This year, we are trying to look at draft prospects from around college football to add a little bit of Bears-flavored context to Saturdays. We’ve already kicked off the series with the Non-P5 guys and followed up with the ACC. Now it’s time for the PAC-12.
The PAC-12 saw 36 players selected in the 2017 NFL Draft, which was the third-best of any college conference, and they had 3 players taken in the top ten--tied with the SEC for the lead. There is talent out west, and a lot of it would look good playing for the Chicago Bears. The PAC-12 can be exciting to watch on its own, but here are a few players worth watching to ponder what sort of opportunities for improvement they might offer Chicago.
As a special surprise, this week Jacob and I are joined by EJ Snyder, who took the time to add his insights, as well.
Josh: The 2018 NFL Draft looks to be rich in quarterbacks (and at least three of those top prospects play in the PAC-12), and that gives the Bears an interesting opportunity.
Luke Falk-QB, Washington State (6’4”, 225lbs) & Josh Rosen-QB, UCLA (6’4”, 220lbs). No, I have not given up on Mitchell Trubisky before he ever plays a snap. However, Bears fans have already seen GM Ryan Pace maneuver up to to get the player he wants in two consecutive first rounds. It would be interesting if 2018 could be the year he bucked that trend and started to put his eggs into multiple baskets by trading down. The best way for him to do this would be if a prime quarterback candidate happened to be sitting on the board when the Bears’ pick came up.
To be honest, I have trouble seeing Falk as a top quarterback prospect. He comes from an Air Raid offense and has been described as a “functional athlete,” which does not exactly come across as a ringing endorsement. Those limitations might be forgivable, but he also struggles with his arm strength. I think he’s probably worth drafting, but I am glad the Bears are not tying their future to his prospects. However, I would love it if another team (maybe the Arizona Cardinals) fell in love with him and wanted to trade up to snag him.
I have less difficulty seeing the allure of Josh Rosen. He seems to have decent pocket awareness, runs a pro-style offense, and seems to go through his progressions fairly well. On the other hand, he has enough mechanical flaws that I can see him being the QB who is left to go off the board third or fourth, about when the Bears’ pick might come up.
Unless things turn around quickly, at least one of these two is likely to still be on the board around when Chicago is drafting, and that could mean good news for Chicago’s ability to maneuver.
Jacob: The Bears have a handful of talented players at wide receiver, but none of them are true No. 1 receivers. Enter Washington’s Dante Pettis.
Dante Pettis - WR, Washington (6’1”, 188 lbs). Even though Pettis’ teammate, John Ross, was a top-10 pick in this year’s draft, I actually like Pettis more as a football player. He’s an athletic wideout who runs great routes and is dangerous in the open field. He excels at the 50/50 ball, which is surprising, considering his rather small frame. Pettis also has value on special teams: he has had five return touchdowns in three years. Call me crazy, but I see a bit of Odell Beckham Jr. in his game. Don’t believe me? Pettis had 53 receptions, 822 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns last year. With Ross and tight end Darrell Daniels now in the NFL, this could be the year he breaks out as a top prospect.
Vita Vea DT, University of Washington (6'4", 332) & Lowell Lotulelei DT, Univeristy of Utah (6'2", 310). The Bears defense looks very different when a healthy Eddie Goldman is holding down the NT position, but he's had problems staying healthy. If that trend continues Chicago may look for another run-stopping force in the draft and both Vea and Lotulelei fit the bill perfectly. Both players bring serious mass, violent hand usage and excellent reads versus the run to the table.
Hoping They Slide:
Josh: Sometimes a player slides because he comes out in a draft where the emphasis is just offset from his talents. It’s possible that could happen to Trey Adams.
Trey Adams-OT, Washington (6’7”, 310lbs). I am usually one of the first ones to point out that the offensive line is a relative strength of the Chicago Bears. However, Trey Adams looks like the kind of player who might be able to improve almost any line. He’s a monster, but he still shows remarkable athleticism and balance. There are some questions over his arm length (there are no official measurements I’ve seen), and a few scouts think he might need to kick in to guard. However, he is tenacious. Interestingly, most profiles I’ve read mention his pass blocking, but where he has impressed me is when I’ve caught him standing out in the run game.
If Adams turns out to be one of the top tackle prospects, it would be nice if the run on quarterbacks allowed him to slip to the Bears in the first round. If it turns out that he does have some flaws in his game but he still comes out, it would be nice if Pace could maneuver to steal him at the top of the second round.
Jacob: Chicago already has Jerrell Freeman and Danny Trevathan at inside linebacker. They also have Nick Kwiatkoski, who figures to be an eventual starter within a few years. However, they could still use another inside linebacker. What if Trevathan fails to return to his dominant ways after his injury? What if Freeman starts declining soon?
Azeem Victor - ILB, Washington (6’3”, 230 lbs). In that case, you hope for someone like Azeem Victor to fall into your lap. Victor already appeared to be an early/mid-round selection in the 2017 NFL Draft, but he made the wise decision to play at Washington for another year. He managed to stand out on a deep Huskie defense, which is a feat in itself. He is an athletic linebacker who can drop back in coverage and stop the run. Victor has a high motor, and has proven that he can play at a high level. In only nine games last year, he tallied up 68 total tackles. He may need to bulk up a bit to truly become a first-round prospect. If he doesn’t, then he’d definitely be worth taking in the second round.
EJ: I think the Bears have assembled a diverse and talented group of backs this season but anything can happen. Slumps, injuries or plain old bad luck can strike any NFL unit at any time.
Kalen Ballage RB, Arizona State University (6'2", 230) If the Bears find themselves in need of runner who can be incredibly productive in the modern NFL passing game they'd be wise to not overlook Ballage. He has a truly special mix of mix of size and skills. He possesses a rare burst for an RB of any size, but one that is not often seen in backs tipping the scales at 230 pounds. His acumen is in the passing game is incredibly well-developed, as evidenced by the fact he had over a 10-yard per catch average as receiver. He could become a matchup nightmare as a #2 RB in the NFL.
Later Round Hopefuls:
Josh: I liked Adam Shaheen heading into the 2017 Draft, and while I might not have spent a second-round pick on him myself, I have nothing against the idea of adding a big, athletic tight end to the roster. In fact, I like the idea so much I want to see it happen again.
Dalton Schultz-TE, Stanford (6’6”, 240lbs). It might seem strange to talk about adding a tight end when there almost seems to be a glut at the position, but Schultz should be worth a later pick. Matt Miller has him as the fifth-best tight end prospect in 2018, but some boards have him as high as the second-best.
What is true is that he is not the sort of do-everything weapon that Adam Shaheen might develop into. Schultz only has 33 receptions and 2 touchdowns (with under 350 yards) in his two-year career. However, Shultz is a fantastic run-blocker. PFF reports that runs on his side averaged Stanford 5.1 yards per carry, while NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein reports:
What he lacks in splashy production he makes up for in gritty trench play as a blocker. Stanford's running game requires legitimate blocking effort from tight ends and Schultz is up to the task.
His lack of production in the passing game might motivate some teams to pass on him, but if he’s available in the later rounds (he is currently projected to go somewhere at or after Round 5, but I expect he might shoot up once play starts), he could be an excellent counterpoint to Adam Shaheen and might help to make Jordan Howard’s rushing attack even more potent.
Jacob: The Bears could still use another cornerback, despite their free agent additions of Prince Amukamara and Marcus Cooper.
Quenton Meeks - CB, Stanford (6’2”, 195 lbs). Enter Quenton Meeks, who fits what defensive coordinator Vic Fangio likes in his cornerbacks. Meeks, like fellow Stanford cornerback Richard Sherman, is a long and physical defensive back. He’s also an athletic player with a high motor solid ball skills: he has five interceptions in the past two seasons. As he gets another season to prove himself to be the Cardinal’s No. 1 cornerback, he could prove that he can fulfill that role for NFL teams down the line.
Iman Marshall CB, University of Southern California (6'0", 200) Marshall will likely be chosen in the earlier rounds but several things could cause him to slip. The most likely would be a lousy 40-yard dash time at the Combine. If that happens the Bears could look to add this defender as speed is not really his primary game anyways. He uses his size and physical play style to keep opponents from racking up catches in the short zone. Given proper coaching and time he could develop into an effective pres corner in Fangio's system.
What do you think? Who do you think from the PAC-12 would look good with a ‘C’ on their helmet in 2018?