Will new Chicago coach Eberflus look for a LB on Day 2 or 3?
New Chicago Bears coach Matt Eberflus knows linebackers.
Darius Leonard was a second-round pick by Indianapolis in 2018. Bobby Okereke was a third-round pick in 2019. And Zaire Franklin was a seventh-round pick the same year the team drafted Leonard.
Notice a trend?
None of those players were taken in Round 1.
You can expect a lot of changes in Chicago now that Eberflus has taken over, and one of the bigger moves is the team’s projected move from a 3-4 defense to a 4-3 defense. The Bears, though, already have much of the personnel you need to make that move. Outside linebackers Khalil Mack and Robert Quinn will presumably move over to defensive end. If unrestricted free agent Akiem Hicks re-signs, he could be moved to the 3-tech defensive tackle position, while Eddie Goldman will likely get the first crack at the starting NT position.
The linebacking crew for Chicago, though, is much more up in the air.
Roquan Smith remains one of the best linebackers in the league; he’s expected to play the Will or the Mike LB spots. However, Alec Ogletree is no longer under contract, and Danny Trevathan was limited due to injuries this season.
That means two linebacker spots are potentially open.
But since LB isn’t seen as a “premium” position, and because Chicago has more pressing needs, the Bears can probably wait to Days 2 or 3 to draft one (or more). Keep in mind, Eberflus’ Colts’ teams played out of a 4-3 base defense, but they typically only used two linebackers. Leonard and Okereke both played more than 90 percent of their team’s defensive snaps, while Franklin only received about 18 percent of the snaps. So that last LB spot for Chicago can probably be found in Rounds 5-7 or even as an undrafted free agent.
Here’s a look at some Day 2 and Day 3 linebackers, and how they would fit in with Chicago:
Day 2: Chad Muma, Wyoming
The 6-foot-3 242-pound Muma was solid his sophomore and junior years, then took things to another level this past season, finishing with 142 tackles, 8 TFLs, 1.5 sacks and 3 INTs. He returned two of those picks for touchdowns.
Muma is ranked No. 66 in the Fanspeak-Jake Rigdon big board and was predicted to go to Philadelphia at pick No. 51 by The Athletic’s Dane Brugler in his two-round mock. He’s the sixth-rated inside linebacker in ESPN’s Mel Kiper’s latest player rankings.
So there’s a good chance Muma will still be available when Chicago is on the clock in Round 2 (the Bengals traded away its first-round pick last year to move up to draft Justin Fields). But taking a LB with your first pick – when you only have 5 – is a bit of a risk, but so is hoping he’s still there early in Round 3.
Other potential linebackers: It’s a solid year for inside linebackers, so any of these players could be available early in the second round: Leo Chenal, Wisconsin (46); Brian Asamoah, Oklahoma (58); Christian Harris, Alabama (61); Brandon Smith, Penn State (69); and LB Damone Clark, LSU (74).
Therefore, there’s a good chance at least one of them slips to the early third round, should Chicago choose to draft a different position of need in the second round.
#3 Chad Muma, Wisconsin (3/10)
Draft Range: Day 2
6'3, 242 pounds, great versatility & ability to make an impact at all 3 LB spots in a 4-3 defense, his previous position was at safety, fits the bill as a modern NFL LB'r that can do a bit of everything, especially in coverage. pic.twitter.com/nFrw6vLNUF
— MRCROCKPOT TPL (@mrcrockpot) January 27, 2022
Day 3: JoJo Domann, Nebraska
The 6-foot-1, 230-pound senior is listed by many publications as a safety after Domann played the position his first two seasons. He finished with 71 tackles, 9 TFLs, 2 sacks, 2 INTs, 3 PDs and 2 FFs. He also finished his career at Nebraska with 9 forced fumbles. And there’s no questioning his toughness, as Domann had 9 tackles, 1 INT, 2 PDs and 1 TFL against Ohio State while playing through a hand injury that required season-ending surgery a week later. Domann is No. 94 in the Rigdon big board.
Other LBs to watch: Georgia has a pair of linebackers in Channing Tindall (101) and Quay Walker (104) who would be interesting picks in the third- to fourth-round range, while N.C. State’s Vi Jones (197) is more of a fifth- to sixth-round prospect and special team’s ace. Jones, considered one of the fastest linebackers in his conference, is the son of former Cowboys middle linebacker Robert, who won three Super Bowl rings in the 1990s.
One of the most athletic & under-appreciated LBs in 2022 draft is @HuskerFBNation hybrid JoJo Domann (@TheDomannator). Some of the best hips you’ll see on a 235-lber. Closing a crazy amount of grass here on Spencer Rattler.
Priority Free Agents
With only five picks, Chicago can’t afford to double-dip at any position. However, due to the number of players who returned last season because of Covid means this could be an exceptional year for undrafted players.
Some noteable names who could go undrafted include Nate Landman (259) of Colorado State, Grant Morgan (274) of Arkansas and Malcolm Rodriguez (300) of Oklahoma State. Landman finished his five-year career with 347 tackles, 42 TFLs, 10 sacks, 3 INTs and 11 PDs. Morgan finished his five-year career with a line of 312-23.5-4.5-2-11, and Rodriguez finished his five-year career with a line of 408-32-7.5-2-11. He also forced 13 fumbles.
Oklahoma State LB Malcolm Rodriguez just killed a guy. pic.twitter.com/M6mvc4bVHi
— Matt Alkire (@mattalkire) January 26, 2022