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The Bears walked into the draft with needs on both lines and all three levels of defense. Depth was also an issue at the skill positions after moving on from Matt Forte and Martellus Bennett. The expectation was to upgrade the pass rush early and then fill needs based on best player available. The skill positions were not addressed until late in the draft and with undrafted free agents, but there are players who should be influential in 2016 and beyond nonetheless.
Leonard Floyd, LB/DE (Round 1, Pick 9 overall)
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This one is for the IDPers in the audience. Defensive Coordinator Vic Fangio did well in 2015 considering the overall lack of depth, but now he gets arguably the most explosive pass rusher from this draft. Chances are, Floyd will be a sub-package player early on, but could shine enough to seize a bigger role soon enough.
The Georgia alum first stands out given his height (6’6”) and lean build (244 lbs). Then the play starts and the sudden first step and surprising flexibility to turn the corner become apparent. Floyd has a variety of pass rush moves to reach the quarterback, including an inside jump cut that is equal parts startling and effective. Add in the ability to chase down plays and the range to cover sideline to sideline – rare for a pass rushing 3-4 outside linebacker.
Not everything is roses for the rookie linebacker. He will be 24 in September, making him an older rookie for this draft class. Unfortunately, that does not come with the polish needed to counteract a truncated development timeline. Floyd’s frame means he lacks strength to deal with offensive linemen, which makes shedding blocks a difficult task. He is also not a big hitter, often relying on dragging down the offensive player, something that could prove to be more troublesome when facing NFL players.
Floyd’s motor will keep him in plays but he will need to add strength to become a consistent option for the Bears. He will have a low ceiling on tackle numbers which will be partially offset by the big plays he generates. In sack heavy leagues, Floyd becomes an intriguing IDP rookie target, but in more traditional scoring formats, he may be no better than a late flier.
Jordan Howard, RB (Round 5, Pick 150 overall)
Howard is the throwback grinder in an era where receiving and versatility are the valued commodities at running back. The former UAB Dragon and Indiana Hoosier was a highly productive runner, averaging over five yards per carry in all three seasons. Even more impressive: Howard had at least 145 rushing yards in all six 2015 games he was healthy. Now, coming to the Bears, there is a huge opportunity to become the primary runner and complement to last year’s rookie Jeremy Langford.
Quite simply, Howard is a punishing runner. His 3.7 yards after contact was best among any running back in the 2016 draft class. However, Howard is also very aware of running lanes and can squeeze himself through a small opening or just completely blow it wide open by accelerating right into contact. What makes Howard successful is that advanced vision and decisiveness that allows him to gain every yard available.
Now, if you are looking for a natural receiver, move on. Howard was rarely an option in the pass game, usually doing little beyond the occasional screen. As a runner, Howard does well but fails to break many long runs due to the lack of top speed. That punishing style also has made Howard susceptible to injuries, which could limit him to a supplemental option in an offense at best.
Howard suffered a minor hamstring injury this off-season, setting him back slightly as he tries to carve out a role in the Bears offense. They do still envision him as a short yardage back with the potential for more. Howard is a mid-second round rookie pick, which seems right in line with his current trajectory.
Daniel Braverman, WR (Round 7, Pick 230 overall)
Braverman will never be mistaken for a strong outside receiver. That said, the Western Michigan alum has the potential to be a very good player in the slot, a role he played in roughly 95% of 2015 snaps. The Bears are currently employing Eddie Royal in this role, a player who has struggled to stay healthy the past four years.
With Braverman, you are getting a crafty receiver who understands the nuances of route running. He changes speeds in routes which allows him to gain separation through deception. One positive that is not emphasized enough is his ability to make tacklers miss. He forces a missed tackle on 22.6% of receptions, among the best in the class.
The reason Braverman plays the slot, however, is that he is a small player (5’10”, 177 lbs) with a limited catch radius (fourth percentile via PlayerProfiler). Only 18% of his receptions in 2015 went for 20+ yards, emphasizing his lack of explosiveness in the pass game.
Braverman is currently being drafted outside the first four rounds in rookie drafts. It is a little surprising considering Marquez North is a mid-fourth selection. Royal will maintain the slot role given his cap number ($4.5 million in 2016) but Braverman could become the full-time slot receiver by year three when Royal’s contract ends.
Ben Braunecker, TE (Undrafted Free Agent)
Yes, the Bears did not draft Braunecker, but as a flag waving member of the Braubackers (fan club name pending), I could not write this article without covering the former Harvard tight end. The team is thin at the position with Zach Miller the presumptive starter, a player who has struggled with injuries and has limited experience at the position. While tight end tends to have a steeper development curve, Braunecker could be forced into an early role if/when Miller gets hurt.
The first thing you notice about Braunecker is the athleticism. He blew up the combine in every drill, testing among the best in all areas. These gifts show up in his blocking ability as he is physical and explosive, overwhelming his assignment. Ben improved as a receiver, showing ability to stretch the seam and use his frame (6’3”, 250 lbs) to box out defenders and shield the ball from them.
The reason Braunecker was undrafted had a lot to do with the low level of competition he faced. Can that athleticism and skill translate to the NFL or will he need to adjust? Before his senior season, Braunecker caught just twenty receptions (48 in his last year). Ben is still learning the subtleties of route running but the potential is there.
Many have Braunecker projected as a move tight end, the type of athletic guy capable of being used in a hybrid TE/WR role. These players are becoming more common as guys like Delanie Walker, Jimmy Graham, and most similar comparable (via PlayerProfiler) Charles Clay have become successful. If Braunecker can sit and learn for a season, he could be the next Ivy Leaguer to make the leap to NFL relevance.