As the NFL draft nears — it takes place May 8-10 — we're taking an 11-day, position-by-position look at what's out there and what the Bears need.
A mix of veterans and highly drafted prospects makes this one of the Bears' most intriguing positions. Weak-side linebacker Lance Briggs, 33 on Week 1, is the only lock to start. Middle linebacker D.J. Williams (32) re-signed for a year after missing 10 games last season with a torn pectoral muscle. He will compete with Jon Bostic, last year's second-round pick. Bostic also will compete for the strong-side spot with Shea McClellin, the 2012 first-rounder who's moving from defensive end. Khaseem Greene, last year's fourth-rounder, was a tackling machine in college but experienced growing pains filling in for Briggs (broken shoulder) last season.
Level of draft need: High, MODERATE, Low
The degree of need depends on whether Bostic establishes himself as a long-term solution in the middle. If he does, then the Bears can narrow their focus to replacing Briggs, whose contract expires after this season. If Bostic doesn't, then middle linebacker becomes a need. Because the Bears won't know the answer until after training camp at the earliest, they have no choice but to swim or sink with McClellin and Bostic, whose draft pedigrees demand patience. A best-case scenario would be McClellin, Bostic and Greene each significantly improve and form a linebacking core for the future. But the evidence so far indicates that's far from a sure thing.
Khalil Mack, Buffalo outside linebacker
6-3, 251 pounds
Worth a look: The Texans will consider picking Mack first overall because of his sharp instincts and proven ability to disrupt an offense as a hybrid end/outside linebacker in a 3-4 front. He's a violent tackler who's adept at setting the edge and making tackles behind the line of scrimmage. He effectively drops in coverage and is well-balanced moving in space.
Stay away: Mack garnered a reputation for playing out of control or freelancing at times. The Texans might be more attracted to South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney's athleticism and upside.
C.J. Mosley, Alabama inside linebacker
6-2, 234 pounds
Worth a look: Mosley is the best inside linebacker in a shallow class. He's a sound tackler with a reputation for changing directions well and for flowing fast laterally. He sifts through traffic well in pursuit, an area in which Bostic struggled as a rookie. His character, work ethic and football intelligence are assets. He has proven himself on special teams covering kicks.
Stay away: Even if he falls to the Bears at No. 14, other players would address bigger needs at defensive tackle and safety. Same goes for UCLA outside linebacker Anthony Barr.
Preston Brown, Louisville inside linebacker
6-1, 251 pounds
Worth a look: If the Bears use their first two picks to address needs at defensive tackle and in the secondary, Brown would be an enticing mid-round option because of his run-stopping ability. He's good at diagnosing plays and is a forceful tackler. He can navigate crowded spaces inside. He proved his durability by playing in all 52 games over four years.
Stay away: Brown's coverage skills are a question mark because he's a stiff runner and doesn't consistently play the ball well. He doesn't have extensive special teams experience and doesn't thrive tackling in the open field.
Jordan Tripp, Montana outside linebacker
6-3, 234 pounds
Worth a look: Tripp's value has increased during the predraft period. He ran the 20-yard shuttle in 3.96 seconds, fastest of any linebacker at the NFL scouting combine. His competitiveness and high character have shined during interviews. He's tenacious and consistently finishes plays around the ball. He could play inside or outside, which fits general manager Phil Emery's versatility requirement. He also was Montana's long snapper for four years.
Stay away: His stock might rise too high for the Bears' liking. His short arms are one reason why he struggles at times to shed blocks. He must improve securing open-field tackles.
James Morris, Iowa inside linebacker
6-1, 241 pounds
Worth a look: For a late-round linebacker to have any type of lasting impact, he at least must excel on special teams and be a tough, willing tackler. Morris fits that mold. He consistently hustles, plays to the whistle and possesses the character intangibles to help compensate for athletic limitations.
Stay away: Morris isn't particularly fast and doesn't move as fluidly as higher-level prospects.
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