Before the college season kicks off, we’ve been trying to bring Chicago fans some players to keep an eye on for their potential as future Bears. Here’s a quick recap of previous write-ups:
Courtland Sutton earned praise coming out of the non-Power 5 conferences. Defense was the focus when scouting the ACC. Meanwhile, the PAC-12 offered prospects all around the field on either side of the ball. The Big 10 seemed to have some players specific to Chicago’s needs. Now, we’re on to the Big 12.
The Big 12 only had 14 players drafted in 2017, only 3 players ahead of Michigan. The Big 12 has been hurting for a while now, at least in part because of recruiting, but also because there are fewer teams in the conference. However, heading into the 2017 season, there is talent in the Big 12, and some of that talent could help patch some very obvious holes in Chicago’s roster.
Josh: Pace has been bold with previous draft selections, but after landing what Bears fans hope will be his signature player in Mitchell Trubisky, it’s time for him to play the averages.
Connor Williams-OT, Texas (6’6”, 315lbs). If a team already has a quarterback and an edge rusher, improving the tackle positions is probably the best use of a pick in the top half of the first round. Connor Williams could represent the sort of obvious, no-nonsense pick that can set a team up for years. I wasn’t sure if I was just seeing what I wanted to see, but then I found this from Daniel Jeremiah of NFL.com:
He's a better player than any of the offensive tackles in the 2017 draft class. He reminds me a lot of Joe Staley coming out of college.
That sounds to me like the kind of guy I want on MT10’s protection detail. Even with Leno’s recent extension, picking up an elite tackle allows the team to improve the entire line, and that’s rarely a bad thing.
Connor Williams - OT, Texas (6’6”, 315 lbs). Although Josh already chose Williams for this slot, I can't help but put him on my list because of how good he is.
Even though next year’s offensive tackle class appears to be stacked, many believe that Williams is the best in the class. He is an all-around dominant blocker with impressive athleticism. His footwork and technique are both sound, he takes good angles to block defenders, and he is a physically overwhelming blocker.
The Bears are strong at the interior offensive line, but their tackles could use some work. Drafting Williams would secure that Mitch Trubisky would have his blind-side protector for years to come.
Hoping They Slide:
Josh: There are some players who are about to spend 2017 trying to give scouts and GMs a reason to move them up the board. There are also some who have made a name for themselves but have left some doubt. One such player is a pass-rusher from Oklahoma.
Ogbonnia Okowronkwo-Edge, Oklahoma (Ht 6’1, Wt 245lbs). To be honest, I do not know where Okowrongkwo is going to be drafted. He’s a disruptive presence with a high motor, and his 2016 campaign featured 9 sacks, 3 deflected passes, and a pair of forced fumbles. He has a reputation for being in on every play, and he has a chance to get to the quarterback on most plays. Promising pass rushers tend to go earlier, but I’m still listing him as a guy who might slide.
There are a couple of reasons for this. Despite his talents, he was only a 1-year starter, and he is about to go from being an OLB to a DE in a different defensive system. That means there is really only one year of decent tape on him, and there are reasons he might struggle. Because of this, some draft boards have him ranked as perhaps the third or fourth edge rusher in the draft, while others don’t even have him ranked. I’ve seen predictions saying he’ll go in Round 1 and some expecting that he’ll sit until Round 4. I suspect that a recent history of some unfortunate penalties (he is perhaps a little too prone to roughing the passer) will lower his draft stock some. I also can’t help but wonder if his lack of length and his status as a bit of one thing and a bit of another will cause him to fall. If he’s on the board after Round 1, Pace should take a look.
Dorance Armstrong Jr. - EDGE, Kansas (6’4”, 240 lbs). As made evident by my recent entries to these past lists, I still think that the Bears can add a young edge rusher in the draft. Dorance Armstrong Jr. is one that they could possibly get on Day 2.
Armstrong is a productive and athletic edge rusher. He totaled 10 sacks and 20 tackles for a loss last year on an unimpressive Kansas team. He has an explosive first step and is great at getting to the quarterback. His usage of hand movements to get past offensive linemen is impressive. He doesn't offer a whole lot as a run defender, as his weight would indicate. If he bulks up like Leonard Floyd did this offseason, then he could solidify himself as a first-round pick. If not, though, then the Bears should give him a look in Round 2.
Later Round Hopefuls:
Josh: I still don’t believe in the Bears’ secondary, and I won’t until they have 4 solid defensive backs with at least one playmaker and a total age closer to 100 than 120.
DJ Reed-DB, Kansas State (5’9”, 188lbs). Okay, I know the last JuCo transfer didn’t turn out wonderfully for the Bears. However, Reed could end up being a real bargain. He’s a little undersized and does not have a strong pedigree. He will have at most two years of real tape available. However, in a single season spanning 12 games, he has wracked up 3 interceptions (one returned for a touchdown), 2 forced fumbles, and 16 pass deflections. He fights for every ball he can, he reads the quarterback well enough that he at least positions himself to make the tackle even if he can’t take the ball away, and it seems like he has the potential to be a play-maker even if he lacks the ideal size and experience for an elite draft prospect.
That’s it from us—who will you be keeping an eye on out of the Big 12?