By Adam Hoge-
This is the fourth in a series of mock drafts for the Chicago Bears leading up to the NFL Draft May 8-10.
(CBS) — For the first time in my four years producing Bears mock drafts, I’ve put together a fourth and final version.
In an effort to evaluate more prospects and present more options for the Bears throughout the process, there were no duplicate picks in my first three mock drafts this year. However, this fourth one is a culmination of all the scouting done over the last year, so it does include a couple players from previous mock drafts.
As always, my picks are based on what I think the Bears should do, not what I think they necessarily will do. Where a player is selected in the mock draft is based on a combination of where I grade that player and where I think he’ll realistically be available.
1st Round, No. 14: S Calvin Pryor, Louisville (5-11 1/8, 207 lbs)
Calvin Pryor has overtaken Ha Ha Clinton-Dix as my No. 1 safety target for the Bears, mainly because of his big-hit ability and supportive instincts against the run. He’s a more versatile player in terms of his ability to play both safety positions, which is something Bears general manager Phil Emery has said he values.
Pryor’s motor never stops and he’s all over the field when you watch him on tape. He has good ball skills (see: one-handed interception in the end zone against Blake Bortles) and he has great instincts in terms of recognizing run vs pass. The line is being blurred between strong and free safety in today’s NFL and Pryor does the same thing. He can be developed either way, but a smart team will use him interchangeably and move him around the defense.
If the Bears draft Pryor, he’ll immediately be considered the best safety on the roster.
2nd Round, No. 19 (No. 51 overall): DT Dominique Easley, Florida (6-1 3/4, 288)
Easley is the 19th ranked player on my Bears Big Board and someone I think they’ll seriously consider if he’s still available at No. 51. He doesn’t have ideal size, but he’s extremely quick off the line and shoots gaps straight into the backfield. He’s a lot like Aaron Donald in that he uses his lack of height to his advantage to gain leverage on opposing offensive linemen.
The big problem here is that Easley is recovering from his second torn ACL. Emery admitted last week that “there are a number of players that we like that are rehabbing from injuries” but he also called it “a tricky slope” and added that his “preference would be not to” draft a rehabbing player. That said, the Bears showed interest in Easley when they sent new defensive line coach Paul Pasqualoni down to Gainsville, Fla. to work the defensive tackle out at his pro day.
There’s some obvious risk involved here, but Easley was a first round talent before his latest knee injury, and given how players recover from torn ACLs these days, I think he has tremendous value at No. 51.
3rd Round, No. 18 (No. 82 overall): CB Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Nebraska (6-2 5/8, 218)
I should be able to sell you on the fact that he’s 6-3 with a 41.5 inch vertical, but Stanley Jean-Baptiste isn’t for everyone. He’s a former wide receiver who didn’t really blossom as a cornerback until this past season — and he’ll be a 24-year-old rookie.
That sounds a little bit like Kyle Long though, doesn’t it? Yes, he plays a different position and is on the other side of the football, but the late-developing Jean-Baptiste has the size and explosion that Phil Emery covets. He also happens to look like a viable replacement for Charles Tillman, who also possesses the size to go up against the bigger receivers. When looking for a cornerback in this draft, the Bears have to be asking themselves: Who matches up against Calvin Johnson if Tillman can’t?
Jean-Baptiste has the potential, but he has to refine his technique and improve his footwork. He doesn’t have elite speed (neither does Tillman) but can jam off the line and play press-man, which the Bears will likely use more on defense. I could see Jean-Baptiste getting drafted anywhere between the second and fourth rounds, so it’s a toss-up as to whether or not he’ll still be available at No. 82 overall.
4th Round, No. 17 (No. 117 overall): LB Telvin Smith, Florida State (6-3, 218)
Scouts, general managers and coaches tend to fall in love with certain guys and if you’ve followed along during this draft process, you know how I feel about Telvin Smith. In fact, I have him ranked 14th on my Bears Big Board.
So why do I have him all the way down here in the fourth round? Well, mainly because the island of Telvin Smith supporters seems to be pretty small and there are now reports that he failed a drug test at the Combine. Fine. That just makes him more valuable here in the fourth round as there is no debating his football ability.
Smith is a fast, rangy athlete who possesses good length and instincts to find the football. I could see him playing anywhere from middle linebacker to weak-side linebacker to safety — it’s just a matter of figuring out what his best fit is and getting him at the right weight.
My thinking on Smith is this: If he’s still around in the fourth round, I draft him and figure out what to do with him later. He might just end up being Lance Briggs’ replacement down the road.
5th Round, No. 16 (No. 156 overall): TE Colt Lyerla, Oregon (6-3 7/8, 242)
Colt Lyerla is an incredibly athletic talent who will be a matchup nightmare at the next level — assuming he makes it there. His troubles have been well documented, including by yours truly. He’s a first-round talent who has put his football career in jeopardy because of off-the-field issues, including a cocaine arrest.
That’s nothing to take lightly, of course, but Lyerla has had success in the past when he got on the right path and there’s reason to believe he’ll do it again. At the NFL Combine, he came off as extremely remorseful and motivated to prove his critics wrong. And, after talking to Bears guard Kyle Long, I got the sense that Lyerla got mixed up with the wrong crowd again last year and just needs a supportive, structured environment in the NFL to find success.
Reuniting with Long — with Marc Trestman as his head coach — would be great for Lyerla, and the Bears happen to need another tight end. I originally had Lyerla targeted in the sixth round in my first Bears mock draft, but I have a feeling multiple teams are going to be willing to take a chance on him and the upside is too good to ignore in the fifth round.
6th Round, No. 7 (No. 183 overall, from Tampa Bay): MLB Yawin Smallwood, Connecticut (6-2 1/4, 246)
Smallwood’s size and ability to drop back into coverage make him an intriguing target for the Bears’ defense. He’s a smart, experienced player who was a captain at UConn, where Bears defensive line coach Paul Pasqualoni was the head coach. A former high school safety, Smallwood has the ball skills and leaping ability to be an effective middle linebacker, but he needs to prove he can be more reliable against the run. I like his potential with a year to learn behind D.J. Williams, but if injuries force him into a starting role as a rookie, he’ll probably struggle.
The Bears may need to eventually invest an early pick in a future middle linebacker, but given the other needs this year — and more importantly, the lack of depth at middle linebacker in this year’s draft — Smallwood would be worth a chance in the sixth round.
6th Round, No. 15 (No. 191 overall): RB De’Anthony Thomas, Oregon (5-8 5/8, 174)
Nicknamed the “Black Mamba”, Thomas is severely undersized and will have a very limited role in any offense. If he’s going to line up in the backfield, he’ll need to get the ball on pitches or screens. Lining him up in the slot and using him on bubble screens or simply as a dump-off option might be best.
But no one in this entire draft class plays with the same on-field speed and elusiveness as Thomas (including Dri Archer). The problem is, he needs space and it’s going to be up to the coaching staff to find that space for him.
So what’s the solution? Using Thomas where he’s best: as a kick and punt returner. The Bears need a new returner and they just saw how valuable Devin Hester was for eight years. If there’s a Devin Hester in this draft (crazy speed and elusiveness but no real role on offense or defense), it’s De’Anthony Thomas. And if he’s still available this late in the draft, I’m taking him.
Adam Hoge covers the Bears for CBSChicago.com and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamHoge.