EDIT: With the 93rd East-West Shrine game kicking off at 2pm Central time, live on the NFL Network, we wanted to share Jacob’s article again as a refresher to some potential Bears’ draft picks. Make sure you let us know in the comment section which players in this game have caught your eye as possible Chicago Bears.
The regular season has come and gone, which means one thing in particular.
We can start talking about the NFL Draft now!
Draft season will kick off with a bang on Saturday, January 20, when some of the hottest college football prospects will come together and participate in the East-West Shrine Game in St. Petersburg, Florida. All-star games like this and the Senior Bowl are the perfect opportunity to see how prospects stack up against fellow future NFLers.
The Chicago Bears will be entering what may be the most important offseason they’ve had in a long time. After three years of lackluster results under John Fox, the Bears will hope that new head coach Matt Nagy can inject some life into a team that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2010.
General manager Ryan Pace has done a good job of giving the roster some young building blocks, but it hasn’t correlated to wins on the field yet. This could be the year that the Bears make that leap to becoming a playoff contender. To do so, though, they’ll have to do well in the draft.
With that in mind, there are quite a few talented prospects to choose from in this year’s East-West Shrine Game class. Here are six players whom the Bears would be smart to look at.
Jake Wieneke, WR, South Dakota St.
Alongside tight end Dallas Goedert, Jake Wieneke is part of a one-two punch at South Dakota State which may be the best duo to come out on an FCS school in a long time. Although his teammate has been getting more mainstream attention, Wieneke is a diamond in the rough in his own right.
At 6’4” and 215 pounds, Wieneke has the size and build to be a good possession receiver at the next level. He has impressive body control, a wide catch radius, and is physical on 50/50 balls. He’s a good athlete for his size, and his straight-line speed could make him a dangerous deep threat in the pros. Wieneke is also very good at fighting hard to gain yards after the catch. His route running isn’t incredibly fluid, but he has shown flashes of being a good route runner.
Still not impressed? His production will likely change your mind. In four years at South Dakota State, Wieneke had 288 receptions, 5,157 receiving yards and 59 touchdowns. When you’re looking at small-school players, you want someone who tore up his competition, and that’s exactly what Wieneke did.
In the five games that Matt Nagy did the play calling for the Kansas City Chiefs, he didn’t realize utilize his bigger receivers. Granted, the only receiver over 6’2” that he had at his disposal was Jehu Chesson, but his up-tempo, spread-like offense mostly favored small, quicker guys. While one should expect the Bears to target a few speedy wide outs, they don’t have a true physical threat on the roster yet. Wieneke could fill that role if picked on Day 3.
Marcell Frazier, EDGE, Missouri
Marcell Frazier looks to be another successful product in the edge rusher factory that is the University of Missouri. With players like Aldon Smith, Kony Ealy, Markus Golden, Shane Ray and Charles Harris having come through the school in recent years, Frazier has some pretty big shoes to fill. Odds are he’ll be able to do so.
Frazier won’t have to bulk up over the offseason, as he weighs in at 260 pounds on a 6’5” frame. Despite his size, it’s actually his athleticism that stands out, as opposed to his power. He has great first-step acceleration and has great bend off the edge. He does a great job of using his hands to break free from blockers, which is something a lot of athletic edge rushers coming out of college aren’t too great at. He also managed to add some more upper-body strength to his frame this past offseason, which is apparent when comparing his 2017 tape to his 2016 tape.
Frazier does occasionally hesitate on a few plays, which limits his ability to play at 100 percent. He also isn’t a great run defender and, as a result of playing in Missouri’s base 4-3 scheme, has very little experience dropping back into coverage. It’s his pass-rushing abilities that will get him drafted: he had 17.5 sacks in his last two seasons.
The Bears have quite a bit of work to do at the edge rusher position. Outside of Leonard Floyd, who himself still has a bit to prove, the group consists of aging veterans and low-upside, roster bubble youngsters. They need another pass rusher who can form a dynamic duo off the edge with Floyd for years to come. Frazier could be a solid Day 2 target if they look to trade back.
Tegray Scales, ILB, Indiana
Indiana hasn’t had a winning season since 2010, but they typically do a solid job of cranking out NFL talent. Recently, Hoosiers like Jordan Howard, Tevin Coleman, Dan Feeney and Jason Spriggs have gone on to get drafted in the NFL. Despite a 5-7 record this season, they have a solid crop of players this season. Wide receiver Simmie Cobbs is a top-40 player on my big board who would be a great target for any team looking for a weapon early. Cornerback Rashard Fant and tight end Ian Thomas will likely get drafted, as well. Expect the leader of their defense, Tegray Scales, to join them in the NFL ranks.
Indiana runs a base 4-2-5 defense which involves a safety/linebacker hybrid called a “Husky”. Scales is one of the two true linebackers in their lineup, and he’s usually the one who makes the adjustments at the line of scrimmage. That intelligence shows up on tape, as he does a good job of knowing what the offense is going to run before they actually run it. He’s a reliable tackler who has the athleticism to hunt down running backs efficiently.
Scales uses that athleticism on passing downs, as well. Not only does he have the speed, hip fluidity, ball skills and awareness to intercept passes - he had eight interceptions in four seasons at Indiana - but he’s also a dangerous blitzer, as made evident by his 13 sacks over the past three seasons. Scales is fairly undersized at 6’0” and 230 pounds. He also doesn’t do a great job of shedding blocks, so he will likely have to bulk up a little bit this offseason. Regardless, he’s a talented linebacker who should do well in the NFL.
The Bears may seem to have a deep group at inside linebacker on paper at the moment, but there are a lot of question marks surrounding the group. Jerrell Freeman probably won’t be back next season, and Christian Jones will be a free agent come March. Although John Timu is a decent depth piece, they still need another linebacker to back up Danny Trevathan and Nick Kwiatkoski. Scales’ athleticism, versatility and intelligence would make him a welcome addition to Chicago’s linebacker group.
Godwin Igwebuike, S, Northwestern
It’s always a nice story when a professional football team drafts a play who goes to school or grew up nearby. If the Bears were to draft Godwin Igwebuike, though, they’d be getting more than just a nice story: they’d be getting a very good football player.
Igwebuike is built well for the safety position at 6’0” and 212 pounds. He is a very good tackler who is an asset against the run. He takes very good angles to the ball and is always reliable to bring the runner down. The redshirt senior is a solid - good, but not great - athlete who also has good ball skills, as made evident by his production: he had seven interceptions at Northwestern, including two this season. Igwebuike, pronounced “ig-weh-byu-kay”, played free safety in college, but he may actually be better suited as a strong safety in the pros due to his tackling abilities and his athletic ceiling. For what it’s worth, he’s also apparently a pretty talented singer.
The Bears seem to have a talented young safety duo in the form of Eddie Jackson and Adrian Amos, but the depth behind them is lacking. Veterans like Quintin Demps and Chris Prosinski probably won’t be on the team next year. DeAndre Houston-Carson is a reliable special teamer, but Deon Bush hasn’t done much as a Bear and Deiondre’ Hall has only played in 10 games in two years. Picking Igwebuike in Round 4 or 5 wouldn’t be a bad insurance option.
Cam Serigne, TE, Wake Forest
When you think of top-tier teams in the ACC, you don’t typically think of Wake Forest. However, the Demon Deacons finished 8-5 this season and defeated Texas A&M in the Belk Bowl. Part of that success can be attributed to star tight end Cam Serigne.
The 6’3”, 250-pound redshirt senior is the ACC’s all-time career leader among tight ends in receiving yards with 1,912. Serigne is a well-rounded tight end who can do a bit of everything. He’s a valuable asset as a run blocker, where he consistently does a good job of creating holes for his running backs, but he’s also a solid receiver. He has reliable hands and doesn’t shy away from physical defensive backs. Although he isn’t a great athlete, he does a good job of creating separation in his routes. And, despite the fact that he doesn’t have elite tight end height, he’s a dangerous red-zone target: he tied for the most touchdowns on his team this season with nine, five of which coming from the red zone.
The Bears already have Adam Shaheen on their roster, so it would be foolish of them to draft a tight end high up in the draft or sign a big name in free agency (sorry, Jimmy Graham truthers). However, they could still be in the market for a backup. Assuming Zach Miller retires and Dion Sims gets cut, Chicago doesn’t have a truly reliable backup plan in place. Matt Nagy used Chiefs backup Demetrius Harris a bit in his six-game stretch of calling plays - Harris was targeted 19 times in that span - so one would expect him to pursue a good backup this offseason. Serigne would definitely fit that bill.
Chad Thomas, EDGE, Miami (FL)
Miami surpassed a lot of people’s expectations this season. Despite losing quarterback Brad Kaaya, tight end David Njoku and other key contributors to the pros, they managed to get even better in 2017, beating their 2016 record by one win. They also picked up big wins against the likes of Notre Dame and Virginia Tech before making an appearance in the Orange Bowl. Part of their success was due to their defensive line, led by edge rusher Chad Thomas.
If you look at the stat sheet, then Thomas’ impact on Miami’s defense won’t really be apparent. After all, he has only had nine sacks in his past two seasons. While this is concerning to some degree, his tape shows that he really is a force to be reckoned with.
At 6’6” and 275 pounds, Thomas is absolutely huge, maybe a little too much. He is a strong rusher who has an effective rip move. However, what’s really surprising about his game is just how athletic he is. He moves like somebody 20 pounds his inferior. His first-step acceleration, bend off the edge and closing speed are all impressive. His size and strength allows him to be a versatile threat, as Miami has had him line up as a stand-up edge rusher, a 5-tech and as a stand-up 3-tech and 1-tech defensive lineman. Thomas isn't great against the run just yet, but his physical tools can likely translate into improvement in that area.
As mentioned earlier, Bears obviously need help at the edge rusher position. Outside of Leonard Floyd, nobody on the roster is a lock to come back next year, and nobody else is a young, up-and-coming talent. I expect them to address the position within the first two rounds of the draft. Depending on how the draft plays out, though, they might not be able to find good value in Round 1. If that were to be the case, then they would definitely have to find a good EDGE fairly early. I currently have a third-round grade on Thomas, and the Bears don't have a third-round pick this year. If they decide to trade back in either of the first two rounds, though, then they might be able to pick up a slot in Round 3. In that case, Thomas would be a very good pick to help bolster a relatively weak edge rushing group.