Bears big winners of early combine testing as pass rushers pop originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
INDIANAPOLIS — As Ryan Poles and Matt Eberflus looked down at the proceedings Thursday at Lucas Oil Stadium, a smile had to creep over their faces.
The Bears general manager and head coach just presided over a defense that ranked dead last in the NFL in pressures at 162, per ProFootballFocus. The Bears were 33 pressures behind the Atlanta Falcons, who ranked 31st. The Bears struggled to breathe on opposing quarterbacks when Robert Quinn was around. After he was dealt before Week 8, the pass rush had all the ferociousness of a declawed house cat.
What Poles and Eberflus saw Thursday, when defensive linemen and linebackers tested at the 2023 NFL Scouting Combine, was a deep, explosive class of pass rushers who can help change the Bears’ fortunes in a hurry.
Alabama’s Will Anderson obviously headlines the class. Anderson weighed in at 253 pounds with 33 7/8″ arms Thursday. Check. He ran a 4.69 40-yard dash and probably could have jumped on a flight to Chicago at that point. Check and check.
Anderson, who models his game after Nick Bosa and Von Miller, is everything the Bears need. He has impressed teams in interviews this week and should be the first defensive player taken in the draft.
Anderson’s measurables Thursday compare closely to two elite pass rushers.
Given Jalen Carter’s current legal situation, Anderson should be atop the Bears’ draft board. Run, don’t walk to turn that card in with Anderson’s name on it.
While Anderson did what was expected, several defensive linemen made themselves some money Thursday and showed the Bears that picking early in each round will allow them to retool the pass rush with any number of explosive athletes.
First, there was Georgia’s Nolan Smith.
At 6-foot-2, 238 pounds, there were questions about Smith’s size entering the combine. But the Georgia star raced into the first round of the draft Thursday when he ran a 4.39 40-yard dash while recording a 41.5-inch vertical and a 10-foot-8-inch broad jump.
Smith is the heaviest player to run a sub 4.40 40 and have a 40-plus inch vertical since 2003. Smith’s speed score (weight adjusted 40) slots in at 128.2, putting him right behind Jordan Davis and Travon Walker.
Smith’s 1.52 10-yard split time was better than the ones posted by Nick Bosa, Brian Burns, Von Miller, and Myles Garrett.
Smith likely cemented himself as a first-round pick Thursday, taking him off the Bears’ radar unless Poles adds an extra first after trading the No. 1 pick.
But the edge rushing class was just starting to show off.
Northwestern’s Adetomiwa Adebawore clocked in at 282 pounds and promptly blistered his way to a 4.49 40-yard dash.
Adebawore is seen as a tweener. Most believe he’s best suited to be an interior pass rusher at the next level, but he showcased impressive versatility at Northwestern playing the 5, 4i, and three techniques.
He’s just the fourth edge rusher since 2003 to weigh over 275 bounds and record a 37-inch vertical or higher. His 37.5-inch vertical trails only Mario Williams and Rashan Gary on that list. He bested JJ Watt by a half-inch.
Given his versatility and explosiveness, Adebawore should intrigue the Bears. Having a defensive lineman who can disrupt from the inside and kick out on third down is a luxury few teams have in the NFL.
Adebawore’s stock should continue to rise in the pre-draft process, and he’s someone to keep an eye on for the Bears on Day 2.
Just as praise for Adebawore flooded the internet, Tennessee’s Byron Young ripped off a 4.43 official 40. That’s the second-best time among all edge rushers, trailing only Smith. Young also posted an 11-foot broad jump and a 38-inch vertical. Those three scores rank in the 90, 98, and 97 percentiles.
The 25-year-old is an explosive, twitchy edge rusher with a great motor. While he lacks polish as a pass rusher, Young’s raw athleticism will be too much for teams to pass up. He has the elite first step disruption that teams crave. You can’t teach 4.43 explosiveness, but you can clean up footwork and hand placement.
Expect Young to go somewhere later on Day 2. As the Bears look to build a competent pass-rush arsenal, Young is a guy to keep an eye on.
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While the edge rushers popped Thursday, it would be malpractice, not to mention the guy who opened the most eyes on Day 1 of testing at the combine.
The undersized Pittsburgh defensive tackle put on a show Thursday, running a 4.67 40-yard dash with a 1.64 10-yard split. Kancey’s 40-yard dash time is the fastest by a defensive tackle since 2003. He beat fellow undersized Pitt defensive tackle Aaron Donald’s time by 0.01 seconds.
Kancey’s measurables match up very closely with that of Donald.
Kancey’s agility and quickness show up on tape, where he has excellent closing speed as an interior pass rusher.
Kancey was seen as a fringe Day/Day 2 guy entering the combine and likely secured a spot in Round 1 with his performance Thursday.
That likely takes him off the table for the Bears. But it’s not hard to envision a world where the Bears trade the No. 1 pick to the Houston Texans for No. 2 and No. 12 and use those picks to select Anderson and Kancey.
The Bears’ need for a disruptive three-technique is well-documented.
He might not turn out to be a future Hall of Famer like Donald, but Kancey has the elite traits to be a very good defensive tackle for a long time in the NFL.
Whether or not Eberflus and Poles can find a way to bring him to Chicago, along with an elite pass rusher(s), remains to be seen.
But what was clear Thursday is that this is a deep class of insanely athletic pass rushers. One the Bears are in a prime position to pluck from with early selections in most rounds.
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