The top prospects seem set for the Chicago Bears in the upcoming draft. So what is the long-term outlook for each of them?
Aaron Donald – DT – Pitt
The Pitt defensive tackle is probably the hottest name at his position in the NFL draft. Aaron Donald is a dynamic interior pass rusher who made a living in opposing backfields last season, either sacking the quarterback or making tackles for a loss. His explosion and quickness are elite but his body size is ordinary as is his arm length.
Best Case: Geno Atkins type disruptor
Those who remember probably heard the same exact question marks surround Cincinnati Bengals DT Geno Atkins when he entered the draft. Now he’s a two-time Pro Bowler. The best part is they are almost identical in terms of measurements and Donald is actually faster. If he can add on some weight without losing that speed there’s no telling what he can do in a system tailor-made for him like the Chicago Bears.
Worst Case: Rotational interior pass rusher
At the same time there are legitimate questions to consider regarding Donald’s size. While it benefits him when getting off the snap and shooting gaps, he’s also quite vulnerable to bigger offensive linemen, particularly when defending the run. If his first move is handled, he can be easily pushed out of the way. Should that become a problem he can’t correct, the best he can hope for is a job as rusher on passing downs.
Justin Gilbert – CB – Oklahoma State
An uber-athletic corner with everything going for him. He’s has the height at 6’0″ coupled with blazing speed, terrific athleticism and blooming instinct in coverage. No receiver can outright beat him when his technique is sound and he also adds value as a returner. Still, he doesn’t exactly play tough like many corners, offering little effort against the run.
Best Case: Deion Sanders type shutdown corner
Those who remember might reference the fact that Deion Sanders was next to useless against the run too. That didn’t stop him from shutting down receivers, reaching eight Pro Bowls and putting a bust in the Hall of Fame. Gilbert has that kind of height, speed and athletic potential. On top of it, Sanders was also a very good return man both with interceptions and punts.
Worst Case: Depth body and special teams help
The problem with Gilbert is not physical. It’s mental. He does tend to play a little soft at times, not showing the aggressive streak the great ones typically have. Effort is spotty with him as he prefers to lean on his natural skill rather than strive to get better. Than could be youth and immaturity or just who he is. In such cases the player becomes little more than a good depth guy in the secondary with special teams value.
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix – FS – Alabama
No safety has the natural gift of playing coverage on the back end of a defense like Alabama standout Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. His ability to track the ball, read the quarterback and cover sideline-to-sideline seems effortless. The upside is too easy to see. Yet questions linger about his tackling prowess, a problem facing many safeties these days and he also can’t seem to turn that coverage prowess into more impact plays.
Best Case: Earl Thomas centerfielder type
Something to remember is that Clinton-Dix played on a good defense in 2013 but also one that lacked a consistent pass rush, which might explain his lack of interceptions. His instincts, length and athleticism will remind a lot of people of Seahawks superstar Earl Thomas. Even the leadership qualities are there, if unpolished. If the light ever goes on, quarterbacks will always have to make sure they know where Dix is before the snap.
Worst Case: Starter but not a difference-maker
The worst thing, to me anyways, is when scouts refer to a player as that “starter you look to eventually replace.” It implies the guy is a nice fill-in for the time being but the team can obviously do better. Such a depressing though considering all that Clinton-Dix is capable of. Still, there is that possibility he’ll be nothing more than that guy who is adequate but tends to get beat by the better quarterbacks.
C.J. Mosley – LB – Alabama
As complete a football player as there is in the 2014 NFL draft. C.J. Mosley has everything going for him. He’s not just intelligent but also instinctive. He can lead a defense and diagnose a play before it happens. Athleticism and speed are cornerstones of his game coupled with terrific intangibles that teams covet, especially in players with such talent. Still, there are health concerns and he does lack some power when dealing with offensive blockers.
Best Case: Derrick Brooks tackling machine
Being a linebacker and maybe being the fastest man on the field is saying something. Derrick Brooks was that guy on a lot of Sundays and it showed. Nobody flew to the football, hit ball carriers and made game-changing plays like Brooks did. He was equally good against the run and the pass. Mosley is just as athletic, is taller and longer and flies to the football with great speed.
Worst Case: Favorite son of the Injured List
There is no doubt the Chicago Bears would be all over Mosley and his potential if not for the great equalizer: medical background. Despite clear signs of toughness dating throughout his college career, Mosley has problems staying healthy. Hip, elbow and shoulder ailments dogged him throughout his time at Alabama. One can only imagine how much worse those might get at top level. Early on he will make plays, but as the hits pile up there a good chance he’ll spend more time in rehab than on the field.