Chicago Bears NFL Draft Targets: Inside Linebackers

Bears linebacker
BRONX, NY - DECEMBER 27: Wisconsin Badgers linebacker T.J. Edwards (53) during the 2018 New Era Pinstripe Bowl between the Wisconsin Badgers and the Miami Hurricanes on December 27, 2018 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, NY. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The 2019 NFL Draft is next week; April 25th to be exact. Stay up to date on the latest draft news, rumors and get prospect profiles at Last Word on Pro Football. Matt Harris and I have spent the past few weeks identifying prospects that could still be on the board when the Chicago Bears are on the clock. It is important to remember, the Bears (currently) have no picks before the third round, pick 87 overall.

We have already covered running back, corner, receiver, safety, and the offensive and defensive lines. This time around, the focus shifts to inside linebackers. Danny Trevathan and Roquan Smith have Chicago set at the top of the depth chart. But behind them, the only backup with any experience is Nick Kwiatkowski. This could create a great opportunity to improve the quality of depth behind the starters

2019 NFL Draft: Chicago Bears Inside Linebacker Targets

T.J. Edwards – Wisconsin

Most late-round prospects are not as productive as T.J. Edwards was in his time with the Badgers. The redshirt senior tallied more than 80 total tackles all four years, finishing with 366 total (215 solo). He also added 10 interceptions, eight sacks, one forced fumble, one recovery, and a score. He also had 37.5 stops for a loss and 15 passes defended; showing he is an all-around disruptor. He was First-Team All-Big Ten and a First-Team All-American in 2017, but his 2018 campaign might have been better. He notched 112 total stops, three sacks, three picks, and the aforementioned recovery.

A kid out of Lake Villa who played his college ball right up I-90, Edwards’ name may have already been uttered around Halas Hall even prior to this draft cycle. Edwards is a former high school quarterback which shows up in his ball skills, particularly when covering the middle of the field. He is limited athletically and can get beaten if his initial read is wrong. That lacking athleticism also betrays him in space or when he needs to suddenly change direction. His ceiling is likely that of a backup and special teamer, but that is exactly what the Chicago would be looking for in the fourth round (where Edwards is projected to be selected) or later.

Bobby Okereke – Stanford

Bobby Okereke appeared in 11 games as a redshirt freshman; making seven tackles. He grew into a 14-game starting, All-Pac-12 honorable mention by 2018. He tallied 96 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, and 3.5 sacks; adding two forced fumbles and a recovery. His biggest leap, though, came from 2016 (39 tackles with three sacks) to 2017 (88 tackles, four sacks, one interception, one forced fumble, and a touchdown. That progression tapered off from ’17 to ’18, but he still earned another All-Pac-12 honorable mention. Okereke finished his college career with 240 tackles (114 solo), 19 tackles for loss, 10.5 sacks, three forced fumbles, one interception, one recovery, one score, and a safety.

His progression early at Stanford was promising but that it slowed will cause concern for some GMs. He is also a bit undersized, though his athleticism can cover for some of that. He is adequate both athletically and in his reads. Where his lack of size really shows up is in his ability (or inability) to shed blocks. The lack of strength will be an issue in run support as well. Despite knocks of false steps and stiffer-than-expected hips, Okereke can provide coverage ability, ball skills, and a good motor. With Smith just starting his career, a player like Okreke would not need to be a do-everything type of player, even if thrust into a starting role unexpectedly.

Khalil Hodge – Buffalo

Averaging 139 tackles per season for three years would typically get a player invited to the NFL Scouting Combine. Typically. That was not the case for Khalil Hodge who was a three-year starter for the Bulls. In addition to the gaudy tackle totals, he also left UB with 5.5 sacks, three picks, and three fumbles forced. His best season was 2017 when he had 153 tackles (66 solo), three sacks, two picks, and two forced fumbles. He also led the MAC in total and solo tackles that year. His 235 career assisted tackles put him 15th on the NCAA all-time list.

Chicago could very well have two players from Buffalo named Khalil. Hodge is nowhere near the prospect that Khalil Mack was (duh). He ran a 5.0 40-yard dash at his pro day lending some credence to his omission from combine invites. But his numbers over three years speak more than the rare occasion where he runs 40-yards downfield to make a play. He showed a knack for finding the ball and also showed good ball skills. His lack of athleticism will likely restrict him to a backup and special-teamer role, but we have also seen players not test well and still have standout careers. Either way, the Bears could do worse than a player with Hodge’s level of production.

Backer Tracker

As stated, the Bears are in no way desperate to find an inside linebacker. But that does not mean that they would not select one, especially late in the draft. Think day-two talents that slip through the cracks. Of the group, Edwards might be the safest, while Okereke might have the most potential. All three have their limitations, just like the other prospects in this series. They also have traits that could be useful to Chicago, a more complete team this offseason than any time in recent memory.

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