INDIANAPOLIS -- With a shallow talent pool of free-agent edge rushers, the Bears may be compelled to address that weakness in the draft, where the problem is that talented pass rushers disappear in a hurry.
There are several outside linebacker/defensive ends in this draft who are considered impact pass rushers, but five could come off the board in the first round. If the Bears don’t use the eighth overall pick to boost a pass rush in need of help, they have to hope one of the quality edge players falls to their second-round pick at 39 overall.
North Carolina State’s Bradley Chubb will be gone before the Bears make their first selection. But they should have their pick of Tremaine Edmunds, Marcus Davenport, Harold Landry or Arden Key, and one of them may be around in the early part of Round Two.
Davenport was the proverbial big fish in a small pond at Texas-San Antonio, and he grew increasingly bigger in his four years after coming out of high school at 198 pounds. Now at 6-foot-6 and 255 pounds, his game and his body have changed, and he describes his style as “violent.”
“I feel like with strength I was able to develop violence,” he said. “At first I was light, so I had to use speed and finesse.”
Davenport’s impact plays increased along with his size. His sack totals ascended from 3, to 4, to 6 ½, to 8 ½ at UTSA. His tackles for loss did likewise, going from 3, to 7 ½, to 10, to 17 ½.
Davenport gets dinged by critics for having played against a lower level of competition in mid-major Conference USA. But he uses that as motivation. Like when a questioner at the Scouting Combine asked if evaluators hold it against him that he played at “UTEP.”
“What motivates me is really when people say the wrong (school) name,” Davenport said. “You said ‘UTEP.’ I go to UTSA, but yeah, that’s a little bit of motivation, I’ve always got a chip on my shoulder.”
LSU’s Key probably has the best chance of plummeting in the draft because of a rocky senior season, which included shoulder surgery in May, while he was in the midst of taking an unexplained four-month sabbatical from the program.
Asked about it at the Combine, Key responded, “No comment.”
But he said when NFL teams ask, “I tell them the real. That I went through adversity, yes I did, and I made mistakes and bad decisions, but I’m past that. I’m the best pass rusher in the class. I’m coachable, I’m a people person, I’m a loving and caring guy, I got a good smile. I went through it, and I’m past that, and I’m looking forward.”
Last year, the 6-foot-5 Key’s weight ballooned up to 280, but he was down to 238 for the Combine. That excess weight and his absence from the program resulted in his sack total dropping from 12 in 2016 to just four.
Key says some of the drop in production was on him and some wasn’t.
“I got overweight, I was out of shape, I missed spring and summer so I was trying to get in shape during the season and things of that sort,” he said. “There were a lot of double-teams, lot of slide protection, a lot of chip blocks, you name it. If they knew if Arden Key was on the field, they had to game plan for Arden Key.”
Key probably is one of the draft’s best pass rushers, but because of the red flags he raised last year, he won’t go as high as other players with similar talent.
One of those players is Virginia Tech’s 19-year-old Tremaine Edmunds, who has barely begun to tap into his potential. At 6-foot-4 ½ and 253 pounds, Edmunds has the size-agility combination to project to any LB position in any scheme.
He’s also got championship bloodlines. His father, Ferrell, was a third-round draft pick of the Dolphins in 1988 and a two-time Pro Bowl tight end. Tremaine’s brother Terrell, a safety at Virginia Tech, is also at the Combine, and his oldest brother, Trey, is a running back with the Saints.
Tremaine, who repped 225 pounds in the bench press 19 times Saturday afternoon, had a modest total of 10 sacks over the past two seasons, but he had 32 ½ tackles for negative yardage.
Edmunds said after last season he talked with his family about the decision to go pro and went with his gut.
“Deep down in my heart, the NFL is something I’ve always wanted to do,” he said. “I was given an opportunity and my inner gut was telling me that I was ready for it.”
He seems mature beyond his years and credits a strong football family for that.
“It just comes from how my parents raised me,” he said. “Just being around my older brother, hanging around an older crowd. My parents raised me right, so I thank them for that.”
Like LSU’s Key, Boston College’s Harold Landry had a monster 2016 season with 16 ½ sacks and 22 tackles for loss, but saw his production plummet last year to five sacks and 8 ½ tackles for loss. But in the 6-foot-2 ½, 251-pound Landry’s case it was an ankle injury that caused a slip in his production, but not in his game, he said.
“There’s no doubt in my mind I would’ve had double-digit sacks again if my ankle didn’t get hurt,” Landry said. “My confidence, and my talent level have not slipped one bit.”