Chicago Bears positional analysis: Outside linebackers

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Chicago Bears outside linebacker Leonard Floyd can be a special player, but he needs to avoid injury and be available for a full 16 games.

    Chicago Bears outside linebacker Leonard Floyd can be a special player, but he needs to avoid injury and be available for a full 16 games. John Starks | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 2/25/2018 6:37 PM

Eighth in a series

The Bears need another young pass rusher at outside linebacker to complement Leonard Floyd, and there are several potentially great ones in the draft, but they won't last long.

 

Floyd, the Bears' 2016 first-round pick (ninth overall), has 11½ career sacks but has missed 10 games with injuries, which have slowed his progress. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio believes Floyd can become a special player, but Floyd needs to be available for all 16 games.

Pernell McPhee is just 29, but he has been playing on borrowed time with knee problems that have limited him to 17 starts in three seasons with the Bears. With just 14 sacks in that time, it's obvious McPhee is, at best, a decent situational pass rusher. If the Bears decide to continue cutting salary, his $7.2 million base this year and $7.63 million next year could be one of the next places they look.

Veterans Sam Acho and Lamarr Houston can test free agency, but both could be back as role players. Acho has additional value on special teams, while Houston had an unexpected five sacks in five December games after he was cut by the Texans and re-signed by the Bears when injuries sidelined Floyd and McPhee. Houston will be 31 by training camp, but he had eight sacks for the Bears in 2015 before a torn ACL limited him to two games in 2016.

Willie Young has 26 sacks since 2014, more than any other Bear, even though he played just four games last season before a torn triceps ended his season. Young is 32, but he led the Bears with 7½ sacks in 2016, and before last season he had missed just two games in five years.

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Acquiring an impact pass rusher in free agency is a longshot, since most teams don't let them escape. And three of this year's best -- the Cowboys' DeMarcus Lawrence, the Lions' Ziggy Ansah and the Falcons' Adrian Clayborn -- are better off as defensive ends in 4-3 schemes. Washington's Trent Murphy would fit better in the Bears' scheme, he's just 27, and he had a career-best nine sacks last year.

The draft has plenty of pass-rush talent, but it will go quickly, as it always does, partly because there is always a tendency to overdraft at the position.

North Carolina State's Bradley Chubb is the consensus best in class, but he could be gone by the time the Bears pick. He has the size to excel at defensive end in a 4-3 and the speed and agility to be an impact player at outside linebacker in a 3-4.

According to Pro Football Weekly's scouting/draft analyst Greg Gabriel, the only knock on Chubb is that he doesn't have a twin brother.

There are five other edge rushers who could go in the first round, especially if you include Virginia Tech's Tremaine Edmunds, a 4-3 linebacker who projects to any LB spot in that scheme and could be just as good as an outside linebacker in a 3-4.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Edmunds, who has been projected to the Bears at No. 8 in some mock drafts, had just eight sacks over the past two seasons, but that's mostly because he didn't have many pass-rush opportunities. He did have 102 tackles last season and 32½ tackles for loss over two seasons, when he also frequently dropped into coverage.

Texas-San Antonio's Marcus Davenport is raw but has the size, length and potential that can't be coached. He's a project from a mid-major but one with a high ceiling.

Boston College's Harold Landry projects best to a 3-4 outside linebacker, as he lacks the size to play with his hand in the dirt. He had 16½ sacks in 2016 but just five last year when he was hobbled by an ankle injury.

LSU's Arden Key is an instinctive and talented pass rusher with a burst to the quarterback, and he can also drop into coverage. But he lacks bulk, can be overpowered and critics contend he played last season with one eye on the NFL.

If the Bears decide to wait until the later rounds, Gabriel calls lanky Kansas linebacker Dorance Armstrong a "poor man's Leonard Floyd." The true junior had 10 sacks as a sophomore but just 1 ½ last year, when he played at 233 pounds. He needs to get bigger and stronger but could contribute early as a situational pass rusher.

• Bob LeGere is a senior writer at Pro Football Weekly. Follow Bob's Bears reports on Twitter @BobLeGere or @PFWeekly.

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