The linebacker position is the most important one in a 3-4 defense. But in the case of the Chicago Bears, the linebacker position symbolizes greatness. In 2019, however, this position was a mixed bag. Kahlil Mack (8.5 sacks, 13 tackles for a loss), Roquan Smith (101 tackles), and Danny Trevethan (70 tackles, 3 TFLs) held their own. But Leonard Floyd, Aaron Lynch, Isaiah Irving, Kevin Pierre-Louis, Joel Iyiegbuniwe, James Vaughters, Devante Bond, and Josh Woods combined for just 78 tackles and five sacks last season, leaving much to be desired from the group as a whole.
Nick Kwiatkoski did his job in a reserve role the past four seasons that also saw him make 22 starts (among 57 games played), but he signed a $21 million free-agent contract with the Las Vegas Raiders in late March. Likewise, the Bears signed Robert Quinn and Barkevious Mingo in free agency to boost their options at linebacker. Quinn is expected to upgrade the Bears' pass rush while there's really no way to know how Mingo will fit in as he has started 38 over seven seasons for five different teams.
Their arrival resulted in the departure of some other players, as Floyd, the ninth overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, was released and signed with the Rams and Pierre-Louis landed in Washington. Lynch is still a free agent following his release. But all of these changes don't mean Chicago is done with the linebacker position either. The Bears could decide to use one of their picks in this week's draft to add some more competition in training camp. Here are some linebackers that the Bears could target in the draft.
Joe Bachie, ILB, Michigan State
This former Spartan is a slight risk due to his injury history (only played in two games last season), but he's a beast when healthy. Bachie recorded 285 tackles, 28 tackles for a loss, seven sacks, five interceptions, 11 pass deflections, and four forced fumbles during his time in East Lansing (2016-19). He also pitched in on special teams and was unblockable at times.
Oluwole Betiku Jr., OLB/EDGE, Illinois
This athlete thrived in Lovie Smith's favored Cover-2 defense as a 4-3 lineman for the Illini, but his speed, explosiveness, and flexibility has some projecting him to play outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. After transferring from USC, Betiku made his presence felt in his one season at Illinois. He finished with 37 tackles, 13 tackles for a loss, and nine sacks in helping the Illini break their bowl drought. Should he end up with the Bears, getting the chance to learn from Khalil Mack and Robert Quinn could really speed up Betiku's development as a pass rusher.
Carter Coughlin, OLB/EDGE Minnesota
Coughlin was a mainstay for the Golden Gophers during his career. In 47 games, he recorded 158 tackles, 40 tackles for a loss, 22.5 sacks, eight forced fumbles, and four pass deflections. A two-time second-team All-Big Ten honoree, his production and leadership will certainly be missed in Minnesota. Coughlin could earn a spot on the Bears' or another NFL team's roster as a core special teams player and then develop into a situational pass rusher.
Troy Dye, ILB, Oregon
Dye was a tackling machine throughout his four-year career and served as the heart and soul of the Ducks defense. A linebacker in college, some scouts and analysts believe he has the skills to play safety. Production ( 391 tackles, 41.5 tackles for a loss, 13 sacks, five interceptions, 14 pass deflections, and four forced fumbles) was certainly not an issue as he made the most of his football IQ and athleticism to make plays from sideline-to-sideline. His lack of size (6-3, 231) probably means he will need to move to the outside but in the right system, he has the skills to help a team right away.
Casey Toohill, OLB/EDGE, Stanford
Toohill is already familiar with some of the defensive concepts that the Bears use as Stanford is among the few college teams that employ a 3-4. And after posting his best season for the Cardinal (8.0 sacks, 11.5 TFL) in his first as a full-time starter, Toohill appears to be entering the draft at the right time. He possesses an NFL-ready frame (6-4, 250) and could develop into an effective situational pass rusher.
Evan Weaver, ILB, California
Weaver began his Golden Bears career as a defensive end but finished at linebacker where he developed into one of the best in the nation at the position. Weaver finished with 412 tackles, 23 tackles for a loss, 8.5 sacks, two interceptions, 11 pass breakups, and three forced fumbles. He was a consensus All-American and the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year as a senior. He's a bit undersized but if given the opportunity, he should be able to make an NFL roster as a special teamer with the potential to develop into a situational player on defense.
— Gabe Salgado is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He's a co-host of The Rewind Sports: 60. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.