The NFL Scouting Combine is the real start of NFL Draft season each year. This week, 319 prospects have been invited to Indianapolis for a week of medicals, interviews, and physical testing. Like the All-Star games, the Combine is just a piece of the puzzle and not the be-all-end-all of where a player might get selected. It is a total misnomer that a player actually ups his stock with a strong Combine. It does get him noticed, and when he outperforms what his expectations were, it lets clubs know that they need to do more work on the player to make sure their grade is correct. They don’t just automatically change a grade based on a workout.
With veteran free agency still two weeks away, we still have no idea who the Chicago Bears will be able to sign. Who they sign and at what position will have a direct bearing on who they select in two months at the NFL Draft.
However, it’s no secret that upgrading the defensive line is the top priority of the Bears in both free agency and the Draft. It would almost be a surprise if we didn’t see four new players on the line between free agency and the Draft.
Here are some defensive linemen I’ll be watching closely this week.
Jalen Carter – DT – Georgia: The big dominating 3-technique could very well be the first pick in the Draft if the Bears can’t make a trade to move down a few. If they do trade, it will be for a team wanting a quarterback, so Carter could still be available for them at two or four.
Tuli Tuipolotu – DT – USC: You don’t hear much about this name, but I love his play. He played mostly outside or as a 5-tech at USC but would be a 3-Tech for the Bears. At 6’4 – 290 with speed, his play reminds me of Tommie Harris. He had 13 sacks this past season at USC. By the end of this week, the secret will be out.
Adetowima Adebawore – DT – Northwestern: Adebawore played mostly outside at Northwestern but is another guy who will be a 3-tech for the Bears. At 6’1 ½” – 285 with 34′ arms, he is not too small as Tommie Harris played at 285 most of his career. This guy tore it up at the Senior Bowl and showed what a dynamic three-tech he could be.
Calijah Kancey – DT – Pitt: The tape on Kancey speaks for itself. It’s been said that he is a poor man’s Aaron Donald, and that is a solid assessment. He is not very big, but he is explosive and a playmaker. How he measures this week at Indy will be important. If he comes in at 6’0 – 280 or better with good arm length, he will be a premium round pick for clubs who run similar type schemes as the Bears.
Keeanu Benton – DT – Wisconsin: When I watched tape on Benton from during the season, I did not see him as a fit for the Bears scheme. But at the Senior Bowl, he showed some explosive quickness that was impressive. He cannot play the 3-tech but could be an ideal 1-tech in the Bears’ scheme.
Will Anderson Jr. – Edge – Alabama: Many feel Anderson is the best outside pass rusher in college football. While listed as being 6’3 – 243 in the Alabama media guide, I’ve been told he played at about 251 most of this year. Like Carter, Anderson could be the first player selected and should also be available if the Bears only trade down a few slots.
Tyree Wilson – Edge – Texas Tech: Wilson is the next best edge pass rusher after Anderson. He played OLB at Texas Tech but was often used as a pass rusher in passing situations. He has the size and length clubs covet (6’5 – 275). Reportedly, he will test very well at Indy.
Will McDonald- Edge – Iowa State: Like Tyree Wilson above, the way McDonald was used at Iowa State didn’t suit his traits. Will played mostly at the 5-tech while playing at 245 – 250. For the Bears, he will be outside, and he has natural pass rush skills. While not that big, he plays strong and has very good hand use.
Felix Anudike-Uzomah – Edge – Kansas State: Another player that you don’t hear much about by the analysts, but this player is a ferocious pass rusher. At KSU, he was an outside player with very quick snap reactions. He plays hard and goes snap to whistle. I see him being a consistent double-digit sacker in the NFL.
Isaiah Foskey – Edge – Notre Dame: Foskey had a strong 2021, but he started this past season a bit slow. However, he came on the last half of the season. He has over 22 sacks in the previous two years and could be an ideal left end in the Bears’ scheme. He has size, speed, and athleticism.
Lukas Van Ness – Edge – Iowa: Van Ness is a local Chicagoland player (Barrington High School). While he was not a full-time player at Iowa, he showed strong outside pass rush skills this past season. He has a non-stop motor.
Tomorrow morning I’ll spotlight some of the offensive linemen and wide receivers I’ll watch closely at the combine.