The SEC has led the NFL draft pick scoreboard for 10 straight years. In 2017, the 53 players selected out of the SEC meant that over 20% of the draft belonged to a single conference. There’s a lot of talent potentially coming out of the SEC next year, too.
[Note: This article has been updated with additional previews]
Josh: Can a player have shoulder surgery, disappear off the radar for “personal reasons”, miss practice over the summer due to recovery, and then show back up as a Top 5 draft choice before playing another snap? He can if he’s that good.
Arden Key-EDGE, LSU (6’6“, 260lbs). I really don’t know what I could write about Arden Key that has not already been said. He has speed, he has power, and he has an already-developing toolbox of tricks to get to the passer.
Because there is so much positive to say, I’m going to focus on the three things that I enjoy the most about his game. His first step borders on “instant” instead of simply “quick.” His length seems unfair and he uses it well. He is a frontrunner for the Butkus Award.
A few people do have concerns about his overall strength, especially given his injury, but by the time the draft comes around, any such concerns will probably be answered.
Calvin Ridley - WR, Alabama (6’1”, 188 lbs). The Bears could use a true No. 1 wide receiver in their arsenal. Alabama’s Calvin Ridley could become that.
At 6’1” and 188 pounds, he isn’t a giant by any means. However, considering that Chicago has two 6’3” receivers in Cameron Meredith and Kevin White, they don’t necessarily need that. Instead, Ridley’s value comes as an electric athlete. Due to his route running ability, he is very good at creating separation. Once he does, he’s dangerous; he is elusive in open space, and is a threat to score almost every time he touches the football. His hands are impressive, as well.
Ridley has been productive in his first two seasons at Alabama. If he can add another stellar year to that total, then the Bears would be wise to give him a look in the first round.
Hoping They Slide:
Josh: As I’ve noted in the past, until they prove me wrong I will continue to express reservations about the Bears’ secondary.
Ronnie Harrison-S, Alabama (6’3”, 216lbs). This one is a pipe dream and I know it. The Bears have a strong safety (or two), and it seems likely that Harrison will go off the board about as playoff teams start making their selections in the first round. Still, if he elects to come out after his junior year there is a chance he would be on the board by early in Round 2, and if so a fan can dream of having a dynamic safety tandem at last. Andrew Doughty of Hero Sports summarizes it best when he says:
Harrison plays safety like a linebacker, using excellent closing speed to deliver big hits or break up passes. He's surprisingly fluid for his size, doesn't get too handsy and can cover anyone on the field.
He can be inconsistent, but he is sometimes expected to take half the field as his area of responsibility, and he has experience both in the box and playing deep. Obviously, another upside of this pick would be the presumed chemistry with Eddie Jackson.
If I’m honest, I just love watching Harrison play, and while there might be more urgent needs on the Bears, I like the thought of picking up a safety who in his first two years has recorded a sack, a forced fumble, four interceptions, thirteen pass deflections, and a hundred tackles. He can do a little bit of everything, and h does it with authority.
Marcell Frazier - EDGE, Missouri (6’5”, 260 lbs). As I’ve touched upon multiple times in this series, the Bears could use some more youth at the edge rusher position. Although it is a strength now, their future is questionable. Outside of Leonard Floyd, none of their current players at the position are really locks to make the 53-man roster in 2018.
Marcell Frazier is the latest stud to come out of the edge-rusher-producing factory that is the University of Missouri. He has an intimidating frame, at 6’5” and 260 pounds. Despite his size, his explosiveness off the ball really stands out. He has a handful of effective counter moves, which, combined with his speed, helps him blow by offensive tackles.
He caught fire late last year, tallying 6.5 sacks in the final three games of the season. If he can build off of that, then he should easily find himself among the best edge rushers in the 2018 NFL Draft.
Later Round Hopefuls:
Josh: Sometimes I wonder if I’m seeing the same things others are seeing, because I’ll see potential in a player others are less impressed by.
Jauan Jennings, Tennessee (6’3“, 205lbs). Jennings will only be a junior, but I am simply astonished at how little buzz I have been reading for him. He has been left off of multiple lists of top wide receiver prospects even when those lists include players who might wait until 2019. This leads me to wonder if I am missing something or if he could be a steal.
Jennings is physical, and he really wants to pick up yards after the catch. He uses his body as if he’s looking forward to contact, and (echoes of Meredith) is a converted quarterback with a competitive nature and a desire to help his offense excel. If he’s in the 2018 draft and available after the first round, Pace should consider him.
Kamryn Pettway - RB, Auburn (6’0”, 240 lbs). Chicago doesn’t really need a running back. Jordan Howard seems to be their long-term starter, and Tarik Cohen looks like he can be dangerous piece of their offense for years to come. However, you can never go wrong with adding a bruiser like Kamryn Pettway.
Pettway’s style of play can be best described as a bull in a china shop. He tramples over defenders with his incredible balance and overall strength. Even though he lacks top-end breakaway speed, he’s good at making defenders miss. He has very good ball-carrier vision, as well.
If the Bears were to draft Pettway - which is unlikely - then their running back rotation would have potential to be the best in the NFL down the line. He would be a fantastic goal-line and short-yardage back who would likely add a few more years on Howard’s career.
Josh: These players might not be perfect fits for the Bears, but I will be watching to see if they live up to their promise and if they would match the needs of the Beloved.
Byron Cowart-DL, Auburn (6’3“, 283lbs). Cowart is an interesting one. He was originally a 5-star recruit, but he struggled and had his 2016 season cut short with an emergency appendectomy. He has moved from defensive end to defensive tackle (but has the native athleticism, at least I believe, to play as a DE in the Bears’ 3-4 scheme). I am going to be watching to see who shows up at Auburn this year--the disappointing and frustrated young man who only managed 12 tackles in just as many games across two years is uninteresting. The player who coaches and teammates say has a new attitude in a new position--but the same amazing talent--might be a fun story to see develop.
Da’Ron Payne-DT, Alabama (6’2, 320lbs). When people talk about how Alabama defensive linemen like Jonathan Allen look better because of who they play next to, Payne is who they have in mind. Payne is strong enough to simply overpower the men lined up opposite him, but he’s not all brute force. He has some technique, as well, and he is a force against the run. It’s worth noting that while the nose tackle position is covered for the Bears, Payne might be an upgrade. It’s also worth pointing out that Payne might not even come out in 2018. However, he’l still be fun to watch.
Nick Fitzgerald - QB, Mississippi State (6’5”, 230 lbs). Chicago doesn’t need a quarterback, so I don’t expect them to pick one in next year’s draft. This pick, however, is a player who’s on my personal watch list.
Fitzgerald is a raw prospect with a lot of room to improve. His touch is inconsistent, and his decision making could use some enhancement. However, he has a lot of impressive physical tools. At 6’5” and 230 pounds, he has prototypical size for a quarterback. He has one of the strongest arms in next year’s class. He’s also a very good athlete. Last year, Fitzgerald ran for 1,375 yards and had 16 touchdowns on the ground. His agility will make him a dual-threat quarterback who will be tough for defenders to catch.
I don’t expect the Bears to select Fitzgerald in the 2018 NFL Draft. Whichever team does, though, will be getting a high-upside player with immense potential.
Minkah Fitzpatrick - DB, Alabama (6’1”, 203 lbs). The Bears added an Alabama defensive back this year in Eddie Jackson. Why not double down and add Minkah Fitzpatrick to their roster?
One thing that Fitzpatrick has that Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio will love is his versatility. He will be playing at strong safety this year, just one season after playing as a “STAR” cornerback. At 6’1” and 203 pounds, he has impressive length for a defensive back. He is a fluid athlete with natural covering skills and incredible ball skills. Last season, he had six interceptions, which Chicago definitely needs more of.
Fitzpatrick could be an intriguing option for the Bears in the first round, especially if they win about six or seven games. He could be that star defensive back that they need to complete their defense.