Everybody and they mama knows the Bears biggest need this off-season is wide receiver. Bear fans are going to constantly hear about how bad their current crop of WRs are and how to rectify the problem through free agency and/or the draft. But not in this article.
It’s time to focus on another position of need, which is Outside Linebacker/ Edge Rusher. Leonard Floyd looks to be a rising star, Pernell McPhee and Willie Young are solid vets but it has been difficult to keep these guys off the injured reserves list. Lamar Houston has a high motor but has suffered a torn ACL injury twice within the last 3 seasons and he’s an unrestricted free agent. Sam Acho provides depth but he’s not a game changer.
Ryan Pace has got to be looking deep into free agency which begins March 12th and the NFL draft which begins April 26th to address this need. So, who are the impactful OLB/Edge rushers currently available in free agency? There will be 2 pro bowl caliber unrestricted free agents out there, if they can avoid that franchise tag.
#2 DeMarcus Lawrence 6’3”, 251, 25 years old(4/2/92) – Lawrence just completed his 4th and best season of his career by finishing 2nd in the NFL in sacks with 14.5. In his 2014 rookie season, he did not play much but he showed plenty of potential in 2015 under the tutelage of defensive coordinator Ron Marinelli by recording 8 sacks. However, 2016 was a tumultuous season as he missed 7 games due to back surgery and a suspension for using amphetamines (usually used to treat depression and to decrease one’s appetite), which violated the league’s substance abuse policy.
He bounced back in a big way after having back surgery again before the start of the 2017 season and earned a 1st ballot pro bowl selection. Lawrence is young and talented but has dealt with back issues.Cowboy’s owner Jerry Jones is a big spending risk taking type of guy and you better believe that he’s going to open his wallet wide to keep a defensive edge rusher that keeps QBs on their backs. Jones probably should franchise tag Lawrence to make him prove that his back issues are a thing of the past. I’ll be shocked if Bear’s General Manager Ryan Pace steals Lawrence from the Cowboys.
#1 Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah 6’5”, 271, 28 years old (5/29/89) – The only negative thing I can say about this guy is that he played 13 games in 2016 and recorded only 2 sacks. But guess what? He suffered a high ankle sprain during week 2 of that season and decided to play through that injury rather than sitting out on the injured reserved list. He proved his unfortunate 2016 season was just an aberration by finishing 8th in the NFL in sacks with 12 in 2017. In 2015, he was 3rd in the league in sacks with 14.5. Ryan Pace and Vic Fangio has got to team up, find Ziggy, sell that Bears top 10 defense and throw the bank at Ansah. Starting edge rushers of Ansah and Leonard Floyd with vets Young and McPhee as backups would be ideal for Vic Fangio’s emerging defense.
But if Ryan Pace can’t score big on OLB’s in free agency, he’ll most definitely attempt to address their edge rusher need through the draft. There’s 6 OLB/Edge Rushers with overall 1st round grades for the 2018 NFL Draft.
||Projected 1st Rd Draft Position
|1. Bradley Chubb
||3 – 6
|2. Tremaine Edmunds
||6 – 13
|3. Arden Key
||13 – 19
|4. Marcus Davenport
||19 – 23
|5. Harold Landry
||23 – 28
|6. Sam Hubbard
||28 – 32
The only way Chicago can draft the projected best edge rusher Bradley Chubb is by trading up for the 3rd consecutive year in the 1st round. Chubb is not falling to the Bears at pick #8. However, there are 4 QB needy teams (Browns, Giants, Jets and Broncos) picking ahead of the Bears and dynamic RB Saquon Barkley is expected to be a top 5 overall pick.
Therefore, there’s a good chance the athletic OLB Tremaine Edmunds will be still available at the 8th slot. NFL scouts are infatuated with his excellent size and speed combination and can’t wait to get a closer look at him during the NFL Combine. Edmunds had 18.5 tackles for loss with 4.5 sacks as a sophomore and 14 tackles for loss with 5.5 sacks last season as a junior.
He also comes from solid gridiron bloodlines. His father Ferrell Edmunds was a 2-time NFL pro bowler as a Tight End with the Dolphins, his oldest brother Trey Edmunds is a RB for the Saints and his other brother free safety Terrell Edmunds has also declared for the NFL draft from Virginia Tech. Tremaine is the youngest of the 3. NFL defensive coordinators are also excited about his potential to get much better. Tremaine Edmunds is only 19-years-old. But Tampa Bay picks at #7 with huge needs at offensive line, safety and edge rusher.
If Edmunds is off the board when the Bears are on the clock at pick #8, they should seriously think about taking a chance on an intriguing player, Arden Key. Key had an explosive 2016 sophomore season by recording 14.5 tackles for loss and 12 sacks. Heading into the 2017 season, he was projected as a top 5 overall draft prospect. But his stock has declined for 2 main reasons. In the spring of 2017, Key left the team for personal reasons. Professional scouts and the press was not informed about any specifics of why he temporarily left the team. This caused the general public to question his work ethic and overall passion for the game. Key has also fallen down draft boards due to missing 5 games for offseason shoulder surgery, mid-season finger surgery, a knee injury and his sack total dropped down to 4.
However, his 2017 season wasn’t a total disaster. During a 3 game stretch towards the end of the season versus a few Associated Press top 20 schools (Auburn, Mississippi State and Alabama), Key recorded 20 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. When healthy, Arden Key is a legitimate top 3 edge rusher draft prospect.
The big question mark that Ryan Pace must answer about Key is the off the field concerns. Before the NFL Draft, Pace must interview Arden Key and get in touch with his family, coaches, teammates, etc… in order to find out if Key’s off the field issue was overblown or something that could jeopardize his NFL career.
If the Bears think Key is too risky, they could reach for Marcus Davenport or trade back to catch him. The knock on Davenport is that he’s from the small University of Texas at San Antonio. He recorded 6.5 sacks as a junior and 8.5 sacks as a senior. He also had a solid performance at the Senior Bowl with a sack and fumble recovery for a touchdown. Ryan Pace selected 3 small school guys during the 2017 draft but will he take it even further by selecting one in the 1st round this year?
After compiling an astounding 16.5 sacks as a junior in 2016, Harold Landry decided to not declare for the NFL Draft and returned for his senior year. That decision turned out to be a big mistake. In 2017, Landry’s sack number drastically dropped to 5 and he did not play in his teams last 5 games or the Senior Bowl due to an ankle injury.
Sam Hubbard is a big OLB that the Bears could also trade back for or snag in the 2nd round. He didn’t produce gaudy stats at OSU by recording 8 tackles for loss with 3.5 sacks in 2016 and 13.5 tackles for loss and 7 sacks in 2017. He played in the shadow of NFL pro bowler Joey Bosa’s little brother sophomore OLB Nick Bosa. However, scouts have recognized Hubbard as a mid to late 1st round prospect.
What should the Bears do to address their need for an Edge Rusher/OLB? They’ve got to find a viable side kick to Leonard Floyd and keep McPhee, Young and Acho for some solid veteran depth. Like I said earlier, Pace must make a strong push for Ziggy Ansah but the Lions would be foolish not to franchise tag him. If Ansah stays put in Detroit, Pace has to forget about reaching for a WR with the 8th pick and draft an edge rusher. The Bears should draft the big, speedy, versatile and really young Tremaine Edmunds or Arden Key who may have some off the field issues to untangle.