First, there’s a disclaimer to add, here. I am not a draft expert. However, I am a fan of college football, and so I like to explore the draft through the lens of the college game. To that end, last year I conducted a series of mock drafts limiting myself to individual conferences. The series was popular enough that it is back for 2018.
To kick the series off, I limited myself to players outside of the Power 5 conferences. As was the case last year, this meant I was allowed to take players from independent schools (like Notre Dame) as well as minor conferences. Interestingly, this meant a number of top prospects were available, especially on offense. I needed to keep that in mind with how the draft fell, as fully half of ten best players available to me were offensive linemen.
To review the rules—I didn’t allow myself any trades, and I didn’t allow players from any of the five major conferences. I used Fanspeak’s On The Clock draft simulator, using their default boards for prospect ranks and team needs, and I also used their “classic” difficulty setting. In general, I drafted what I thought would be the best players for the Bears in 2018 using a balance of BPA, position needs, and schemes. When in doubt, I deferred to my Confidence Board.
Remember that I do not pretend that this is a sane or rational thing for a GM to do. Instead, I intend it as an exercise in highlighting some different players. If you want to see the way the draft unfolded, the full thing can be found right here [Link].
#8: Quenton Nelson (G, Notre Dame)
Fully half of the top ten prospects available outside of the Power 5 this year are offensive linemen, and that meant that spending my top pick on a lineman was risking seeing talent at harder-to-find positions leave the board while leaving players like Will Hernandez to take later on. That, honestly, is the argument against Nelson in a nutshell. He offers something that is too easy to replace in later rounds. In fact, I went into this piece fully prepared to skip him. However, I always run multiple simulations before declaring “this is the real one,” and every simulation had the other top offensive line prospects taken before #39 rolled around. That meant that if I wanted to help the offensive line out, I was stuck reaching in the second for a player who really only merited a third-round pick. Honestly, it comes down to the fact that Nelson is the only player outside of the P5 worthy of a Top 10 pick this year.
I almost went with: Courtland Sutton (WR, SMU). Even with a free agency devoted to the wide receiver position, it’s easy to make an argument that the Bears need help, here. However, I could not bring myself to pull the trigger on a wide receiver inside of the top ten, and I also could not bring myself to believe that Sutton was going to be the difference maker that the Bears need. To me, both Sutton and Davenport are gambles, and I like what Sutton has to offer. Had Nelson not been available (and in about half of the mock simulations I ran he was not), Sutton would have been my choice.
I stayed away from: Marcus Davenport (EDGE, UTSA). When I watch Davenport, I see a player who is raw and who relies on athletic overmatches instead of ability. Once he encounters a player with similar athleticism, he seems a little lost to me. I like watching Voch Lombardi’s draft breakdowns each year, and one of my favorite Voch-isms is when he calls a player out for “having no plan” once he gets beaten athletically. I have the sense that Davenport doesn’t have a plan. However, he is 15th overall on my Confidence Board, and the only non-P5 prospect above him is Nelson. Ultimately, this feels like a Pace pick to me. It’s a reach based on athletic potential. However, it fills a big need and could be a home run. I just don’t have the confidence in the player, and so I could not bring myself to spend an elite pick on him.
#39 Leighton Vander Esch (Boise State, ILB)
When I did this exercise a few times in the lead-up, I kept reaching for Davenport or Sutton and then hoping Will Hernandez would fall to #39. He never did, and so I would grab Vander Esch as a consolation prize. However, after accepting that Nelson is the ‘easy’ pick for a reason, I realized that I actually liked Vander Esch as a prospect. I certainly like him in the second round. My composite board has him as the 40th overall prospect, so this is more or less dead on for him. I think he could develop into an ILB to anchor a defense, and while the position is not a true need, I the kid from Boise State represents an improvement over the young talent at the position.
I almost went with: Dallas Goedert. Goedert is a solid prospect, and he is considered one of the top tight ends in the draft (the top tight end according to many). However, the Bears have a glut at tight end, having invested heavily in the position recently. I could, honestly, justify the decision by saying that I could not bring myself to spend another second-rounder on another tight end from a non-P5 school. However, much of this simply came down to the fact that I like what Vander Esch brings to the table.
#105 Michael Gallup (Wide Receiver, Colorado State)
I have Gallup as #80 on my confidence board, and Lance Zierlein of NFL.com claims he’s a Round 2 or Round 3 prospect, especially since getting open on short routes is a strength of his. Picking him up in the fourth round is an easy decision. The Bears have invested heavily at receiver this off-season, but growing their own talent at the position seems like a good idea.
I thought about: Equanimeous St. Brown (WR, Notre Dame). St. Brown seems like a solid player, and I see both Gallup and Brown as good uses of #105. In this case, though, I trusted the gurus. On the whole, they preferred Gallup and so that’s where I went, too.
#115 Nathan Shepherd (DL, Fort Hays St)
I have to admit that I had watched none of Shepherd until I started researching players for this mock. However, I like what I see. Shepherd is not going to be ready to play at a high level right away, but defensive lines need rotational pieces, and he’s got size and athleticism to make him a solid investment in the fourth round. I see this as a player taken for 2019 instead of 2018, but I am okay with that for a fourth-rounder.
I almost went with: Shaquem Griffin (LB, UCF). I love Griffin’s story, and he’s a solid athlete. I actually think that he might do well in the NFL, even if I don’t have the same hopes for him that others do. However, after picking up Vander Esch in the second round, there’s no need for Griffin, here. More importantly, I think Shepherd has a higher floor, in that even a limited defensive end can add to a 3-4 team, whereas the Bears have a glut at “linebacker who might be able to contribute.”
#145 Siran Neal (DB, Jacksonville State)
Neal is probably a safety but he might be able to play cornerback (he has played both positions), and his versatility is what I’m drawn to in the fifth round. He plays aggressively, which I like in a defensive back. He seems to seek contact in the video I’ve been able to watch, and while that could get him in trouble in the NFL, I’d rather see a defensive back need to be taught how to back off instead of hoping one learns how to play aggressively. However, part of the reason that this was an easy pick is because the board is a wasteland at this point for Non-P5 players.
I almost went with: Mike White (QB, Western Kentucky). White could be a solid backup in the NFL, and if the Bears were settled in at quarterback already, I could see spending a fifth-rounder on a guy even knowing he would probably never be the starter. However, the practical limitations of the practice schedule is such that Trubisky still needs as many reps as possible, and so having two guys learning the offense at the same time isn’t as reasonable as the situation the Bears have set up, where more experienced players are backing up MT10.
#181 Brandon Parker (OT, North Carolina, A&T)
might be is a reach. Parker is not in the Top 200 on my Confidence Board, and he is not a refined or developed player. However, he has a fantastic frame and okay athleticism. Perhaps more importantly, he represents an investment in the offensive line who could really develop under Hiestand. It seems strange to spend two picks on the offensive line in a single draft, but some of that is an artifact of the pool I am limited to, this time around.
I never really considered: Justin Lawler (Defense, SMU). Quick, if you know what position Justin Lawler should play, let me know in the comments. I have seen him listed as a 3-4 DE, as a 4-3 DE, and as an Edge rusher. Fanspeak thinks somewhat highly of him, and CBS Sports actually considers him the 84th overall prospect. I think he’s likely to go undrafted.
#224 Joe Ostman (Edge, Central Michigan)
So, I could have double-dipped at any number of positions, but two things kept drawing me back to Ostman. First, he actually plays a position of need that I had somehow left untouched through this draft, and so it seemed like a he was worth a flier. Second, in the couple of videos I watched of him, I liked his technique if not his athleticism. He seems to really try to earn his way through blockers, and I think that determination could buy him a chance at making a roster.
So, that’s the first in a series looking at draft prospects by position. Let us know what you would have done differently in the comments below!