The departures of Brian Urlacher (you just may have heard about this) and Nick Roach earlier in the offseason left the Bears needing to fill two starting linebacker voids for 2013. So, Bears general manager Phil Emery went out and signed two potential starters in veteran free-agent linebackers D.J. Williams and James Anderson. Williams is a capable starting middle linebacker, where Urlacher of course played, and Anderson is a capable starter at strong-side linebacker, the position Roach played in the Bears' defense.
But, make no mistake about it: These moves were made by Emery with the short-term in mind only. Plug-in moves. The linebacker market wasn't very friendly this offseason, with no clear long-term answers out there.
Therefore, even after the Williams and Anderson signings, it was assumed that linebacker would be one one of the Bears' top positional focuses in the 2013 NFL Draft. And what was really nice about those signings is it gave Emery the chance to find draft prospects that don't have to start right away; players that have plenty of skill but may need to refine some parts of their game to be comfortably inserted in as a starter. That's not at all to say that the potential draft picks would not compete for starting jobs in training camp, but that you now have the luxury of them developing behind proven veterans in Williams and Anderson.
The linebackers that got the most pre-draft talk about the Bears drafting in rounds one or two were Alec Ogletree, Arthur Brown, Manti Te'o, and Kevin Minter.
Ogletree was the highest-rated linebacker in this draft by most experts, and indeed ended up being the first linebacker selected, going No. 30 overall to the Rams. As I wrote in my Kyle Long draft grade post, Ogletree was by far the player most mock drafts had going to the Bears. However, the Bears were obviously higher on Long, and the way the draft was unfolding, surely felt that they could still find one of the linebackers they were coveting when their second-round pick at No. 50 overall came along. Additionally, there were concerns about Ogletree's ability to play middle linebacker (many think he it's just not going to happen) which would certainly lower his value (it's much easier to find quality strong-side and weak-side linebacker than middle linebackers), and the guy got a DUI just days before the 2013 NFL Combine, something that is just immeasurably stupid.
Brown is a guy I'm personally very high on, but there's concerns about his size and overall skill-set translating well to the NFL level, especially at the middle linebacker position (like Ogletree). The Bears ended up not just passing on him with their first-round pick, but with their second-round pick as well, as Brown slid all the way to No. 56 to the Ravens. The fact Brown slid all the way to No. 56 shows that the Bears were not the only team that had concerns about him.
The stock of Te'o dropped considerably in recent months, with the whole fake girlfriend saga (likely) having little to do with that. The tape of Te'o looking absolutely awful in the National Championship Game against Alabama, and following that up with an unimpressive NFL Combine performance, made him slide down teams' draft boards much more than the Lennay Kekua crap did. Te'o would've been a reach at No. 20, and was selected at No. 38 in the second round by the Chargers, before the Bears would've had a chance to get him.
Minter's measurables didn't impress at the Combine either, and he's widely considered a two-down linebacker. And like Te'o, he would've been a reach at No. 20, and was already gone (No. 45 to the Cardinals) when the Bears' turn to select came in the second round.
Even if Te'o and Minter were still on the board at No. 50, I don't think the Bears would've taken either of them. In Emery's pre-draft press conference, this is what he said in regards to the kind of players he was looking for in the draft:
“(We want) players that are high-end dynamic athletes that can do a lot of things."
It's something Emery has frequently made a point of in terms of the type of players he's looking to acquire. And the point stood true with his selection of highly-athletic (the highest-graded guard in the Bears' athletic index measurements over the last dozen years), versatile offensive lineman Kyle Long in the first round.
With all this in mind, it shouldn't at all be a surprise that Emery chose to use the Bears' second-round pick on Florida linebacker Jon Bostic, whom the Bears ranked as the best athlete among inside linebackers in this year's draft, and whom the Bears feel is a versatile, three-down linebacker:
"We brought him in for a visit and we felt very good about his football aptitude and his ability to line everybody else up on the field," Emery said. It's extremely important at the end of the day because it separated him from some others, and obviously the more football-smart the players we bring in, the better we're going to be.
"That lends him towards flexibility as a football player and being able to say, 'Hey, I've been practicing the 'Mike' 'backer, but I'm a smart individual. I understand the other two positions. 'Sam' goes down for 10 plays, they can plug me right in because I have a very good football aptitude and know how to adjust."
"The reason we like Jon, he's a three-position linebacker," Emery said. "It was very important that if we were going to take a linebacker in the second round that we get somebody who could immediately fill in in all three spots if one of our starters was not available due to injury and we would have a good football player in place."Source: ChicagoBears.Com
Bostic played four years at Florida, starting there three of those years. Over that time (51 games), he totaled 237 tackles, 19.5 tackles for loss, eight sacks, and five interceptions.
The 6'1", 245-pound linebacker ran a 4.61 40-yard dash at the Combine, the third-best linebacker time. He also finished tied for the third-best linebacker time in the three-cone drill (6.99), and the fourth-best linebacker time in the 20-yard shuttle.
Along with being a tremendous athlete for the linebacker positon, Bostic is known as a bone-crushing hitter, as evidenced by his hit on Louisville star quarterback (and potential No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft) Teddy Bridgewater (picture of that hit above, video below).
Here's NFL.Com's "overview" of Bostic on his draft profile page:
Bostic played well enough as a junior to test the NFL draft waters, but he returned in 2012 as part of a very talented Gators defense. That same unit is loaded with junior talent, but Bostic was one of the true veteran leaders and saw a 7-6 2011 campaign transform into an 11-1 senior season. Bostic is an aggression setter, delivering big hits against opposing ball carriers in the lane or on receivers asked to run shallow crosses.
As one of the top inside linebacker prospects in the nation out of high school, Bostic had his choice of destinations. He arrived in Gainesville a semester early, and the extra work paid off with significant time on the field on special teams and the occasional spot at linebacker (he had 18 tackles on the year). He played every game of his sophomore year, starting the teams' first five games plus the Florida State matchup later on; Bostic intercepted three passes that year in addition to making 57 tackles, 2.5 for loss, and 1.5 sacks. Finally given the reins to the defense as a junior, Bostic led the team with 94 tackles, 10 of which went for loss, and three sacks. As a senior, he tallied 62 total tackles, including 6.5 for loss and three sacks.
And here's their "bottom line" summary of Bostic as an NFL prospect:
Bostic is an absolute hammer in the middle of the Gators defense, especially against the run. He fights to take out blockers and to accomplish his assignment, but when he attacks with his shoulder Bostic fails to make a play on the football.. Even though he’s not as tall as some coaches would like, his production (he led the Gators with 94 tackles as a junior), onfield attitude and instincts for the ball make him a potential mid-round pick and gives him a chance to eventually earn a starting job at the next level.
My Grade: B
After taking Long with the first pick, I really thought the Bears had to address linebacker in the second round, especially with "the run of linebackers" taking place before their pick (Ogletree, Te'o, and Minter off the board). And the Bears didn't have a third-round pick. If you wanted to get one of the better linebacker prospects, a guy that you could legitimately envision starting and being an impact player soon, this was seemingly the spot to do it.
Now, I'm very much against reaching for a need; I'm a "Best Player Available" guy for the most part. But as the Bears' pick approached, Brown and Bostic were notable guys still there, and that's the direction I found myself leaning in regards to my hopeful selection.
However, like the first round, I was hoping the Bears would trade down and acquire another pick or two, unless the player was a talent just too good to pass up. Clearly, the Bears felt Long was that good, even though many thought he would still be around in the late first, early second round. And they apparently felt Bostic was that good. Emery said that there were a couple of trade offers out there, but not any where they felt the value was good enough to pass up on the opportunity to select Bostic.
As I already said, I preferred Brown over Bostic, but I had my concerns about him, with his size and ability to handle middle linebacker in the NFL. And I'll always trust the knowledge of front offices and scouting that spend hour and hour studying these players, much over my own knowledge (and I'd hope you would too). And again, every other team was passing on Brown until the Ravens and their No. 56 pick came along.
I really like this pick, and really think Bostic has a chance to excel in the Bears' defense. He's extremely athletic, has impressive range, and is going to keep the tradition of hard-hitting linebackers going in Chicago. He should be a fan-favorite. He also has proven veteran linebackers such as Williams, Anderson, and some guy named Lance Briggs to learn from. This is a terrific situation for him and his skill-set.
Many considered this pick a reach from Emery, but in a few years, I really doubt that we look at it that way.
Let's go to the links for more on the Bostic selection...
Florida LB Bostic edges out field- Jeff Dickerson takes a look at the Bostic pick with some quotes from Emery. (ESPN Chicago)
Second-round pick pick Jonathan Bostic not worried about filling Brian Urlacher's shoes-
“It’s not pressure at all to me,” Bostic said Friday. “It’s more of a guy that I can pretty much watch and learn a lot of things from on film. [The Bears defense is] going to keep a lot of the scheme and the terminology the same. So I’m just really excited to get out there.”
“I know [the Bears] have a great tradition at linebacker, especially with the two that actually just left his past year and especially the one that played [in the middle],” Bostic said. “I know it’s going to take a lot of work, a lot studying to do to be able to catch up to the speed of the game.”
Bostic brings lot to Bears table- Dan Pompei with a look at the Bostic pick. (Chicago Tribune)
Rapid-reaction: 2nd-round pick Bostic- Michael Wright reacts to the Bostic selection. (ESPN Chicago)
Jon Bostic Video Highlights:
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