INDIANAPOLIS — The Bears have plenty of areas that are in desperate need of an upgrade and additional depth if they want to become a competitive team next season.
Most of the glaring holes are on the offensive side of the ball: quarterback, right guard and tight end are the obvious positions. Especially since the unit finished 29th in total yards and points scored in 2019.
But it isn’t just the offense that desperately needs retooling. Even though the Bears’ defense was clearly the strength of the team last season, it wasn’t nearly as disruptive as the 2018 group that led the Bears to their first playoff appearance since 2010. One of the biggest problems was their dramatic drop in pass rush.
Chuck Pagano’s unit struggled to apply consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks, finishing with 32 total sacks, which was tied for 24th in the league. And this was a huge drop off from the 50 sacks the team registered when Vic Fangio was the defensive coordinator in 2018.
For the Bears to avoid the dip in production for a second straight season, they need to add another player that can rush the QB.
And after talking with multiple top edge prospects in this year’s NFL Draft on Thursday, it looks like, at the very least, Matt Nagy and Ryan Pace are doing their homework.
The Chicago Audible can confirm that the Bears met with at least six edge prospects, including two who were in NFL Network Analyst Daniel Jeremiah’s Top 50 2.0 prospect rankings: the Bears met formally with LSU’s K’Lavon Chaisson (No. 26) and Yetur Gross-Matos (No. 38).
Although meeting with a prospect doesn’t guarantee anything, it is significant that the Bears used two of their 45 18-minute formal interviews on these highly ranked pass rushers. This year, the NFL reduced the number of formal interviews from 60 to 45, which only puts more of an emphasis on the players teams decide to meet with.
K’Lavon Chaisson, LSU, r-Sophomore, 6-foot-4, 254 pounds
Even though Chaisson was only a redshirt sophomore last season, he still stood out as one of LSU’s top defenders for a team that won the National Championship. In 13 games, the first-team All-SEC outside linebacker registered a team-high 13.5 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks and 60 total tackles.
After listening to Chaisson’s interview with the media on Thursday, it’s apparent that he is an individual who is extremely confident in his abilities.
“I’m the most valuable player in this draft,” Chaisson said. “When you hire someone, do you want someone that speaks one language or three languages? I can speak three — rush the passer, drop in coverage and I can play the run.”
In the clip below, Chaisson demonstrates his ability to pressure the quarterback and his comfortability when dropping in coverage.
Chaisson is projected to be a first-round draft pick and realistically is out of the Bears’ range, since they are currently slotted to pick for the first time in the second round. But a player like Chaisson is exactly who the Bears need to help restore their pass rush.
Yetur Gross-Matos, Penn State, Junior, 6-foot-5, 266 pounds
The first thing that stood out while watching Gross-Matos’ tape was his relentless pursuit and overall work ethic.
With these traits as his fundamental makeup, the former Nittany Lion finished with 15 tackles for loss, 9.5 sacks and 40 total tackles.
“I’ve been compared to a lot of people, but I don’t really compare myself to anybody else,” Gross-Matos said. “Coach Spencer in college used to always tell me my work ethic was something of its own, and that’s kind of how it has been.”
This play against Purdue last year exemplifies the motor that Gross-Matos plays with in each game. With Penn State up 28-7 in the final minutes of the second quarter, Gross-Matos is lined up outside of the left tackle and on the left hash mark. After the play-action fake, he doesn’t wait for one of his teammates to make the play but instead locates the QB and immediately chases after him to the right sideline to force an incomplete pass.
On a Bears defense that lacked applying pressure on opposing quarterbacks, Gross-Matos would be a nice addition alongside Mack and Floyd.
Both Chaisson and Gross-Matos most likely will be off the board before the second round, but the Bears will definitely be adding a pass rusher at some point in the draft and, if not, in free agency.
Once that position is filled, the process will continue for the other several needs that are currently on this team.