Sometimes I start a project and really enjoy it. Other times, I start a project and then sort of wonder what I was thinking. It was really the second case as I stared at my prospect pool for the Big 12-only draft. This is not because there isn’t any talent in the Big 12. There is talent there. Most of it is staying in the Big 12. One simple way of explaining the discrepancy: Michigan had 14 players invited to the combine, whereas the entire Big 12 only had 19. In fact, 18 players were invited from the American Conference.
On a whole, I felt more confident in the talent I had to choose from looking at the Non-Power 5 than I did looking at the Big 12. A theme came up regularly, with me consistently over-drafting by a single round. Of my board of about 20 players, only three carries scores (based on my own judgment and aggregating from experts’ boards) that made me feel they had a better chance of making it than not.
With those disclaimers out of the way, here are the rules—I didn’t allow myself any trades, and I didn’t allow players from any of the schools outside of the Big 12. Otherwise, I drafted what I thought would be the best players for the Bears in 2017 using a balance of BPA, position needs, and schemes. You can see the full draft [here] and the choices plus the rationale are explained below. This is an exercise in getting to know players, not a serious recommendation that a GM should follow this strategy.
#3) Patrick Mahomes II, Texas Tech (QB)
I do not think that Mahomes is a first-round quarterback. I’m not convinced that Mahomes is a starting quarterback in the NFL. He’s got decent size and mobility, and he has a solid arm. He doesn’t doubt himself. In fact, it’s hard not to compare him to the guy Chicago just let go. On the upside, most of Cutler’s problems seemed to stem from the circumstances he found himself in. On the downside, most is not all. I do not think Mahomes is as talented as Cutler, but I think he might become a better decision-maker. In real life, if the Bears landed Mahomes in the second round, or even if they got him around #30 or #32, I think I could accept it.
I almost went with: A trade. I know, I said at the top that trades aren’t allowed in these exercises. Unfortunately, there really aren’t a lot of players coming out in the Big 12 who have a first-round grade on them, let alone a high first-round grade. I almost broke the rules to make a point, but then I made myself be good. If Pace were to actually draft Mahomes with any pick in the Top 20, I’ll probably need some time away from a computer and other breakable things.
#36 Jordan Willis, Kansas State (Edge)
As I mentioned earlier, I am consistently picking players one round too early in this draft, and Willis is a perfect example of that. One of only three players coming out of the Big 12 that I have a positive grade on, Willis would be a fine pickup with a low third-rounder or a fourth. Willis has size and athleticism, and he was able to produce sacks and forced fumbles. He will have an adjustment coming into the NFL, but he could very easily begin as a rotational player before finally settling into a starting role.
I never considered: Joe Mixon (Oklahoma, RB) or Dede Westbrook (Oklahoma, WR). I know people who believe that it doesn’t matter what a player does off the field. I know people who say that they only want to see their team win, regardless of what needs to be done to get there. I am not one of those people.
#67) Rasul Douglas, West Virginia (CB)
Douglas is big and solid. He tied for first place in the country with eight interceptions in 2016. He gets his hands on the ball, and he plays aggressively. He doesn’t have the speed (on film or on track) to really stand out, and while he was able to accumulate a good stat line, he’s probably (at best) the tenth-best corner in this draft. Still, he is the best defensive back coming out of the Big 12 (no offense to Ashton Lampkin), and he is the third player from that set I mentioned above.
I almost went with: D’Onta Foreman (Texas, RB). Foreman is a solid sort of player (6’, over 230lbs), but even a quick look at his available tape shows that he’s limited as a blocker, and he also has a lot of fumbles. Worse, he rarely seems to use his size. The good news, ultimately, is that he has the potential to develop into something more, as the basic athletic gift are there. Still, Douglas was the more solid prospect.
#111 Shelton Gibson, West Virginia (WR)
Gibson is fast. He has impact potential on special teams as either a gunner or a return man. And he’s fast. He’s actually the kind of fast that makes you want to watch him play again to see if it’s some sort of trick or illusion. He’s not a finished product at all. However, in the fourth round he’s a good deal, especially when his potential to add to two phases of the game is considered.
I was intrigued by: Vincent Taylor (Oklahoma State, DL). He’s quick and strong, and there are a limited number of men with his athleticism and size (6’4”, north of 300lbs) who are available in the fourth round. He can be still and has trouble moving side-to-side. I don’t think he will be able to rush the passer at the next level, but I do think he could put in some solid reps. Ultimately, he just didn’t offer enough compared to Gibson.
#117 Samaje Perine, Oklahoma (RB)
Perine lacks finesse, and he’s way more of a “take the hit and keep running” player than he is the sort of slashing, change-of-pace back it might make sense to take as a counterpoint to Jordan Howard. However, Perine has a tendency to keep moving forward, and he just exudes power. It might be nice to pair him with Howard and to let them share a load, extending both careers.
I stayed away from: Charles Walker (Oklahoma, DL). Walker already has a concussion history, and he has some other questions surrounding him regarding his motor. Ultimately, I can see why someone would draft him—some of the same generic comments that applied to Vincent Taylor might apply here—and this might be a good place to take a flyer. However, I’m not convinced he’s a fit for a 3-4 and I’m less convinced that the Bears are in a place to take a chance on a player whose medical history might keep him from ever becoming a starter.
#147 Josh Carraway, TCU (Edge)
Carraway has NFL athleticism. He is a project. However, while being a project was enough to make me stay away from Taylor and Walker, in Carraway’s case I think his need for development is a risk worth taking. Part of it is that Carraway has just a bit more “something” in terms of his ability to track the ball and find the play. However, he could stand to be more aggressive.
I almost went with: Aviante Collins (TCU, OL). Carraway’s teammate on the Horned Frogs had me ready to flip a coin. He played tackle in college and is listed as a tackle prospect on NFL.com, even though a couple of other sites have him moving in to guard. He’s strong and he’s willing to use that strength. More knowledgeable types say that he will be limited in which teams he will fit with, but ultimately I really felt the Bears needed depth more on the defensive line than on the offensive one.
#221 Seth Russell, Baylor (QB)
The Russell pick is more about trying to find options at quarterback in a weak crop of students than it is a specific desire to bring in Russell’s talents. He has taken a couple of brutal injuries, but he seems on track to recover. He’s got experience and some decent talent, and under the right circumstances he might be a practice squad player who transitioned into a backup role.
There it is—the Big 12 draft. If the Bears were forced to do this, there would be some talent available. However, this is the weakest class I feel I have put together. I might be wrong, though. Let us know which of these conference-themed drafts would be the most acceptable outcome for the Bears by weighing in below (the links to all of them are above in the sidebar).
Which conference produced the best draft for the Bears?
This poll is closed
The Big 12 (w. Mahomes, Willis, and Douglas)
The PAC 12 (w. Thomas, Bolles, and Webb)
The ACC (w. Trubisky, Hodges, and Johnson)
The SEC (w. Adams, Engram, and Tabor)
The BIG 10 (w. Hooker, King, and Butt)
The Non-Power 5 (w. Reddick, Melifonwu, and Dawkins)