Part 4 of a 10-part series previewing the NFL Draft and analyzing the Bears’ needs.
Tremaine Edmunds’ statistics from his final season at Virginia Tech speak to his talents as an inside linebacker: 109 tackles, including 14 for loss, 5½ sacks and three forced fumbles.
But NFL teams wonder if he can do more. That’s what happens when you’re 6-5 and 253 pounds, have 34½-inch arms and can run the 40-yard dash in 4.54 seconds.
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Can he rush quarterbacks more? Can he fire off the edge and use all of his athletic gifts to consistently beat offensive tackles? Is he more than an inside linebacker?
That’s what teams — especially ones who need help harassing quarterbacks, such as the Bears — are debating about with Edmunds. Making him more intriguing is his age. He turns 20 on May 2.
“[Teams] talk about all the positions [with me],” Edmunds said at the NFL Scouting Combine in February.
It has been two years since the Bears made significant changes at inside linebacker. In 2016, the Bears signed Danny Trevathan (four years, $28 million) and Jerrell Freeman (three years, $12 million) before drafting Nick Kwiatkoski in the fourth round.
John Timu and Jonathan Anderson, two of the Bears’ best players on special teams, were undrafted free-agent signings in 2015.
Freeman is gone after a tumultuous, short-lived run that featured a concussion and two suspensions, but Trevathan and Kwiatkoski form a solid tandem. The problem for the Bears is that the two have struggled to stay on the field because of injuries.
The draft, meanwhile, presents the Bears with two very intriguing linebackers to consider with the No. 8 pick: Edmunds and Georgia’s Roquan Smith. Boise State’s Leighton Vander Esch also is considered a first-round selection.
“I feel like I can make a tremendous impact on the defense, just with my playmaking ability, my leadership qualities,” Smith said at the combine. “Everything that I possess, as a football player on and off the field, I feel like that will definitely elevate any defense.”
Smith (6-1, 236 pounds) is built similarly to Trevathan (6-1, 239). His speed from sideline to sideline and his instincts stand out — especially when compared to Edmunds — to evaluators and draft pundits.
Smith’s aggressive, tone-setting mindset also would be a good fit in the middle of coordinator Vic Fangio’s defense.
But Edmunds’ potential as a pass rusher — which starts with his special combination of size and speed — is what separates him from other inside linebackers.
Similar to adding Alabama’s Minkah Fitzpatrick or Florida State’s Derwin James — the two best safeties in the draft — Edmunds could be a versatile game-changer for Fangio.
“The NFL now, it’s a different game, so a lot of teams are looking at guys who can play different positions,” Edmunds said. “I let [teams] decide that thing. I just try to perform the best way I can, put on film the best me.”
Grading the Bears’ need: High. Danny Trevathan and Nick Kwiatkoski are solid starters, but the Bears need more than four inside linebackers on their roster for training camp. After four seasons with the Bears, Christian Jones, a versatile reserve with 31 career starts, signed a two-year, $6.35 million deal with the Lions.
On the roster: Trevathan ($7 million average annual value), Kwiatkoski ($728,780), Jonathan Anderson ($660,000), John Timu ($750,000).
Top five draft prospects
1. Tremaine Edmunds, Virginia Tech: Edmunds, who made 226 tackles over three seasons in college, has been compared to Bears Hall of Fame linebacker Brian Urlacher because of his size and athleticism. His father, Ferrell, was a Pro Bowl tight end for the Dolphins.
2. Roquan Smith, Georgia: Considered a very instinctual player, Smith had 124 tackles, including 11½ for loss, and 5½ sacks in his final college season.
3. Leighton Vander Esch, Boise State: An impressive performance at the NFL Scouting Combine cemented his rise into the first round. He had 129 tackles and three sacks last year for Boise State.
4. Rashaan Evans, Alabama: He has been on the field for four years with the Crimson Tide, but he was a full-time starter only last season.
5. Darius Leonard, South Carolina State: A dominant player in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, Leonard made 54 tackles for loss in four seasons in college.
I’m intrigued by: Kwiatkoski’s place in the Bears’ long-term plans. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and former coach John Fox spoke glowingly about him in the past.
When: April 26-28.
Where: AT&T Stadium
in Arlington, Texas.
TV: ESPN, NFL Network and Fox-32.
The Bears’ seven picks: Round 1
(No. 8 overall), 2 (No. 39),
4 (Nos. 105 and 115), 5 (No. 145), 6 (No. 181) and 7 (No. 224).