Austin Booker

Why rookie DE Austin Booker intrigued Bears scouts with just 505 snaps in college

The Bears liked Booker enough to trade away a future pick to select him

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LAKE FOREST, Ill. – One of the most intriguing picks in the Bears’ 2024 draft class is fifth-round selection Austin Booker. He’s a young defensive end with tons of upside, but not a lot of tape. Ultimately, GM Ryan Poles was high enough on his talent to use a future fourth-round pick to trade back into the draft to add him to the roster.

After making the pick, Bears scout John Syty explained why.

“You turn on the tape and you see everything you need to see,” Syty said. “I mean, the way this kid wins, the way he’s able to win with speed outside, the way he’s able to come underneath with the counter and then deceptively one of his best attributes is this kid’s ability to win with power. So when you can win all three ways, regardless of how this kid tests, you turn on the tape and you see everything you need to see on film.”

Syty mentioned Booker’s testing because that was one of the questions coming out of the Combine. His 4.79-second 40-yard dash time ranked 19th among all edge rushers in this year’s draft. His 32.5” vertical jump also ranked 19th. Booker didn’t participate in the bench press. The Bears don’t look at those metrics, though. Instead they looked at his high pressure rate, the way he consistently affected opposing quarterbacks, and some of his physical attributes. He’s nearly 6’5” with nearly 34” arms. Those are traits that no coach can teach. Further, the team loves that Booker is just 21 years old. They believe he’ll add more weight and will continue to hone his craft.

“He’s got a slippery way about him,” said head coach Matt Eberflus. “Some rushers just have that ability to work around the tackle on the outside. There was a couple other guys who were like that in the draft this year, but he’s definitely one of those guys. He’s just got a natural ability to just rush the passer and understand that when he gets to the top of the rush, if he gets stuck he can work back inside.”

According to PFF, Booker played just 505 snaps in college, but made the most of that limited time with eight sacks and 12 TFL last year. He played a lot of outside linebacker at Kansas, but the Bears see him as a natural defensive end in their 4-3 scheme. Booker most likely won’t be called upon to play a large amount of snaps as he adjusts to the system and the pro game as a rookie, but the Bears believe he can be a regular contributor on the edge down the road.

Booker didn’t shy away from the “raw prospect” label either. He knows he’s not a finished product and is looking forward to learning more from Bears veterans and coaches alike.

“I know I have a lot of years ahead of me to get stronger, get faster, so just looking to keep growing in the NFL,” Booker said.

Of course Booker wouldn’t be a Bears player unless he was a “H.I.T.S. principle” guy. That’s Eberflus’ philosophy that emphasizes Hustle, Intensity, Taking the ball away on defense and Taking care of the ball on offense, and playing Smart, Situational football. Syty said the Bears saw those traits in Booker right away.

“He’s also got a relentless motor,” Syty said. “I think when you turn on this kid’s tape, it stands out.”

Heading into minicamps it will be Montez Sweat and DeMarcus Walker who start at defensive end for the Bears. Booker figures to compete for backup snaps with third-year player Dominique Robinson and free agent addition Jacob Martin.

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