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Bears draft preview: Chris Jones among most talented DL pool ever

Chris Jones is part of perhaps the most talented defensive line draft ever. (AP)

Part 1 of the Sun-Times’ 10-part, position-by-position preview of the NFL Draft, which starts April 28 at the Auditorium Theatre:

Bears coaches worked hands-on with Chris Jones last month, running the defensive lineman’s drills during Mississippi State’s pro day.

Whether they get to do it again depends on how GM Ryan Pace navigates the deepest position group in this year’s draft.

The 6-6, 310-pounder — who had a formal meeting with the Bears at the NFL Scouting Combine — can play in a 4-3 or 3-4 scheme. His height, though, makes him perfect for the Bears’ defensive end position, where the team’s starters are the newly signed Akiem Hicks and, almost by default, Ego Ferguson.

“(NFL coaches) like that I’m very versatile and I can line up at any position on the defensive line — there aren’t many linemen that can do that,” Jones said. “They like my explosiveness through my hands, my intelligence in the game.

“But they want to see me mature as a player. They want to see me go hard every play. … They want to see things be more consistent. “

Jones has the pedigree, having once been ranked by a recruiting site as the No. 2 player in the nation coming out of high school. He started three games as a freshman, but then none as a sophomore.

Last season, though, he recorded 7 ½ tackles for loss and 2 ½ sacks in 13 starts.

Another year in the SEC would have sharpened his scouting report; But after leaving college a year early, Jones is viewed as a player who’s yet to play his best football.

He’s rising up draft charts — perhaps even into the first round.

“Just when you look at where he is now and where he could be, he’s just got tremendous upside and talent,” NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah said. “He hasn’t put it all together yet,…

“I do have him 38th (overall) on my list, but when the coaches get involved in the process, they’re going to look at this guy and say, ‘Man, this is a pretty special, physical presence we have here. Let’s see if we can get it out of him.’”

Jeremiah thinks seven interior defensive linemen could go among the first 21 picks —and good players would still be available into the middle rounds.

The Bears will have to weigh that when deciding whether to draft a lineman — perhaps Alabama’s A’Shawn Robinson and Jarran Reed — with the No. 11 overall pick.

“It will be interesting to follow what the strategy is with teams,” Jeremiah said. “Do they want to go get these guys right away? Or is there a thought process that, ‘There’s so much depth that maybe we’ll see some of these guys slide down?’ Because they’ll know they can get another one in a subsequent round.”

Wherever he goes will be a short walk from his seat on draft night. Two weeks ago, Jones was invited to travel to the Auditorium Theatre on April 28.

“I’m bringing my mom and my dad out,” he said. “It’s a huge thing for them.”

 

POSITION SPOTLIGHT: DEFENSIVE LINE

Rating the Bears’ need: High

No starting job on the roster is more wide-open than the defensive end spot opposite new signee Akiem Hicks.

Ego Ferguson, who coach John Fox said last month “might be the most consistent performer since the season ended,” might be the starter in name only. He played last year with a knee injury before being placed on Injured Reserve after five games; a month later, he was suspended for violating the league’s ban on performance-enhancing drugs.

The Bears re-signed Mitch Unrein and lost Jarvis Jenkins to the Jets this offseason. Will Sutton — who, like Ferguson, is entering his third season — could rotate at end, but might not be a starter, either.

The team is set at nose tackle, with Eddie Goldman set to improve on his impressive rookie campaign.

Best of the best

At 6-foot-7, 291 pounds, Oregon star and Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year DeForest Buckner fits the textbook definition of a 3-4 defensive end. He played there for the Ducks, totaling 164 tackles the past two seasons. As a senior, he developed a monstrous pass-rush game, totaling a conference-best 10 ½ sacks.

Other 3-4 teams will have to pass on him for him to be available to the Bears: namely, the No. 1 Titans, No. 3 Chargers and No. 6 Ravens.

 Other options

Either Alabama stud — the impressively built A’Shawn Robinson or the more polished Jarran Reed — makes sense at No. 11. Louisville’s Sheldon Rankins isn’t a perfect fit; at 6-1, 304 pounds, he’s too short to play end, and the Bears already have a young nose tackle.

Ole Miss’ Robert Nkemdiche has enough baggage to last to the second round, even if his raw skills scream otherwise.

At 6-6, 277 pounds, Penn State’s Carl Nassib led the nation with 15 ½ sacks last season — not bad for a former walk-on.

 

Follow me on Twitter @patrickfinley

Email: pfinley@suntimes.com