This year, once again, Windy City Gridiron is trying to look at the draft through a number of lenses. In this series, I am trying to examine what would happen if Ryan Pace could only take players from individual conferences. After covering the Non-P5 conferences, the Big Ten, and the ACC, it’s time to venture west and to explore the PAC-12. The rules are simple—I was not allowed to make trades, I had to use the default boards and settings for Fanspeak, and I could only select players from a single conference.
More than the prior conference-themed drafts, this draft sort of dictated to me which players I was going to pick at each spot. With almost every selection, there was a clear top candidate, eliminating the need for a lot of thinking on my part. However, it’s worth posting the link here to see if there are any disagreements over my choices. Just remember that I could only take players from the PAC-12.
#8 Vita Vea, DT (Washington)
There is really no other choice here. Outside of quarterbacks, there are no players in the PAC-12 who are remotely worthy of a Top 10 pick. Vea has some flaws in his technique, and he has some limitations. However, he should be able to play right away, and he has the potential to be a star. One thing the Bears have been missing in their first-round picks for far too long is the ability to come in right away and make an impact. Vea will offer that, and by itself that makes him a worthwhile choice in this limited pool.
Interesting Note: in this mock draft, the three top players selected were quarterbacks, but somehow the PAC-12’s Sam Darnold was not among them. I honestly believe that if this were actually how the draft fell, Pace would have a chance to trade down because someone would come up for Darnold. However, that’s outside of the scope of the exercise so I simply accepted getting a strong addition to the Bears defense.
#39 Isaiah Oliver, CB (Colorado)
This was a difficult choice for a couple of reasons. In all of my test-runs, I usually had only three players really targeted with this pick--Oliver and the two tackles (Crosby and Miller). However, usually only one of those was actually available when it came time to make the pick. Thus, when all three were still on the board, I had some decisions to make.
Ultimately, Oliver represents both better value (he is the 30th overall player on my Confidence Board and also the #3 corner available) and he is a legitimately capable player. Perhaps more importantly, there is more offensive line talent in the PAC-12 than there is defensive back talent in the conference this year. If I wanted a chance to address both positions, this was my best bet.
I thought about: Kolton Miller (OT, UCLA). Kiper’s ABC Big Board has him as the #1 tackle overall. He would help to fill in an offensive line that has needed continuity, and might help to make Trubisky’s job easier for a long time. In fact, I think getting him in the second round could be a bargain. I just like Oliver more for the Bears under these draft conditions.
It’s worth talking about: Harrison Phillips (DL, Stanford). I think Phillips could play defensive end for the Bears, and should a player like Vea not be the option in the first round, he becomes more interesting as a selection. His projections are all over the place, with some (like Luke Easterling) placing him among the top thirty-two prospects in the draft, while others (like Matt Miller) don’t even have him as one of the top five in his position. Ultimately, even without Vea in the equation, it doesn’t make sense to take him with the promising Oliver still on the board.
#105 Ken Ballage, RB (Arizona State)
So, the Bears already have Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen, right? They do. However, Ballage is a versatile player with the ability to act as a receiver (and even as a returner). He’s big enough to stay on the field, and I see no reason not to add a weapon to the Nagy offense. Originally I was targeting two players with this pick, Hercules Mata’afa and Ballage. What’s interesting is that while I tend to think of Ballage as a better player than Mata’afa, as much as the two can be compared, Ballage was always waiting for me in the fourth round, while Mata’afa only made it to #105 half of the time. While I know that the simulators are only so accurate, I find that a telling demonstration of the value of their respective positions in the draft.
I missed out on: Hercules Mata’afa (EDGE, Washington State). This is the one that worried me the most, because half of the time I ran simulations, he disappeared around the end of round three. That meant that I was suddenly in a position to understand why some GMs burn later picks to move up a few spots, even later in the draft. However, there are legitimate questions about whether or not Mata’afa has what it takes to make it as a 3-4 OLB, and there are just as many legitimate questions over whether or not his basic potential even merits a 4th-round pick (instead of something in the fifth round or so). Unfortunately, he’s basically the only EDGE rusher available to me coming out of the PAC-12, and that meant that the only way I could be sure of getting him was by spending #39. I couldn’t do that.
#115 Scott Quessenberry, IOL (UCLA)
I knew that if I was patient in this draft, sooner or later the best prospect available to me would be an offensive lineman. So it was with the Bears’ second fourth-rounder. Quessenberry is listed as a guard on Fanspeak, but almost everyone else considers him to be a center. I don’t think he’s as promising as some of the other interior linemen in this draft, but he’s strong enough and experienced enough to be worth a gamble here.
I skipped: Coleman Shelton (C, Washington) What Shelton has going for him is that he has played all up and down the offensive line, and I can easily see him as one of those investment pieces that pays off down the road. There are truly reasonable concerns that he lacks strength. However, I’m not worried about that for a fifth-round pick at this point. Instead, I see Shelton as a player who would have a year to mature into a versatile backup for the offensive line. Is that a good use of a mid-range pick? Maybe not. However, there are not a lot of truly tempting targets at this point, and most of the other players I’m interesting in will still be available later on. If Quessenberry had been gone (and he often was in prior simulations), I might have taken a chance.
#145 Kylie Fitts, EDGE (Utah)
Fitts was unknown to me prior to preparing for this draft. He has some experience playing standing up or with a hand down, and he’s a decent size with a decent frame. If it sounds like I don’t have a lot of praise to offer him, it’s because I’ve only been able to find about 5 minutes of video where he stands out at all. However, this is a classic reach for need. I needed to at least try to address the gap at OLB for the Bears, and the PAC-12 just doesn’t give me a lot of options. I never saw Fitts last to Round 6, and I think he at least has the potential to be an okay backup.
I passed on: Luke Falk QB (Washington State). Falk might actually make a good backup quarterback, and he was at one point thought of quite highly by at least a few scouts. At this point, though, with practice reps as limited as they are, it makes more sense to wait a year before bringing in another quarterback to develop. I want Trubisky to learn the new offense before the Bears spend any extra time on his understudy.
#181 Azeem Victor, LB (Washington)
Victor is an interesting prospect. Early in the year, I thought he had a chance to crack the top 100. I was clearly wrong, because multiple boards would consider this a reach. I think Victor has the right tools, but he has been up and down all year both in terms of weight and behavior. He has been suspended for breaking team rules and has also had a DUI. In short, he’s not the sort of player Pace targets, and this is something I normally agree with Pace on 100%. In this case, though, it’s worth noting that Victor has potential, and if he can get his head together he could be a true find.
I probably would actually draft: Lowell Lotulei. If I were drafting human beings instead of pixels, I would probably prefer to go with the surer bet in Lotulei. He has concerns as well, but his come in the form of motor and conditioning. Many people seem to question his work ethic. However, like Victor, he has the potential to make an impact if he can get his head straight. Had I not drafted Vea in Round 1, I probably would have taken Lotulei. If I were forced to pick between motor concerns and alcohol issues, I’d probably take motor concerns. However, I give Victor a slightly better chance of working through everything and becoming a contributor, and that’s the slim basis for this decision.
#221 Jordan Lasley, WR (UCLA)
Jordan Lasley is not a name that many boards focus on. He had a great season in 2017, picking up over 1200 yards and 9 touchdowns. He is another gamble, though, because he has a history of bad decision-making (mostly related to alcohol and club-going). He could be a steal, or he could be throwing away a draft pick on a player who needs to be cut before the season even begins. However, there are very few players available at this point who would not be a gamble or redundant in some way.