He totaled 35 TFL’s the past two seasons. Plays with a relentless motor and a nasty in his game that should play well at the next level and would fit in well with the Bears current locker room culture.
Oshane Ximines: Ximines is another pass rushing specialist who has to show more consistency versus the run to be a 3-down Edge Defender. He does have the chops though and brings some impressive credentials with him. He’s a guy that may not quite make it to the Bears in round 3. If he does make it it would be hard to pass on him. Has good work habits to go with a nice frame to go along with the talent. Very productive and was voted first team All conference getting 12 sacks, 18.5 TFL’s and 4 forced fumbles.
Austin Bryant: Stop me if you’ve read this before but Bryant is a long limbed Edge who will contribute right away as a Nickel Edge but will have to work on his functional strength to hold the Edge against the run to be a full time starter playing 3 downs. He knows what it’s like to be a winner and would bring some championship pedigree with him from Clemson. He produced too pitching in 44 tackles, 14.5 for loss and 8 sacks getting him third team all conference honors.
Jordan Brailford: Brailford comes in with the ability to factor in both the run and pass right away albeit as a backup rotational Edge. Brailford plays with a reved up motor and shows some tenacity. Could max out as a full time starter at the next level with the right coaching. Had a productive senior season with 9 sacks and 16 TFL’s. Shows a game plan as a rusher with a nice reitoire of moves including a nice spin move. Could be a find in the Mid rounds.