Gabriel: 7 OLB Prospects Bears Could Target

Alabama linebacker Christian Miller
Photo credit John David Mercer/USA Today Sports
(670 The Score) Until the Bears re-signed veteran Aaron Lynch recently, it looked as if outside linebacker was a need position for them in the NFL Draft.

While it's no longer a major need, it's still a position the Bears could look to upgrade their depth at if the right player is available in the middle rounds.

Lynch played well for the Bears as a reserve in 2018. While he flashed as a pass rusher, he's much better as a run defender. He tested free agency in March by making three visits but didn't receive a significant offer elsewhere. He signed a one-year deal with Chicago that included a $250,000 signing bonus, so the Bears could easily go in a different direction without much cap consequence if they wanted.

The other main reserve at outside linebacker for the Bears is third-year pro Isaiah Irving, who showed flashes when given the opportunity to play last season. The question is whether he'll continue to improve or if he has hit his ceiling. Irving was an undrafted free agent out of college, so he wasn’t thought of that highly.

The Bears drafted Kylie Fitts in the sixth round in 2018, but he did little in the six games he played in. He showed more in the preseason than he did during the regular season. While Fitts has the size, strength and speed the Bears look for, he's an average player.

If the Bears select an outside linebacker in the draft, I doubt it will be before the fourth round. It seems like they will target a running back or tight end with their third-round pick at No. 87 overall, the first pick they own.

Here are some of the top candidates for the Bears to look at in that range:

Porter Gustin, USC

Gustin looked like he was going to be a premium-round pick early in his career at USC, but then he encountered injuries. He only played in four games in 2017 because of toe and biceps injuries and then played in just six games in 2018 because of an ankle injury that required surgery. He still recorded seven sacks in 2018 despite that missed time. At 6-foot-4, 255 pounds, he has ideal size and speed to play on the edge and is strong enough to stack at the point. If Gustin gets a medical thumbs up, he could be a mid-round steal for the team that selects him.

Chase Winovich, Michigan

Winovich played opposite of Rashaan Gary on the Michigan defensive line and is talented enough that the Bears might have to use a third-round pick to nab him. Chase has a combined 13.5 sacks over the past two season, and tape shows he's the ultimate competitor. He will be a 24-year-old rookie and because of that, he might not go as high as his tape suggests he should.

Christian Miller, Alabama

Many draft analysts like Miller more than I do. He was highly recruited coming out of high school but didn’t live up to these expectations at Alabama. It took him five years to get on the field for the Crimson Tide. At 6-foot-3, 247 pounds, Miller has good size, but his play is inconsistent. He has some passing rush skills, as shown by his 8.5 sacks in 2018, but he can be inconsistent when playing the run. At the NFL Combine, he only did the vertical jump (38.5 inches) and standing long jump (9 feet, 10 inches) and nothing else. He didn't run a 40-yard dash at either of the two Alabama pro days.

Shareef Miller, Penn State

Miller entered the draft as an underclassman and probably should've stayed in school. He has the size (6-foot-4, 255 pounds) and speed (4.69 in 40), but he lacks strength. He's still a developmental player with upside, but I doubt he can give a team much more than just spot duty as a rookie. He does have some experience dropping into coverage and shows good ball reactions.

Jachai Polite, Florida

Polite is another early entry into the draft. He started for one year at Florida and had an outstanding season with 45 tackles and 11 sacks. On tape, he looked like a player who could be selected in the first or second round. That changed at the combine, where he reportedly had problems with interviews and then had a poor workout (4.84 in the 40). He had a chance to improve his workout at the Florida pro day but only ran 5.02. Polite is a talented player whom a team is going to get late, but the club will have to do its research to make sure he's not a wasted pick.

Ben Banogu, TCU

Banogu has great athleticism. He ran a 4.62 in the 40 and had a 40-inch vertical jump and an 11-feet, 2-inch standing long jump. His problem he's a one-dimensional player. He can rush the passer (17 sacks combined in the past two years) but struggles when defending the run and playing in coverage. His athletic traits will probably get him drafted higher than the Bears would want to take him, as he will be just a designated pass rusher early in his career.

Maxx Crosby, Eastern Michigan

Crosby is a late bloomer who came on strong with a combined 18.5 sacks in the last two seasons. He has a lean frame and doesn’t show good playing strength, but he plays hard and has some bend coming off the edge. He's more of a developmental prospect, but there's upside to his game.

Greg Gabriel is a former NFL talent evaluator who's an on-air contributor for 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter @greggabe.