It came as a bit of a surprise when the Chicago Bears drafted only one defensive player this year. And the fact that the team didn’t draft any defensive linemen was a real stunner, especially considering the inconsistency in production out of the front seven.
Adding free agent Jaye Howard to the mix will help, but the front office apparently isn’t finished trying to find a sleeper – PFF reports that the Bears had signed undrafted Old Dominion lineman Rashaad Coward, whose Twitter profile also says he’s a Chicago Bear. You can check out the early crop of undrafted free agents the Bears signed here.
Over at PFF, Daniel Cohen writes how Coward could bring an added boost to a defensive line that could use increased production. Coward ranked 21st of 172 qualifying interior defenders who played at least 250 snaps. A balanced defender, Coward had the 17th best rush defense grade and had the 30th best pass rush grade. The Bears’ front seven would welcome a lineman who could play in run and pass situations.
Akiem Hicks was steal in free agency in 2016, but linemates Mitch Unrein (51.8) and rookie Jonathan Bullard (42.4) performed poorly by Pro Football Focus’ standards. Free agent signee John Jenkins is more of a classic nose tackle, but he struggled in 2016, while an injury-shortened season for fellow free agent addition Jaye Howard also came in a down year.
For a fuller scope of the situation, here is a look at how the interior defenders currently on the Bears roster graded out in 2016:
- Akiem Hicks, 83.1
- Jaye Howard, 63.2
- Mitch Unrein, 51.8
- John Jenkins, 44.8
- Jonathan Bullard, 42.4
So, you can see where the Bears would be aggressive in the UDFA market for help on the defensive line.
Only Hicks, Howard, Unrein and Bullard played enough snaps to qualify for PFF’s leaderboard. Jenkins just missed the cut, but played 217 snaps. Help could be on the way in the form of Eddie Goldman (80.0 grade in 197 snaps), and to a lesser extent with C.J. Wilson (75.5 grade in 128 snaps) and Will Sutton (74.8 grade in 174 snaps).
Perhaps this all leads to a camp battle worth watching come the summer. But as of now, it’s a position of glaring need the team hopes works itself out with the players it added in the offseason.