By Greg Gabriel–
(CBS) There seemed to be some common themes for the Bears as they worked their way through the NFL Draft: get younger, get faster and get more athletic. With each and every pick the Bears made, they hit on that goal.
Not only did that philosophy fit the draft selections, but it also carried over to some for the undrafted free agents the Bears signed immediately after the draft ended. Let’s break down
Round 1: Leonard Floyd, OLB (Georgia)
A few weeks before the draft, Floyd’s name began to be tied to the Bears. The tie became so frequent that a few days before the draft it was “leaked” that Sheldon Rankins was going to be Chicago’s pick.
Leading up to the draft, I wasn’t a fan of Floyd being picked so high, and after the Bears moved up to No. 9 and made the selection, I was critical. That said, I get it.
There’s no question that Floyd has to get bigger and stronger in order to become a full-time player as an outside pass rusher for the Bears. That will happen, though it may not be until 2017 that Floyd reaches and can hold 255, 260 pounds. While he may not be able to play every down right now, Floyd was still the most explosive and athletic pass rusher in this draft.
In 2015, there were a number of fast, explosive pass rushers. This year, there was Floyd, so the Bears were bound and determined to land him. The Bears didn’t draft him for what he is. They drafted him for what he can be.
Round 2: Cody Whitehair, G (Kansas State)
Going into this draft, Whitehair was highly thought of throughout the NFL. He’s tall, athletic and plays with a non-stop motor. On tape he plays with strength and power and looks much stronger than the 16-rep bench press prospect he was at the NFL Combine. Many offensive linemen come out of college with a strength deficiency. The good news is that getting gains on the bench press isn’t a difficult task.
On Sunday, the Bears released guard Matt Slauson. The move wasn’t made because Slauson was a poor football player. He was let go because he wasn’t a fit for what the Bears coaching staff want at the position. Back when he was in Denver, Bears offensive line coach Dave Magazu had smaller athletic players inside who could play in space. Slauson doesn’t fit that mold.
Round 3: Jonathan Bullard, DE (Florida)
Bullard’s one of my favorite Bears’ draft picks. I had him graded as a potential second-round player. I would’ve liked the Bears to select A’Shawn Robinson or Jarran Reed, the two big defensive tackles from Alabama. Bullard isn’t as stout against the run as Robinson or Reed, but he’s a much better pass rusher, and that’s what the Bears were looking for. He fits the mold.
Round 4: Nick Kwiatkoski, LB (West Virginia)
Kwiatkoski’s similar to the two linebackers the Bears signed in free agency in Danny Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman. He’s an instinctive, quick and fast downhill player. Kwiatkoski makes plays in both the running and passing game. With the two veterans ahead of him, he won’t be pressured to be a starter right away, but he will make his presence felt on special teams. Freeman’s already 30 years old, so we can expect Kwiatkoski to jump into the starting lineup in 2017 or 2018.
Round 4: Deon Bush, S (Miami)
The Bears didn’t get consistent safety play in 2015. At least four different players started games, and that included rookie Adrian Amos starting every game. Last year, the Bears signed Antrel Rolle as free agent to bring experience and leadership to the secondary. When he was lost for the season after seven games, the play at the position became inconsistent.
The Bears like Harold Jones-Quartey but needed more young players to push him. That’s exactly what Bush can do. He’s fast and athletic as well as being a big-time hitter. Not only can he help on the deep end, but as with Kwiatkoski, he can be a big help on special teams.
Round 4: Deiondre’ Hall, DB (Northern Iowa)
If there was ever a player in this or any other draft who was close to having the traits of Bear great Charles Tillman, it’s Hall. Tall, fast and athletic, Hall can be an ideal press-cover defender especially against the taller receivers in the NFL. He’s physical and has exceptional ball skills and can also play free safety. Like the others, he brings excellent special teams talent to the table.
Round 5: Jordan Howard, RB (Indiana)
Bears coach John Fox likes big, powerful inside runners who can move the pile and keep the chains moving. Howard fits that mold. It’s been a while since the Bears have had a 230-pound running back, and the fans are going to quickly gravitate to Howard, as he will be able to get the tough yards.
Many teams in the NFL are going to a two- and three-running back rotation, including the Bears. All four backs currently on their roster complement each other, and it wouldn’t surprise me if all play a role in each game.
Round 6: Deondre Houston-Carson, S (William & Mary)
Houston-Carson has the size, speed, athleticism and upside to become an every-down player for the Bears, but to start off, he will be a core special teams player. He’s one of the better kick blockers I have ever seen come out of college.
The Bears had a goal of upgrading special teams with this draft and accomplished that goal with the selection of players like Kwiatkoski, Hall, Bush and Houston-Carson.
Round 7: Daniel Braverman, WR (Western Michigan)
Braverman might not have any special athletic traits other than his 4.48 speed, but all he does is get open and make plays. He’s small at 5-foot-10 and 178 pounds, but he has courage and toughness to go along with good route-running skills. He can be good slot receiver and also has punt return skills.
Undrafted free agents
Not only did the Bears have a strong draft on paper, they did a good job afterward when they signed a talented group of undrafted free agents. Four of the players signed could well have been drafted. They have that kind of talent.
Tight end Ben Braunecker from Harvard fits the mold of fast and athletic. He also can block, and that’s what the Bears were looking for in a tight end. While he played mostly flexed out at Harvard, he showed that when in tight, he has the ability to get movement with run blocks.
Defensive end Roy Robertson-Harris is a player I really like. He’s a non-combine prospect who put up some good numbers at the Texas-El Paso pro day. He’s tall and long and has the growth potential to play as a 5-technique or stay at his current weight and play outside linebacker. I had him graded as a fifth- or sixth-round talent.
The two cornerbacks the Bears signed — Taveze Calhoun from Mississippi St. and Kevin Peterson from Oklahoma State — are quick nickel corner types. One of those two could make the 53-man roster.
The Bears accomplished their goal of getting quicker, faster and more athletic. While coaches can help players with technique and positioning, they can’t teach speed and overall athleticism.
Today, the Bears are a much more athletic team than they were last Thursday morning.
Greg Gabriel is a former NFL talent evaluator who is an on-air contributor for 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter @greggabe.