The Chicago Bears started Day 3 of the 2018 NFL Draft with a roll of the dice by drafting Western Kentucky linebacker Joel Iyiegbuniwe.
Finding linebacker depth was expected to be a priority after parting ways with Jerrell Freeman and deciding not to re-sign Christian Jones, but it would have made more sense had the Bears targeted an outside linebacker to replace the depth lost in letting go Willie Young, Pernell McPhee, and Lamarr Houston. Instead, the Bears added a player at a position of perceived strength. But as we all know, injuries can change that perception rather quickly.
THE PICK (ROUND 4, PICK 115)
- Name: Joel Iyiegbuniwe
- College: Western Kentucky
- Position: Linebacker
- Age: 22
- Height, weight, hand size, arms: 6-foot-1, 229 pounds, 10-1/4 inches, 32-5/8 inches
NEED TO KNOW
- 2017 stats: 13 games, 117 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, three forced fumbles, one fumble recovery
- 2017 accomplishments: First-team All-Conference USA.
— Joel Iyiegbuniwe (@ig_nacious_) February 16, 2018
NFL COMBINE RESULTS
- 40-yard dash: 4.6 seconds
- Bench press: 19 reps
- Vertical: 35 inches
- Broad jump: 117 inches
- 3-cone drill: 7.06 seconds
- 20-yard shuttle: 4.28 seconds
- Forcing three fumbles in 2017 shows an ability to create turnovers, which has been something Bears defenders have had trouble doing in recent years.
- Appears to play faster than his timed 4.6 40-yard dash time. Perhaps it’s because he has smooth movements that show up when he is asked to drop into coverage.
- Experienced special teams contributor who picked up 11 tackles in return coverage in his career. Bears special teams could use an up-tick in production, as it’s been a while since that group has been viewed as a strength.
- Another traditionally undersized linebacker at 6-1 and 229 pounds. Fits the mold of a modern linebacker, but needs to develop some additional strength to play well in his frame.
- Needs to be coached up at the next level, especially if he is to take advantage of his long arms and big hands.
- Size and playing experience limits him to a role as an inside linebacker.
PRO COMPARISON: NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah said Iyiegbuniwe reminded him of Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Kwon Alexander during the network’s draft coverage. Alexander was a fourth-round pick in 2015 who made the Pro Bowl as a middle linebacker in 2017.
WHERE IYIEGBUNIWE FITS
With first-round pick Roquan Smith joining Danny Trevathan in the starting lineup, Iyiegbuniwe joins the reserves and gives the Bears depth at a position that could certainly use it.
Drafting Iyiegbuniwe reminds me of the Nick Kwiatkoski pick from a few years ago and I can see him following a similar path. Iyiegbuniwe playing in a pinch inside could even spring Kwiatkoski to some reps as an edge defender. And if Danny Trevathan has another injury riddled season, we might see more of Igyiegbuniwe than we expect. For now, his primary role will be as a back-up inside linebacker and a core special teams player.