The Chicago Bears are coming off of an active free agency period, which makes their plans for the upcoming 2018 NFL Draft a bit more apparent. With edge rusher and left guard big holes on their roster at the moment, one could assume that they will target both of those positions early on in the draft.
However, their plans on Day 3 of the draft and beyond are still relatively up in the air.
There are a lot of very good prospects who could develop into starters or key rotational pieces that could be available later on in the draft, and many of the draft coverage that you’ll see won’t be devoted to them.
You’ve heard about players like Quenton Nelson and Tremaine Edmunds loads of times already, and you’ll hear plenty more about them leading up to the draft. But what about the unsung mid-round prospects? Here are five under-the-radar players that the Bears should keep an eye on.
Geron Christian, OT, Louisville
Lamar Jackson was one of the best quarterbacks in college football in 2016 and 2017. Part of his success was aided by his blind side protector, Geron Christian.
Christian is a great fit to play left tackle at the next level. At 6’5” with 35-inch arms, he has the length that coaches desire at the position. He’s an athletic lineman with an impressive kickslide, good footwork and quick lateral movement. He can advance to the second level well, and he has good technique and balance in his frame. Christian has experience at both left and right tackle, too, which will help boost his value a bit, as will his age: he’s currently just 20 years old.
Watch on this play from 2016 how Christian uses his kickslide to cut off the edge rusher’s angle and counters his hand moves.
That edge rusher, by the way, is Bradley Chubb.
Christian could use a bit more in the way of bulk, as he’s 298 pounds, which is relatively light for a left tackle. His punch could be a bit more powerful, and he doesn’t have a very impressive anchor in his lower body. However, he has the athleticism and length to be a starting offensive tackle in a few years, regardless of which side he’s on.
I currently have an early Round 3 grade on Christian, and the consensus seems to be that he’ll be a late Round 3 or an early Round 4 pick. The Bears don’t have a third-round pick, but Christian would be a very good pick if he were to be available in the fourth round.
Austin Corbett, OG, Nevada
Out of all of the players on this list, Corbett is probably the least “under the radar” of the group. Still, he deserves a lot more mainstream attention than he has been getting as of late.
Corbett played left tackle at Nevada, but his lack of arm length will likely move him inside in the pros. He’s an impressive athlete who has good footwork and is a threat on pull blocks. He’s effective in chop blocks, and he takes good angles to his defenders. Corbett has a high motor, blocks to the whistle and is good at keeping a balanced frame with good pad level.
On this play, Corbett (left tackle, next to the tight end) absolutely pancakes his defender and stays on top of him to make sure he is completely eliminated from the play. His block frees up space for the runner to make the fourth-down conversion.
Corbett may need to add some more strength to prepare for taking on more powerful defensive tackles, but he has top-notch athleticism and technique for his size. I have an early Round 3 grade on him, but there isn’t much of a consensus stock for him. Some analysts seem him as a Round 2 player, while others think he could be available in Round 4. The Bears won’t be in a great position to draft Corbett, assuming he falls right in the middle of those two rounds. However, if he were to somehow fall to Round 4, then he would be a fantastic value for them.
Al-Rasheed Benton, ILB, West Virginia
If the mock draft picks made by a majority of draft analysts come true, then the Bears will likely select Tremaine Edmunds in the first round. Even if that were to come true, it would be wise of Chicago to look for some depth at the position late on Day 3 or in the undrafted free agent market.
Al-Rasheed Benton is a name who has flown criminally under the radar as of late. At 6’1” and 238 pounds, he has solid size to be a 3-4 inside linebacker at the next level. He has a very high motor and is an instinctive player who constantly plays at top speed. He’s a good athlete with very good closing speed who takes good angles to the ball. Benton is also a reliable tackler who usually does a good job of finishing the play when he makes contact with the ball carrier.
Watch his motor on display here. Benton blitzes up the left-side A gap, sheds the block when he notices the quarterback starting to scramble, and lays himself out to bring him down.
Benton could stand to improve his upper-body strength a bit, and he isn’t all that impressive in coverage. I seem to be higher on him than most, so it’s likely that he will be a Round 7 pick or an undrafted free agent. However, he has the potential to step in right away and be a fantastic special teams player.
Kameron Kelly, CB, San Diego State
It has been long chronicled that Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio likes long defensive backs. It’s also a known fact that the Bears need depth at cornerback. These make Kameron Kelly a perfect match for them.
At 6’2” and 200 pounds with 31 3⁄4 -inch arms, Kelly has the desired length to play cornerback in today’s NFL. He’s physical at the point of attack, and he’s an aggressive tackler. He has very good closing speed and is a dangerous blitzer. Kelly was a safety for the first three seasons of his collegiate career before moving to cornerback to replace Damontae Kazee, who was drafted in 2017 by the Atlanta Falcons. Some actually think that Kelly may be best suited for safety in the pros, but he has the physical tools to be a successful boundary cornerback at the next level. He is also a former wide receiver, which is apparent in his ball skills.
On this play, Kelly drops back in off-man coverage, which appears to be a common occurrence in San Diego State’s defensive scheme. He does a good job of flipping his hips and making the necessary adjustments to get in front of his receiver and track down the underthrown deep ball.
The main drawback of Kelly’s game is his speed, or lack thereof. He only ran a 4.66 40-yard dash, which is apparent on tape. He doesn’t have very good speed and can get burned by speedy receivers on deep routes that rely more on raw athleticism.
A lot of Kelly’s experience at cornerback comes in off-man, when in reality he’s a much better fit for a press cornerback role. It would better utilize his physicality, length and size. Luckily for the Bears, they just so happen to need another press corner. Kelly would be a very good target for them with one of their two fourth-round picks.
Elijah Marks, WR, Northern Arizona
The Bears added Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel to their wide receiver group, so it’s highly unlikely that they’ll address the position early on. However, there’s a chance that they may add another weapon late in the draft.
Elijah Marks from Northern Arizona is a small-school sleeper who would definitely be worth taking a late-round flier on. He’s on the lighter side at 6’0” and 184 pounds, and that lack of bulk affects his physicality. He isn’t great at breaking free from tight press coverage at the line of scrimmage. He’s also fairly raw in terms of his route running and he only has one year of great production at a small school.
However, Marks has the athleticism and grit to make it onto an NFL roster. He has value as a punt returner on special teams, which will help out his case for a team using a late pick on him. He’s very good at tracking down deep balls, as he did on this catch against Arizona. Besides the well-placed ball by the quarterback, Marks does a good job here of chasing the pass down in tight coverage and making the over-the-shoulder catch.
Marks is also very elusive in open space, has reliable hands and fights hard on every play.
Depending on whether or not the Bears take a wide receiver earlier in the draft, Marks could be in play in Round 7. If not, then he would be a very good undrafted free agent target to contribute on special teams and serve as depth.