The college football season is just around the corner, which means that the next few months will be full of major upsets, nail-biting finishes, Cinderella teams and flat-out entertaining football. They will also serve as a time for NFL Draft nuts to find the best player in the upcoming draft class, discover a few hidden gems and determine which prospects would be good fits on their favorite professional team.
For the next few weeks, Josh and I are going to be going from conference to conference, finding the best player, a potential Chicago Bears target and a sleeper to give you all a general idea of what to keep an eye on in the coming college football season. We did this concept last year and enjoyed doing it, so we decided to bring it back for another year. This week, we’ll be taking a look at some of the best that the Pac-12 has to offer.
Cream of the crop
Jacob: N’Keal Harry, WR, Arizona State
In case you’ve been living under a rock over the past few months, the Bears are more than set at the wide receiver position. That said, it’s unlikely that they’ll pick Arizona State wide out N’Keal Harry next year, who currently projects as the top receiver on my draft board.
The six-foot-four, 218-pound Harry has the potential to be one of the best wide outs in the league. He has elite body control: he can position himself well to box out defenders and make circus grabs, he can make toe-drag catches with the best of them, and he is a fluid athlete. Harry is also a physical receiver who can break free from press coverage using his hands and pure speed, and he is able to make catches in the tightest of windows. Although not a great yards-after-catch receiver, he has potential to become more elusive, given his solid route-running abilities.
Chicago more than likely won’t be picking Harry, who figures to be a first-round pick next April. Whichever team picks him, though, will be getting a flat-out great weapon for their offense.
Josh: Marvell Tell, S, USC
Tell is the kind of safety who is becoming more vital in the modern NFL. I’m no sure if he exactly qualifies as the cream of the crop, but he has length (he is variously reported as six-foot-two or six-foot-three) and is solid enough (195 pounds) to be able to match up against tight ends and some of the larger interior receivers in the NFL. More importantly, and he is learning to use his size more physically--although, admittedly, this was one of the holes in his game early on.
Tell basically plays free and strong safety, with 8 passes defended, 4 interceptions, and 5.5 tackles for a loss. He goes where his defensive coordinator needs him, and his ability to play in a hybrid role is important in the modern NFL secondary. I have seen Tell ranked as highly as the first safety in the draft, and the lowest I’ve seen him is fourth. I don’t know if the Bears need a safety in 2019, but I do know that if Tell can put together his versatility and measurables with just a bit more aggression in 2018, he will go early in the draft.
Top Bears targets
Jacob: Trey Adams, OT, Washington
Bobby Massie will be hitting the open market next offseason, so, unless they choose to bring him back, offensive tackle will become a big need for the Bears. Assuming they choose to not throw Rashaad Coward into a starting role, drafting an offensive tackle early seems like a realistic option for the Bears.
If you added the letter “v” to Massie’s last name, then you’d get the perfect way to describe Washington’s Trey Adams. The six-foot-eight, 327-pound behemoth is an absolute monster among men who has incredible length and size at the offensive tackle position. He’s more than just big, though: he can move for a big guy. He has solid lateral quickness, he looks fairly agile as a pull blocker, and he can advance to the second level quickly. Adams is good at getting inside leverage on defenders, and he complements that with strength and a high motor.
Had Adams not torn his ACL in October of 2017, then he probably would have been a high draft pick in this year’s draft. It will be up to him to prove that he can recover from the injury. If he can, then the Bears would be wise to consider drafting him in the first round.
Josh: Greg Gaines, DL, Washington
It really looks like Jacob and I are liking the talent Washington has available, doesn’t it?
Until this season, Gaines has lived in the shadow of Vita Vea, but this could be his breakout year. I like Gaines because as a defensive lineman what he does is eat up blocks, and he has moments when he plays with intelligence and instinct as well. He goes for penetration, but if he doesn’t get the angle he needs he gets a hand up. He does not give up on plays readily, and he clogs lanes. He is projected as a 4-3 defensive tackle, but I think he might have the ability to hold down the nose tackle position. He’s only six-foot-one, but he is a strong 320 pounds.
I think one of Pace’s virtues in the draft is his willingness to keep firing picks at the offensive line, and I would like to see him try the same on the defensive line. With Gaines projected as a 2nd through 4th-round prospect, I like the idea of the Bears taking a shot at him more or less no matter what happens with Goldman. I think that having fresh legs and power at the center of the 3-4 line is a good idea, and in some of the 2-4-5 looks that the nickel package requires, it would be nice to see what Gaines would look like next to Goldman.
Jacob: Byron Murphy, CB, Washington
Both Bryce Callahan and Cre’Von LeBlanc are free agents at the end of the 2018 season. While it’s likely that at least one of them will be brought back next year, the Bears could be in the market for a nickelback if either - or potentially both - of them depart.
Washington cornerback Byron Murphy isn’t the most physically imposing player at five-foot-eleven and 175 pounds. He has a tendency to tackle at the legs too often, and his overall physicality in coverage is lacking. However, he has all of the makings of a starting slot cornerback at the next level. A great athlete, Murphy has great deep speed, very fluid hips and can change direction very well. This, along with his instincts in coverage, allows him to mirror routes at a high level. He has good ball skills and is good at jumping routes to make plays on the ball. He can also deliver a nice pop when he lowers his shoulder.
A redshirt sophomore, Murphy may not even enter the draft in 2019. His draft stock is limited since he probably will have to move inside in the NFL, but he has all of the making of a high-end cover nickel. If the Bears lose one or more of their talented slot corners, then a player like Murphy would be a great get early on in Day 3.
Jacob Infante is a Chicago Bears and NFL Draft writer at SB Nation’s Windy City Gridiron. He also covers the NFL Draft for USA Today SMG’s Draft Wire. He can be reached through Twitter @jacobinfante24 or e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.