The college football season is underway, 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.
Due to the Khalil Mack trade, the Bears do not have a first or second-round draft pick in 2019. Although that will affect our ability to cover more of the top prospects in each conference, it will force us to get creative in our selections.
In this article, we’ll be taking a look at some of the premier talents in the Big Ten.
Cream of the crop
Jacob: Nick Bosa, EDGE, Ohio State
I have mentioned this before, but Ohio State standout Nick Bosa has the potential to be just as good, if not better, than his older brother Joey.
The younger Bosa was the first player I watched when I first started watching tape of the 2019 class, and it’s fair to say that he raised the bar to heights that barely any prospects have been able to reach. He managed to stand out on a loaded Ohio State defensive line last year with 8.5 sacks and 16 tackles for a loss, and, judging by his tape, it’s not hard to see why. Bosa fires off of the ball with impressive athleticism and explosiveness, with his ability to convert speed to power being evident. He has a polished array of pass-rushing moves - including a swim move that may be the best I’ve seen so far - and he does a good job of getting inside leverage on his blockers.
Bosa’s six-foot-four, 270-pound frame makes him big enough to potentially move inside, and his athleticism projects him as a lethal 3-4 outside linebacker, but his best fit schematically is as a 4-3 defensive end. His ability to turn the corner is not as awe-inspiring as his other traits, and his coordination when it comes to chasing down ball carriers in space can improve. Nevertheless, Bosa is an outstanding prospect who will be an early draft pick next April.
Though not my No. 1 overall prospect, Bosa is my early favorite to be the first pick in next year’s draft. He plays an extremely important position, and he has the tools to be a multi-time Pro Bowler. The Bears wouldn’t have been able to draft him even if they were to keep their first-round pick, but Bosa will wreck havoc wherever he goes.
Top Bears targets
Jacob: Amani Oruwariye, CB, Penn State
Both Kyle Fuller and Prince Amukamara signed to long-term contract over the offseason. However, Amukamara has an out in his contract in the 2020 offseason, when the Bears could save $9.5 million by releasing him. With Jordan Howard and - more than likely, assuming they choose to not pick up his fifth-year option - Leonard Floyd both hitting free agency that year, the Bears will presumably let the veteran cornerback go to sign one of the two. While the team lacks a long-term replacement for Amukamara at the moment, they could find one in next year’s draft.
When it comes to standing out from a numbers perspective, Penn State’s Amani Oruwariye is among the better cornerbacks in the class. At six-foot-one and 205 pounds, he has great length for the boundary corner position, and his frame, although long, has the necessary muscle to adapt to the physicality of NFL wide receivers. He also has the production to impress NFL teams and scouts alike, as he finished 2017 with four interceptions and seven pass deflections.
It’s not just the stats and the length measurements that make Oruwariye intriguing, though. He has very good ball skills and does a great job of tracking down deep passes and high pointing the ball. He has very good instincts, as he knows exactly when to jump routes to deflect a pass, and he takes good angles as a tackler in space. The senior cornerback has good footwork, can flip his hips well and can accelerate well coming out of his breaks. Oruwariye excels in press-man coverage, where he can jam receivers at the line of scrimmage and throw them off balance. Though not an elite athlete by any means, there are several aspects of his game that make up for his lack of top-end speed.
Amukamara plays in press-man coverage often, and there aren’t many cornerbacks on the Bears who can really step into his role and be physical in coverage. Oruwariye would be a tantalizing option in the third round, where he would make sense as a potential starter down the line.
Josh: Isaiah Prince, OT, Ohio State
Most of the time, I’ve seen Prince listed at 6’6” and 310lbs (sometimes he’s given an extra inch), but what matters is he’s a big guy with decent quickness and two full seasons of play at right tackle. In that role, he has been more than decent, with the sort of reach and movement that suggests he can play Sundays.
The biggest knocks against Prince are that he needs developing his technique and that he could use work on aggression. His pad level needs work. He doesn’t use his feet to cut off the pass rush. However, he has all of the physical gifts that could be asked for in tackle prospect, or at least that could be asked for in a tackle prospect who will fall outside of the first round.
All told this sounds perfect to me for the Bears. Athletic, experienced right tackle? Great. Competent at pass-blocking but raw enough to slip out of the first two rounds? That’s actually bonus this year. To be honest, I’ve seen him listed as going as early as the second round (on Walter Football), but most scouting reports think that his rawness will knock him down to Round 3 or later. If the Bears are going to make the most out of the 2019 draft, they are going to need to draft players who fall for fixable reasons, and the Bears have the staff available to them to fix Prince’s technical flaws.
Josh: Clayton Thorson, QB, Northwestern
Thorson has yet to put together really spectacular tape, but he has a live arm in the intermediate range, he has a 6’4, 225lb-frame, and he is the opposite of Trubisky. He has already played in 41 games in college, and it’s likely he’ll keep accumulating experience in 2018. Is he going to light the world on fire? Unlikely. He’s inconsistent, and he struggles with the deep ball. This means he typically carries a second-round grade, and that puts him in the position where Pace could make a move to snag him.
Does this mean I’ve given up on Trubisky? Not at all. However, I am tired of this franchise deciding that it needs to anoint a quarterback without generating actual competition at the most important position in professional sports. Consider this—Thorson’s biggest flaw seems to be that he needs to develop a little. Why not draft him and sit him for a year. If Trubisky plays well, then Thorson can play mop-up and be flipped for a pick down the road. If Trubisky continues to falter, wouldn’t it be nice to have an actual back-up plan?
Jacob: Khaleke Hudson, SS, Michigan
The Bears struck gold in the fifth round of the 2015 NFL Draft, finding Adrian Amos, who now enters his fourth year of what has been a good run with the team thus far. The problem, though, is that Amos’ rookie contract expires at the end of the 2018 season, and the Bears spent what is likely over $30 million for this year alone on Khalil Mack and Eddie Goldman, with Goldman’s yearly numbers having yet to be released. That said, Chicago could end up having to let Amos walk. If they wanted to do so, then they could try to strike lightning twice by drafting a safety on Day 3.
Khaleke Hudson plays a bit of a safety-linebacker hybrid position at Michigan called the “viper”, which is essentially their position for defensive backs who can also play in the box and tackle well. That said, Hudson’s versatility is apparent, as he can play at strong safety, inside linebacker and nickel cornerback. He has a strong upper body and can shed blocks well, as he is dangerous as a blitzer: he had a whopping 7.5 sacks and 16 tackles for a loss last year. His closing speed and ability to turn the corner are both very good, and he is quick to diagnose plays. His ball skills are also fairly solid, as he can attack the ball well at times. Hudson isn’t a stellar athlete - his backpedal can look unnatural at times, and his range in coverage is lacking - but he projects as a versatile chess piece at the next level.
Regardless of whether or not Amos comes back after this year, it wouldn’t hurt the Bears to add some more pieces to their secondary. Hudson would give them a player who has the potential to make an impact at several different positions on the field.
Jacob Infante is a Chicago Bears writer at SB Nation’s Windy City Gridiron. He is also the lead draft analyst for The Blitz Network, and he additionally covers the NFL Draft for USA Today’s Draft Wire. He can be reached through Twitter @jacobinfante24 or e-mailed at email@example.com.