Hey guys, did you remember that the NFL Draft is a thing?
For the first time in what seems like forever, Chicago Bears fans are not focused on the draft in the final weeks of the regular season. With the playoffs ahead of them - and a lack of a pick in the first two rounds - the draft has become an afterthought in Chicago.
However, as the end of the college football season approaches, it would make viewing this year’s bowl games a bit more educational to know which players are good heading into the game. The biggest bowl games are the New Year’s Six: the Cotton Bowl, the Orange Bowl, the Rose Bowl, the Peach Bowl, the Fiesta Bowl and the Sugar Bowl. These games features college football’s best teams, which more often than not, means that they feature the best NFL prospects.
Since I hate myself, I’ve been breaking down hundreds of draft prospects for the 2019 NFL Draft since the summer. I won’t be going into some of the top-tier talent in these games since the Bears don’t pick until the third round, but these players are among those that I could see the team considering this year.
Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl: Michigan vs. Florida
December 29 on ESPN at 11 a.m. CT
Potential Bears targets:
- Chase Winovich, EDGE, Michigan
- Karan Higdon, RB, Michigan
- Lavert Hill, CB, Michigan
- David Long, CB, Michigan
- Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, S, Florida
- Jawaan Taylor, OT, Florida
- Jabari Zuniga, EDGE, Florida
- Cece Jefferson, EDGE, Florida
This game is chock-full of talent, as shown by how long the list is for each team. I’m not even including Michigan’s Rashan Gary and Florida’s Jachai Polite, two edge rushers who will be high in demand in this year’s draft. The slight edge in this matchup goes to Michigan, who was looking like a title contender before getting blown out by Ohio State in November. They have talent on both sides of the ball and are led by quarterback Shea Patterson, who decided to stay in school for another year. They have done a good job of sending out NFL-caliber talent under Jim Harbaugh, and this year’s group is arguably his most talented yet.
Chase Winovich has one of the highest motors in this year’s class. He doesn’t have super impressive size or lower-body strength, but he has active hands, good first-step acceleration and gives his all on every play. Though some see him as a late first-round pick, there is a chance he could fall late into Day 2. Karan Higdon broke the trend of mediocre Michigan running backs, exploding onto the scene this year with 1,178 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns. He is an athletic runner who is also very tough: he can absorb hits and has great contact balance. The Wolverines also have two talented cornerbacks, both of whom could declare for the draft this year. Lavert Hill is an athletic cover corner who is more physical than most corners who are shorter than six feet tall, and David Long is a fluid direction changer who can tackle very well. Either player would be a good addition to Chicago’s secondary early on Day 3.
Florida fell victim to a very tough schedule - as is the case for teams who play in the SEC - but they did a good job of hanging tough with top-tier competition. Though their losses to Kentucky and Missouri were upsets, they managed to topple LSU and Mississippi State and fared very well against out-of-conference play. Their offense has been fairly inconsistent, but they have good players on both sides of the ball.
Chauncey Gardner-Johnson has some issues as a tackler, but he is an athletic and versatile safety who can play comfortably in single-high, two-high and box alignments. Jawaan Taylor is pretty raw, but he’s a massive lineman at six-foot-five and 334 pounds. He’s a surprisingly nimble athlete who is an effective pull blocker and can move well in space. Neither Cece Jefferson nor Jabari Zuniga are in the same league as their teammate Polite, but both bring something to the table. Jefferson is an athletic rusher who plays with good pad level, and Zuniga is a high-effort player with value in run support.
Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic: Clemson vs. Notre Dame
December 29 on ESPN at 3 p.m. CT
Potential Bears targets:
- Julian Love, CB, Notre Dame
- Dexter Williams, RB, Notre Dame
- Drue Tranquill, LB, Notre Dame
- Mitch Hyatt, OT, Clemson
- Austin Bryant, EDGE, Clemson
Clemson enters this matchup as the heavy favorites, and judging by the talent on their roster, it’s not hard to see why. The problem here is that very few of their top stars are realistic options for the Bears this year. Their key offensive playmakers - Trevor Lawrence, Travis Etienne and Tee Higgins - are not draft eligible. Plus, their vaunted defense, with names like Clelin Ferrell, Christian Wilkins, Dexter Lawrence and Trayvon Mullen, consists of a handful of players who will be drafted in the first two rounds next April.
The Tigers still have a handful of prospects who could be selected late on Day 2 or early on Day 3. Mitch Hyatt is coming off of a down year, but he has athleticism in his kickslide, good length at six-foot-five, and a stellar collegiate résumé. He plays on the blindside for Clemson, but he could step in for the Bears at right tackle if need be. Austin Bryant being available late in the third round could be a stretch, but it isn’t impossible. While not technically refined, he is incredibly athletic. He fires off the ball with explosiveness, and he can drop back in coverage. If Aaron Lynch leaves in free agency this year, the Bears will be in the market for a rotational edge rusher.
Notre Dame lost several key contributors on offense last year, but their unit has found a spark with Ian Book under center. Since the sophomore took over in Week 4, they have topped 40 points four times. Their defense boasts players like Jerry Tillery and Te’Von Coney, but the former will likely go within the first 40 picks, while the latter doesn’t fit a big enough need to be selected in the third round. Though they enter this game the underdogs, they have no shortage of NFL prospects.
Julian Love might end up going higher than late Round 3, but he would be a very good pick for the Bears if he were available. He’s an athletic cornerback with good ball skills who can tackle well, and he can flip his hips well and accelerate out of his breaks. Dexter Williams is my personal sleeper at the running back position. He doesn’t have fantastic production over a span of years, but he’s an intelligent and athletic runner who can do a little bit of everything. I expect him to be a late-round pick, but with a good showing in this game and with a solid Senior Bowl outing, his stock could rise tremendously. Drue Tranquill has an extensive injury history - he has torn his ACL twice - and he will be 24 years old in his rookie season. That said, I find it unlikely that he’ll be selected this year. However, he plays with a high motor, he’s a two-time captain and he has some longitudinal athleticism. He could be a solid undrafted free agent signing to compete for a roster spot in the summer.
Capital One Orange Bowl: Alabama vs. Oklahoma
December 29 on ESPN at 7 p.m. CT
Potential Bears targets:
- Anfernee Jennings, EDGE, Alabama
- Ross Pierschbacher, OG, Alabama
- Christian Miller, EDGE, Alabama
- Bobby Evans, OT, Oklahoma
- Dru Samia, OG, Oklahoma
Stop me if you’ve heard this before: Alabama is good at football. They have several players projected to be picked early in the 2019 NFL Draft, and they have many more who will be selected early next year. And the next year. And the year after that. They’re a factory for NFL players, basically.
While players like Quinnen Williams, Jonah Williams, Deionte Thompson and, if he declares, Mack Wilson will be first-round picks, there are still a handful of prospects the Bears could be interested in. Anfernee Jennings doesn’t have much value in coverage, but he’s a very good pass rusher with explosiveness and a good array of hand techniques who could potentially start at the next level. Ross Pierschbacher is a reliable pass blocker with strength, good situational awareness and solid athleticism as a pull blocker who could pique Chicago’s interest on day 3. Christian Miller had a run-in with a serious arm injury in 2017, but he rebounded in 2018 with a seven-sack season. He is an athletic and versatile edge rusher with active hands and good anchor strength.
As was the case last season, Oklahoma has made it to the college football playoffs on their shoulders of a Heisman-winning quarterback. Just as predecessor Baker Mayfield did for them last year, Kyler Murray led the Sooners to a fantastic season that resulted in his getting the highest individual honor in college football. Though Murray likely won’t be playing professional football due to his commitment to the MLB’s Oakland Athletics, he has been nothing short of phenomenal this year. With a stellar offensive line and one of the fastest players in the nation in wide receiver Marquise “Hollywood” Brown, Oklahoma will look to test the Crimson Tide’s stout defense with its speed.
Fellow offensive tackle Cody Ford is picking up steam as a draft prospect, but Bobby Evans should be available in Round 3 if the Bears wish to find a new right tackle. He’s raw, but he has a lot of athleticism in space and plays with a high motor. Plus, he can play both tackle positions, which should help his case as a late Day 2 target a bit. Dru Samia is undersized, but he is also an athletic lineman who is one of the best pull blockers in the nation. The Bears would be smart to give him a look on Day 3 as a depth piece. Though he isn’t playing in the game due to injury, running back Rodney Anderson would be an interesting target for the Bears. Injuries will hurt his draft stock a bit, but he is a well-rounded runner with speed, power, contact balance, ball-carrier vision and value as a receiver. It’s a cliché comparison for running backs in the system, but if Chicago wants to find their own Kareem Hunt for the offense, Anderson could be that guy.
PlayStation Fiesta Bowl: UCF vs. LSU
January 1 on ESPN at 12 pm CT
Potential Bears targets:
- Garrett Brumfield, OG, LSU
- Rashard Lawrence, DL, LSU
- Kyle Gibson, S, UCF
- Titus Davis, EDGE, UCF
LSU enters this matchup as the heavy favorites, as UCF will be without star quarterback McKenzie Milton. The Tigers have a handful of high-profile prospects like Devin White and Greedy Williams, who will both presumably be first-round picks, as well as a few underclassmen like safety Grant Delpit - he will be a hot commodity in 2019; he’s incredible. That said, though, there aren’t a ton of players who stand out as intriguing mid-round prospects that I’ve watched yet.
Garrett Brumfield isn’t a finished product, but I could see him being a starter in a few years with some help from an NFL strength program. He’s undersized at six-foot-two and 299 pounds, his functional strength needs work, and his ability to get his hands inside of the shoulder pads of defenders can be inconsistent. However, he’s a fluid athlete who can pull well and advance to the second level with good acceleration. He would be a good fit in Chicago’s zone-blocking scheme, and he would hypothetically form a very athletic guard duo with him and James Daniels manning the interior in a few years. Rashard Lawrence doesn’t really fill a need for the Bears, but he would be an enticing “best-player-available” selection if he were to fall deeper into Day 3. He’s an athletic interior defensive lineman who packs a punch at the point of attack and is reportedly a vocal locker room leader.
UCF faces tough odds to beat the Tigers, but it isn’t impossible. Qarriel Mack Jr. has done well in Milton’s absence, and they have several young offensive playmakers at their disposal. Their offense didn’t miss a beat in the AAC championship game against Memphis, as they scored 56 points and finished with 698 offensive yards. If they can set the tone on the ground like they did in that game, then UCF could stand a better chance than most think.
While it’s their offense that has gotten them as far as they are, the Knights have some NFL talent on their defense. Kyle Gibson is smaller for a safety, which may make him a possible convert to the nickel cornerback position. He’s a fluid athlete with very good deep speed and good athleticism as a downhill tackler. Though his interception production dropped from four to one over the past two seasons, he has enough skills in coverage to make up for his ball skills. Titus Davis has flown severely under the radar, but he has the tools to make it onto an NFL roster. He fires off the ball with solid explosiveness, he can change direction well in space, and he has good acceleration coming out of his breaks in coverage. He could use some more anchor strength, and he’s very raw from both a mental and a technical standpoint. However, his versatility and athleticism could make him an interesting undrafted free agent signing.
Rose Bowl Game Presented by Northwestern Mutual: Ohio State vs. Washington
January 1 on ESPN at 4 p.m. CT
Potential Bears targets:
- Mike Weber, RB, Ohio State
- Isaiah Prince, OT, Ohio State
- Michael Jordan, OG, Ohio State
- Taylor Rapp, S, Washington
- Myles Gaskin, RB, Washington
- JoJo McIntosh, S, Washington
Ohio State put together several wins throughout the year, but their upset loss to Purdue severely hurt their chances of competing for a championship. Nonetheless, they enter this matchup as the favorites, thanks largely in part to quarterback Dwayne Haskins’ stellar 2018 season. The Heisman candidate’s performance has elevated the Buckeyes offense, and it will see him selected in the first round of the 2019 draft. Not having Nick Bosa for most of the year hurt Ohio State’s defense, but with players like Dre’Mont Jones and blue chip sophomore Chase Young on the roster, the unit isn’t entirely without talent.
Mike Weber played second fiddle to sophomore J.K. Dobbins this year, but he is a speedy and elusive runner who could have a future as a change-of-pace back in the pros. Isaiah Prince is still a work in progress technique-wise, but his athleticism as a down blocker and his lateral agility make him a potential project late on Day 2 or early on Day 3. And though Michael Jordan’s athleticism, situational awareness and technique make him a solid NFL prospect, the fact that the last Michael Jordan who played in Chicago turned out to be pretty good should make the football Jordan an automatic target for the Bears.
Jake Browning’s 25-year tenure as the starting quarterback for Washington will finally come to an end on New Year’s Day. While he has been surrounded by more talented offenses in the past, there are still some NFL talents on this Huskies roster. Cornerback Byron Murphy could be a legitimate first-round pick in this year’s class, and linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven has been productive for them all year, even if there are some concerns about that translating to the next level.
While I grade Taylor Rapp higher than a late third-round pick, there is a chance that he could be available when the Bears pick for the first time in this year’s draft. I see a bit of La’Ron Landry in him, in that he’s a muscular and compact safety who can lower the boom and complement that with instincts and good tackling abilities. If Adrian Amos signs elsewhere in free agency this year, he might be worth a look in Round 3. His partner-in-crime, JoJo McIntosh, isn’t the most athletic safety in the nation, but he’s an intelligent player who takes good angles to ball carriers. I’m personally intrigued by Myles Gaskin as a late-round fit in Chicago’s offense. He has had a heavy workload over the past four years, he is a shifty back with good ball-carrier vision and lateral agility. He has flashed the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield, but he hasn’t been asked to do so all that much in college. Though maybe not a bell cow back at the next level, having a reliable third running back like Gaskin on the roster would make for a very dangerous backfield.
Allstate Sugar Bowl: Georgia vs. Texas
January 1 on ESPN at 7:45 p.m. CT
Potential Bears targets:
- Elijah Holyfield, RB, Georgia
- D’Andre Walker, EDGE, Georgia
- Jonathan Ledbetter, DL, Georgia
- Charles Omenihu, DL, Texas
- Kris Boyd, CB, Texas
Georgia’s valiant effort against Alabama in the SEC championship had many touting them worthy of making the playoffs, but their loss knocked them out of the top four. Nonetheless, they are still a very talented team with playmakers on both sides of the ball. With players like Jake Fromm, Riley Ridley and DeAndre Baker in tow, there’s no shortage of NFL talent in the program.
Elijah Holyfield is a personal sleeper at running back. Despite not being the lead back at Georgia, he has traits that project to the next level. He is a patient runner who can identify holes well, and he is a good athlete with solid lateral agility and breakaway speed. He has proven next to nothing as a receiver, but the son of legendary boxer Evander Holyfield is a well-rounded back with a future in the pros. D’Andre Walker is a fairly raw project as a pass rusher, but his athleticism and versatility in coverage could make him a player worth developing as a late-round selection. Jonathan Ledbetter is undersized for an interior defensive lineman at 277 pounds, but he is a strong player who plays with great pad level and powerful hands.
Texas had some impressive wins this year - including an upset over Oklahoma - but having three regular season losses nearly knocked them out of the top 15. With an electric passing attack led by the towering wide receiver duo of Lil’Jordan Humphrey and Collin Johnson, their offense will be tough for Georgia to stop in this game. Though their defense isn’t as intriguing from an NFL standpoint, they do have two players in particular who stand out as draft picks this season.
Charles Omenihu is one of the most underrated defenders I’ve watched so far this year. He is an explosive rusher off the snap with refined hand usage and good pad level. He can get underneath blockers on a regular basis, and he has shown value as a pass rusher and in run support. Though the Bears probably won’t end up picking him due to the emergence of Bilal Nichols, Omenihu is still a prospect worth keeping an eye on. A more realistic Bears target on the Longhorns would be Kris Boyd, who at six feet tall and 190 pounds has good size for the cornerback position. He’s not a standout athlete, but he is a physical corner with good ball skills who doesn’t give up initial separation very often in press-man coverage. Without much depth in the secondary, the Bears could be in the market for a backup like Boyd on Day 3.