No competent football general manager would limit himself to drafting from a single conference. However, looking at the draft through the lens of college conferences is a good way to take a look at prospects who might otherwise be missed. As a fan of college football who wants the Bears to get the most out of the draft, I have therefore returned to my series of looking at NFL prospects through the lens of their conferences. To kick the series off, I limited myself to players outside of the Power 5 conferences.
Now, I’m moving on to the Bears’ “home” conference of the Big 10. In putting together this draft, I didn’t allow myself any trades, and I didn’t allow players from any conference except the Big 10. 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 looked for players I thought would be the best for the 2018 Chicago Bears using a balance of BPA, position needs, and schemes. When in doubt, I deferred to my Confidence Board. In this draft, that meant that two schools really dominated my decision-making. Here is a link to the full draft [Link].
#8: Josh Jackson, CB (Iowa)
Time for a moment of honesty. My father and my brother both received degrees from the University of Iowa. My father actually used to have tickets near the 50. However, that familial loyalty is not the only reason I went with Jackson. Last year, Jackson led the country with 8 interceptions and 26 defensed passes, and his slightly greater length than his Big Ten competition at corner (he’s 6’1” to Denzel Ward’s 5’10”, per NFL.com’s combine profiles) suggests he’s a better fit for Fangio’s system. Nonetheless, there’s an argument to be made that I was overly influenced by one particular game this season, or at least that a handful of exceptional performances have given me an artificially high opinion of Jackson.
I probably should have gone with: Denzel Ward (CB, Ohio State). He’s the consensus #1 corner in the draft. However, more than just my inner Hawkeye had me going with Jackson over Ward. I prefer Jackson’s slight height advantage, as mentioned, and I prefer the physicality Jackson offers. Ward has better combine results, but I prefer the aggression I see from Jackson on actual tape. I prefer to judge what player does in pads instead of what a player does in shorts.
#39 Billy Price, C (Ohio State)
So, I sort of wanted to address the center position in the second round, and that was for two reasons. First, drafting a center to play center seemed like a good move for a team with its O-line in a constant state of flux and second, because the Big Ten is a good conference to look to for offensive linemen. I like Price (who despite being listed on Fanspeak as a guard is a center), and I like the athleticism he brings to the position.
My decision was made easier by: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers drafting James Daniels at pick #38, one slot before I picked up Price. Daniels and Price are the two best centers in the draft, and I kept going back and forth on them. Daniels went before Price on basically every simulation I ran, which is interesting to me because the confidence board has Price six spots ahead of Daniels. However it turned out, I was going to be happy with either player, and so it was nice to have the decision taken out of my hands.
#105 Simmie Cobbs, WR (Indiana)
Yes, Pace has addressed the receiver position in free agency. However, it’s also a good idea to find and grow your own talent, and I think that there’s a chance that the 6’4” Cobbs turns out to be a steal. Admittedly, there are reasons he’s available in the fourth round. He’s not fast, and he’s not a fantastic route runner. However, he’s also got size (which can’t be taught) and he’s willing to fight for the ball. Just as importantly, I caught some plays where he did good work as a blocker, and I like players who are willing to mix it up. Honestly, he’s the best Big Ten wide receiver available to me at this point, and that makes him the easy choice. The reality is that he’s probably more of a fifth-round pick. I don’t mind reaching a bit on his potential, though.
I waited on: Josey Jewell, LB (Iowa). I like Jewell as a player, but I think he’s being underestimated in this draft and so I was certain he’d be waiting for me ten picks later. I was right.
#115 Josey Jewell, ILB (Iowa)
Jewell is the 78th player on my confidence board, and his NFL.com draft profile summarizes my feelings on him nicely:
“What I see on tape is a highly instinctive linebacker who combines physicality with a relentless motor to find his way into play after play. Jewell’s consistent play speed and consistency as a tackle finisher could make him a future starter as an inside linebacker perfectly suited to the WILL spot in a 3-4.”
Why is he always there in the fourth round, then? I’m not sure, but with him available, it makes sense to take him.
I was tempted to take a chance on: Jerome Baker, LB (Ohio State). I like the way Baker plays. He’s an aggressive and capable linebacker. However, every report I read agrees with my instinct, which is that he is better suited to being an outside backer in a 4-3 scheme than in being forced into a role on a 3-4 defense. Maybe it’s shades of McClellin, but I prefer not to draft linebackers out of position. With Jewell there as a more natural fit, it made sense to skip on Baker.
#145 Jayln Holmes, DL (Ohio State)
Holmes is listed on Fanspeak as an Edge, but I see him as a 3-4 DE, even if that means he’s going to have get a little stronger. I do not think he’ll be ready to start right away, but my default move if I’m not sure of the talent available is to invest in one of the two lines for depth. It is a rare defensive line that has all of the rotational talent it needs, and Holmes could be a nice piece for depth. If he develops, he could be a nice addition to the team.
I almost went with: Ian Thomas, TE (Indiana). Thomas is a big, physical tight end. He fights for the ball. Most of his limitations (route running, hand use, blocking) are things that can be fixed. However, the Bears already have one project at tight end in Shaheen, and more importantly they have a general glut at the position. That means that I had to decide where I wanted to add depth. Defensive end was the easy answer.
#181 Akrum Wadley, RB (Iowa)
Ryan Pace has picked a running back every year in the draft. I see no reason why 2018 should be any different, and Wadley is the sort of choice who will fill in a need in the committee that the Bears are putting together. Across the last two years, Wadley has caught over 60 passes and has scored six receiving touchdowns. He’s not a power back, but the Bears have Howard for that. He’s actually similar in purpose to Cohen (and in limitations), but his greater size suggests that he’ll be a little more versatile, and he’s probably going to be harder to neutralize.
I wasn’t interested by: Tegray Scales (LB, Indiana) and Jason Cabinda (LB, Penn State). Scales and Cabinda are fine value picks at this point in the draft, but they are redundant with the selection of Jewell. In fact, their availability later on suggests that I could have waited to fulfill the “inside linebacker” choice later on. However, I think Jewell offers greater potential than either of these players, and it’s not like I spent the Bears’ third-rounder on...nevermind.
#224 Andrew Nelson, OT (Penn State)
Nelson is a versatile lineman coming off of an injury. I’m not sure if he merits anything higher than a 7th-round pick at this point, but he has good size and he shows the potential to be a nice depth piece for the Bears. He might even make sense for the Jordan Morgan role on the team, the “IR Red Shirt” while he develops. I’d like to pretend that something specific about his ability stood out to me, but with him going down early in the season this is more a draft based on potential and hope than anything.
I almost went with: Godwin Igwebuike, S (Northwestern) I like Iqwebuike. I think he can be a good player. However, the Bears have a lot of potential churning around at the safety position, and I’m afraid that Igwebuike is too limited for the NFL. He’s probably better as a strong safety, and even there he’s inconsistent as a tackler. Still, he’s got potential, and my guess is that some team will take a chance on him, maybe even before the 7th round.
So, that is the group of candidates I found for the Bears in the Big 10. Take a look at who was available and let us know what you might have done differently if you were doing this exercise—but remember, only players from a single conference were available!