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Bears College Prospect Preview: Big 10

The Big 10 is Chicago’s “home” conference. There is definitely some talent worth keeping an eye on close to home, too.

NCAA Football: Michigan at Ohio State Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

The Big 10 saw only 35 players drafted in 2017, good for fourth among major conferences. An amazing proportion of those players came from Michigan (11), which led all schools. Heading into the 2017 season, there is talent at every level in the Big 10, and there are some players who should make things really exciting in Chicago’s “home” conference.

Top Targets:

It would be really nice if Leonard Floyd had some young help opposite him, and I think the Big 10 has a great candidate for exactly that.

Tyquan Lewis-EDGE, Ohio State (6’4”, 266lbs). Lewis brings a little thunder to Floyd’s lightning. Pro Football Focus credits Lewis with 42 pressures from the left side, second among returning edge rushers (they credit him with 51 total pressures overall). One of the interesting things about Lewis is that blockers usually do manage to get between him and the quarterback--it just doesn’t seem to help. One stat from PFF’s write-up summarizes my impression watching him:

“His power was one of his best assets last year as he applied a bull rush pressure every 18 rushes, which was the best rate in the draft class”

Emphasis added. Lewis is consistently placed in the top half of the first round among prospects, but he seldom cracks the top 8. In other words, he’s the sort of player who wouldn’t need to slide to be there waiting for the Bears. In 2016, he recorded 8 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, and 2 pass deflections. Seeing Lewis go from college DE to an OLB under Vic Fangio would be a pleasure.

Hoping They Slide:

The Bears spent one draft pick on defense in 2017, and that was safety Eddie Jackson. It would be nice to get him some elite company.

Marcus Allen-FS, Penn State (6’2”, 208lbs). Listed as a free safety, Allen is a player who actually serves as a hybrid linebacker/safety on the field. He has no interceptions in his three-year career, but he has broken up 8 passes, forced 3 fumbles, and recorded 2 sacks. The man is aggressive, and he explodes into people. He seems to take it personally that the other team thought it was worth trying to play against him, and he is actually able to bring down players in an open field (I know, right?).

As things stand right now, he will probably go off the board before the Bears’ second pick comes around, but it’s not clear that he would be worth a mid-first round pick because his ball coverage skills need a bit of work. However, if he were sitting on the board after one round, it would be nice to pick him up, even if it meant Pace needed to go up earlier in the second to get him.

Later Round Hopefuls:

So, I’m going to fixate on the safety position for a bit, both because I think it’s still a weakness of the team but also because the Big Ten has another defensive back who might follow the grand Chicago tradition of throwing a mid-draft pick at the secondary and hoping it works out.

Godwin Igwebuike-FS, Northwestern (Ht 6’, Wt 212lbs). In three seasons of college football, Igwebuike has managed 5 interceptions and 15 pass deflections as well as a pair of forced fumbles. At his best, Igwebuike displays the range across the field and an instinct for the ball that can get a player opportunity in the NFL. What I’ve been able to read about him suggests that he is also a leader on the defense and a unifying presence in the locker room.

I am going to be watching to see if he can be consistent enough to merit investment going into the next level. I believe that he is going to be able to find another gear and might even elevate himself into third-round contention, but he might also be a project player who because the ball-hawk counterpart to Adrian Amos--a nice depth guy, but not the anchor of a defense.

I’m also Watching:

There are also a couple of players I am actively undecided on, and I want to keep an eye on just to see what happens.

Jerome Baker-OLB, Ohio State (Ht 6’1, Wt 225lbs). I don’t know what to make of Jerome Baker, and the draft profiles I’ve checked to date don’t help very much. I’ve seen everything from a Round 1 to Round 3 grade on him, and since Baker could wait until 2019 if he wanted, my guess is that if he’s not graded in the first couple of rounds, he’ll go back to the Buckeyes for another season.

That said, Baker does have some nice athleticism, good speed, and solid instincts. I can see him going to a team that values the sort of hybrid role he can fill (the safety/linebacker position), but he has some baggage to overcome. He has frequently been compared to Darron Lee, another talented Ohio State product. Unfortunately, after only one year in the NFL (with the Jets), the verdict is still out on exactly how much Lee (or Baker) can add to a team.

I think he’s a fun player to watch, so I’ll be interested to see what 2017 brings.

Akrum Wadley-RB, Iowa (Ht 5’11, Wt 195lbs). While I really doubt that the Bears will take another late-round running back, I could be wrong. After all, Pace has spent a late rounder on a running back in each of his drafts so far. Wadley is probably a product of good coaching and Iowa’s offensive line as much as anything, but it is fun to watch him exploit the holes that are given to him with his bursts of speed and elusiveness.

That’s it from me. Who are you watching from the Big Ten?