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.
Over the past few weeks, Josh and I have gone 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 best prospects in the SEC.
Cream of the crop
Jacob: Devin White, LB, LSU
The SEC has had a handful of elite inside linebacker prospects in recent years, with Roquan Smith and Reuben Foster having both been selected in the first round in their respective draft classes over the past two years. Devin White certainly belongs in that discussion.
Unlike Smith and Foster, White is a more muscular and compactly-built linebacker at six-foot-one and 248 pounds. Like his two predecessors, though, he is an athletic and instinctive player who can consistently bring down ball carriers. He has great closing speed, can change direction well and is a sideline-to-sideline player who can make just about any tackle. He doesn’t overpursue ball carriers, as he knows where the ball carrier is going to go before he gets there. White is a reliable form tackler who also has value as a blitzer, as his speed and strength makes him a dangerous threat coming down the A and B gaps.
The Bears don’t need an inside linebacker, and they wouldn’t be able to draft White if they did need one. He projects as a bonafide top-five player in the 2019 class, however, and he should be selected in the first 10 picks of the draft next April.
Top Bears targets
Jacob: Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, S, Florida
Eddie Jackson and Adrian Amos is a more-than-capable safety duo, but there’s a chance that the latter player may not be brought back after his contract expires at the end of this season. If such an occurrence were to take place, then the Bears would be smart to quickly find a replacement.
Chauncey Gardner-Johnson is a versatile safety who can play as a single-high safety and in the box well. The six-foot, 207-pound defensive back has great athleticism, as he can change direction seamlessly and close in on ball carriers with impressive speed. He’s an explosive blitzer off the edge, and he has good acceleration coming out of his breaks. His instincts are also good, as he can quickly diagnose plays and fulfill his assignments well.
Gardner-Johnson is not a polished tackler yet, as he tends to dive at the legs too often. He also can get better at taking sharper angles to ball carriers when running downhill. However, it’s his athleticism and range that make him such an intriguing Day 2 prospect.
Chicago could very well bring Amos back this offseason, making safety more of a strength than a weakness. If he aims to seek a bigger contract elsewhere, though, then a player like Gardner-Johnson could be worth a look.
Josh: Martez Ivey, OL, Florida.
Ivey has been through three systems already as an offensive lineman, and he is sometimes considered a better guard prospect than a tackle (he’s 6’5” and around 310lbs, but with poor footwork), but he has experience playing tackle even if he struggles at times. What’s interesting is that it’s possible to find people saying he could go as early as the third round, but it’s also possible to find people thinking he might fall.
The reality is that the Bears don’t have high picks, so if they are going to address the right tackle position in the draft, Pace is going to need to get creative. Ivey has struggles in his pad level and in using his feet to help set an edge, but he’s shown an ability to learn, and he also has a lot of experience playing against quality opposition. If the Bears were to target him, I would see it as an investment in the 2020 offensive line, when Ivey has had a chance to get his fundamentals right.
I don’t love the idea of a project tackle, but I don’t see Chicago as having the draft capital to get a top draft prospect, and it’s a position that needs to be addressed.
Jacob: Prince Tega Wanogho, OT, Auburn
If you’re looking for an extremely raw offensive line prospect with a very high ceiling, then Prince Tega Wanogho is the prospect for you.
An actual prince with royal Nigerian bloodlines, Wanogho was recruited as a defensive lineman coming out of high school. He started as Auburn’s left tackle for the first four games in 2017 before he was benched for the remainder of the year. He doesn’t have great anchor in his lower body, he plays with too high of pad level and isn’t great at getting inside leverage on a consistent basis. However, it’s the positives in his game that make him a potential NFL prospect.
At six-foot-seven and 306 pounds, Wanogho has a lengthy frame with very long arms. He’s a great athlete for his size, as he can move laterally and advance to the second level very well. He has an effective kick slide and can cover just enough space to prevent edge rushers from running past him, but he doesn’t kick out so far that they can cut inside and get to the quarterback. Wanogho also takes good angles to defenders in space.
Wanogho is clearly a work in progress, and he would not be able to start right away if the Bears were to draft him. With some polishing and some extra work in the weight room. though, he could become a slam-dunk pick late on Day 3 who could be a starting offensive tackle for quite some time.
Josh: Nick Fitzgerald, QB, Mississippi State.
Fitzgerald had a rough non-start to the season, being suspended for an undisclosed violation of team rules. Even prior to this incident, he was up and down on boards. I had seen Fitzgerald ranked as high as a third-round prospect, but these days it’s looking more and more like he might be around in the fifth and sixth rounds (if not even later).
Let’s talk about what that theoretical late round pick might get the Bears, besides a potential headache if he has actual character issues. Fitzgerald is a big-bodied player who has decent athleticism and the potential to make plays with his arm. He’s also inaccurate, and he gets happy feet. He’s actually prone to leaving the pocket before he needs to. However, he would actually do reasonably well in the sort of system the Bears are building for Trubisky, where reads are simplified and the chains can be moved with short and intermediate throws.
At some point, it would be nice for the Bears to fire a shot or two at a backup quarterback, and there’s always the outside chance of catching lightning in a bottle and actually finding a serviceable player.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.