If there’s one thing that the 2017 NFL Draft taught us, it’s that Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Pace isn’t afraid to draft small-school prospects.
Three of the team’s five draft picks came from a school that was lower than the FBS level. While the Bears are unlikely to draft this many small-schoolers this season, there are definitely a handful of players who fit that criterion who would be great draft picks this season.
In the first of what will be a weekly series here on Windy City Gridiron, I will be profiling small-school NFL Draft prospects, detailing their strengths and weaknesses and how they would fit in with the Bears. I love the draft and am always looking to find that diamond in the rough, so I hope that this series helps me as much as it helps all of you get acquainted with some of this year’s sleepers.
This week, we’re going to take a look at Alex Cappa, an offensive tackle out of Humboldt State, a Division II school in California that has just over 8,500 students.
Weight: 299 pounds
Hands: 9 1/8 inches
Arms: 33 1/8 inches
Wingspan: 77 3⁄4 inches
If there’s one word to describe Alex Cappa, it’s “nasty”.
Cappa is a tenacious, play-to-the-whistle type of blocker. He finishes the play and makes sure that his defender has no chance of making a play.
Watch the very first play of his matchup against Western Georgia. Cappa (the left tackle) loses the pad level battle, but he simply makes the defensive end look silly for attempting a bull rush on him.
Cappa fires off the snap quickly, ready to engage with his opponent. Once he wins the leverage game, there’s little to no chance a defender can break free. Watch how he simply demolishes linemen into the ground here.
Not only is Cappa dangerous as a run blocker, but he’s a poised pass blocker, as well. Watch on this play as he uses an effective side step - not too far inside that his man beats him through the C gap, but not too far outside that his man cuts inside and goes through the B gap - to match up with the edge rusher. He also uses a powerful punch which blows his man off course.
That impressive side step is on display throughout his tape, showing off a bit of that athleticism that pro teams love out of their offensive tackles. Here it is during Senior Bowl practices against USC edge rusher Uchenna Nwusu, a player whom I have a late third-round grade on.
If Cappa faces off against a more powerful edge rusher, then he can more than hold his own and match them athletically. If he faces an outside linebacker or defensive end who’s more athletic, then he can overpower them if they make a mistake. Cappa’s also good at recovering from his own mistakes. During the actual Senior Bowl game, he faced off quite a bit against Oklahoma edge rusher Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, who is one of the most athletic edges in this year’s class.
On this play, Okoronkwo initially beats Cappa off the snap with his explosiveness. However, Cappa recovers just in time, took a great angle to his defender and demolished Okoronkwo before he could get to the quarterback. That extra time allowed Kurt Benkert to throw a touchdown pass to Rashaad Penny.
BIG PLAY!— NFL Network (@nflnetwork) January 27, 2018
Kurt Benkert steps up and drops a DIME to @pennyhendrixx in stride, who goes 73 yards to the house!
: 2018 @seniorbowl | NFL Network pic.twitter.com/Z2NntAA8y4
For what it’s worth, Cappa is also a pretty good juggler, too. He was asked to juggle two tennis balls while shuffling his feet for one of the drills at the Senior Bowl. Cappa took three balls instead of two. The coach said that he only needed two, unless he could juggle. Cappa told the coach that he could juggle, and proceeded to perform the drill flawlessly with three tennis balls.
Humboldt State OT Alex Cappa is an overachiever. pic.twitter.com/C0sl6oUQDt— Dylan DeSimone (@DylanADeSimone) January 25, 2018
Although this is more of a cool fact than an indicator of how Cappa will do in the NFL, it does show that he is coordinated and athletic.
Cappa measured in at just under 300 pounds at the Senior Bowl, so he will likely have to gain a little bit of muscle weight before he goes to the pros. He’s a strong guy, but he can have issues against quick-twitched athletes. Watch here as Utah edge rusher Kylie Fitts bats away Cappa’s hands, leaving him prone to get spun past.
The players Cappa has played at the Division II level aren’t nearly as explosive as the players he’ll face in the NFL, so he’ll have to gain a bit of upper-body strength and work on his hand usage before the draft.
Despite having displayed quick feet on tape, Cappa didn’t move quick enough at the Senior Bowl to stop the aforementioned Okoronkwo. The undersized edge used his incredible speed and bend to fly right past him. Cappa took a poor angle to the defender and paid for it.
Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, EDGE out of @OU_Football, showing some excellent bend, speed, and leverage while working against Alex Cappa in #Seniorbowl. Height wont hold him back with skills like those. #NFLDraft #NCAAF #OU pic.twitter.com/BepOitFTUa— Freshly Distilled Analysis (@Draft_On_Tap) January 27, 2018
Cappa is a solid athlete, but he’s not polished enough to put that to use at left tackle right now. He might be best suited as a right tackle or even as a guard in the pros, which is perfectly fine. However, the way he is right now, his best fit would not be on the blind side.
I currently have an early Round 3 grade on Cappa. The Bears don’t have a third-round pick this year, but if they were to trade down in the second round and select him late in the second, then I would have no qualms with them doing so.
Fit with the Bears
Humboldt State ran a lot of zone-blocking plays with Cappa, which is some that both Bears head coach Matt Nagy and offensive line coach Harry Hiestand utilize in their West Coast-style of offense. From a schematic point of view, Cappa won’t have to adjust much if he were to play for the Bears.
After having watched two of his regular season games, his Senior Bowl practices and his performance at the Senior Bowl itself, I don’t think that Cappa is a Day 1 starter. If the Bears were to take him, then it would be a situation similar to that of Adam Shaheen last year. They would need to have a veteran place-holder on the roster to start while Cappa would get used to the NFL game.
However, Cappa has the potential to be a very good offensive lineman in the pros. He’s mean, he’s nasty, he’s ruthless, and he’s a solid athlete. He’s the type of player that, if he’s coached up well - and Hiestand would definitely do that - he could develop into a very good starter.
Upcoming prospects: Nathan Shepard, DL, Fort Hays State; Daurice Fountain, WR, Northern Iowa; Michael Joseph, CB, Dubuque; Brandon Parker, OT, North Carolina A&T
Are there any other small-school prospects you’d like me to profile this offseason? Let me know in the comments below.