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2019 NFL Draft: Five players in the Shrine Game the Bears should target

Which players will you guys be watching in the East-West Shrine Game?

NCAA Football: Miami at Louisiana State Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

EDIT: At 2:00 p.m. Central today, the East-West Shrine game will kickoff live from Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida, and you can watch it live on the NFL Network. Even though the Bears don’t pick until the third round, we’ve seen GM Ryan Pace manipulate his picks to go get whomever he desires. While he may not have the ammo to get back into the first round, I could see him sneaking up to the second if a guy he has his eye on is slipping.

Consider this your Open Thread to talk about the game, and make sure you check out Jacob’s fantastic article below to see five players he’ll be watching closely.

NFL Draft season is officially in full swing, and this year’s class projects to be an interesting one.

Without a true stud quarterback prospect, the top of the 2019 draft is wide open. The class is stacked to the brim with defensive talent, with the likes of Nick Bosa, Quinnen Williams, Ed Oliver, Josh Allen and Clelin Ferrell all among those shaping up to be potential top-10 picks.

For the first time in years, though, that won’t matter to the Chicago Bears.

The Bears don’t have a draft picks in the first two rounds of this year’s draft due to trades for Khalil Mack and Anthony Miller, respectively. Their third-round pick won’t even be that high, as their playoff appearance will see them picking near the back end of the round. That said, the chances of a Bosa or an Oliver being in the cards for them are nonexistent.

With their focus on the middle of the draft, collegiate all-star games will be crucial viewing for Chicago’s front office. Every year, several prospects from both the Senior Bowl and the East-West Shrine Game are selected in the draft, with most of them coming off the board on Days 2 and 3. The Bears only have one pick in the first two days of the draft, but they do have four selections on the third day of the draft, so the odds that they will select a player from either game are fairly high.

The Shrine Game is seen as the secondary all-star game behind the Senior Bowl, but this year’s group of prospects is one of the most talented in recent memory. With a stacked group of defensive backs, a few potential quarterback draft picks and a few intriguing wide receivers, there will be a fair share of players from the game drafted this year.

This season, the Shrine Game will take place on Saturday, January 19 at 2:00 P.M. CT in St. Petersburg, Florida. It can be viewed on the NFL Network.

It’s incredibly tough to project the draft for a team that doesn’t pick until Round 3, but these prospects are among those who could be available for the Bears to select this year.

Michael Jackson, CB, Miami (FL)

Fun fact: Michael Jackson was my CB1 at the beginning of the year. That turned out well.

Jackson has since tumbled down my board with further evaluations, but he is still a talented cornerback who should be drafted this year. Measuring in at the Shrine Game at nearly 6’1” and 207 pounds, he has good length to play on the outside in the NFL. A physical defender when lined up at the line of scrimmage, he is a very good press-man cornerback who can jam his man within the first five yards. He has good ball skills, as made evident on the stat sheet by his four interceptions in 2017. He does a good job of turning his head towards the ball to make a play on it, and he times his jumps well on 50/50 balls. Jackson also has value as a tackler: he squares up to the ball carrier consistently, he tackles with good form, and he takes good angles to the ball in space.

While Jackson excels as a long and physical corner, he does have his athletic limitations. He runs with good closing speed as a tackler, but his hip fluidity is subpar. He can match most receivers stride for stride on vertical routes, but he struggles with covering receivers who can sink their hips and make sharp cuts. If the route involves sudden movement, chances are Jackson could have issues shutting it down. He’s average when playing in zone coverage, but that can be fixed with some fine-tuning to his processing abilities and additional film study.

Jackson is likely best suited for a Cover-1 or Cover-2 scheme in the NFL. New Bears defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano relied less on having his cornerbacks play in zone coverage in Indianapolis, so while it remains to be seen if that trend will carry on in Chicago, that would make Jackson an intriguing target early on Day 3. The Bears lack depth at the outside cornerback spot, and Prince Amukamara’s contract has an enticing out after the 2019 season that would see them saving roughly $9 million in cap space. Having someone like Jackson, who excels in Amukamara’s press-man role, could help fill that spot in the starting lineup going forward.

Lukas Denis, FS/CB, Boston College

The Bears have one of the best secondaries in the league, but like I mentioned in the last entry, they could use some depth. A versatile and athletic player like Lukas Denis would be a very good addition to their group of defensive backs.

Denis broke out in 2017 after having seven interceptions in his junior year. Though he only had one pick this season, his tape from last year indicates that he is an instinctive and athletic player. He does a very good job of timing his jumps on the ball; he is not afraid to get his nose in there and make an aggressive play on it. He has great straight-line speed and can hit top speed quickly, which will benefit him greatly at the next level. Denis has also shown that he can change direction and move well laterally. His versatility will help out his draft stock, too: he has experience playing as a single-high safety, a two-high safety, and as a nickel back.

The drawbacks in Denis’ game revolve around his size and his tackling ability, or lack thereof. He measured in at the Shrine Game at 5’11” and 181 pounds, which is not an ideal frame for a safety at the next level. Even if you overlook his uninspiring length, he will need to bulk up a little bit in the pros. That lack of bulk is evident when he tackles, as he is a major work in progress in that regard. He has barely any anchor as a tackler, and his pad level is often way too high. He arms tackles too often, and he simply doesn’t have the strength to pull those off regularly. To be fair, he was a wide receiver convert coming out of high school, but his tackling struggles will prevent him from being an early draft pick this year.

Denis is a work in progress, but he’s a smart and speedy defensive back who can play a handful of positions. I actually like him as a nickel back, given his skills in man coverage when placed in the slot. Bryce Callahan is currently a free agent, so the Bears may look to the draft for a replacement if he cashes in elsewhere. Even if Callahan returns, a player like Denis would be a welcomed depth piece.

Tyree St. Louis, OT, Miami (FL)

Bobby Massie is a free agent this offseason, and while the right tackle put together arguably his best season of his tenure with the Bears this year, his future is still undetermined. Regardless of whether or not they bring him back, they would be wise to invest a draft pick in the offensive tackle position. Of the bunch at the Shrine Game, Tyree St. Louis is arguably the best at the position.

St. Louis has the physical tools of a starting-caliber offensive tackle, and he should measure and test well at the NFL Combine this year. The six-foot-five, 313-pounder is a long and bulky lineman who can move well for a man his size. He advances to the second level quickly, and he consistently takes good angles to defenders as a reach blocker. He accelerates out of his stance with ease, and he packs a powerful punch at the initial point of contact. His versatility will help his draft stock a bit, too, as he started at both left tackle and right tackle at Miami.

As a lateral mover, St. Louis tends to struggle a bit. His fluidity on his kick slides is a bit clunky, and he doesn’t look like a natural athlete when he’s moving from side to side. He has relatively stiff hips, and it doesn’t help that he doesn’t do a great job of adjusting his set point at the line of scrimmage. He has to commit to his hip flips harder than most, which makes him susceptible to cuts inside by edge rushers. St. Louis’ technique isn’t quiet there yet, either. His pad level is a bit high, and his ability to get underneath and inside of his defenders is inconsistent.

Overall, St. Louis is a work in progress with a high ceiling. He would be a good target late on Day 3, though a good showing at the Combine could see him drafted higher than that. I project him as a right tackle in the NFL, but I realistically see him spending much - if not all - of his early professional career as a swing tackle. It never hurts to have depth along the offensive line, so St. Louis could be a potential target for the Bears late in the draft.

Andrew Wingard, FS/SS, Wyoming

Adrian Amos - like most of the Bears’ starters mentioned in this article - is slated to hit the open market this offseason. Chicago admittedly does have some depth at safety, with Deon Bush and DeAndre Houston-Carson serving as quality relief for Amos and Eddie Jackson. If the man nicknamed “Smash” departs, though, then bringing in somebody to challenge for his starting strong safety spot wouldn’t be a bad idea.

Andrew Wingard likely could have been a draft pick in the 2018 draft after his five interceptions and 114 tackles in 2017, but he opted to stay at Wyoming for another year. Though his 87 tackles and two interceptions this year was a step down from his junior year, he still had a solid season. At six feet tall and 209 pounds, he has a favorable frame for the safety position. He is an intelligent safety who can read the eyes of the quarterback to position himself to make a play on the ball. He takes very good angles to deep balls, as he quickly identifies which receiver the quarterback is throwing to and darts towards where the ball will drop. Wingard’s ball skills were obvious in 2017, and they didn’t really drop off in 2018. He also blitzes with a high motor, as he doesn’t shy away from contact with offensive linemen.

Where Wingard could struggle in the NFL is with his issues with lateral agility. He simply isn’t a stellar athlete, and much of his struggles are due to his inability to change direction well. His hips are too high in coverage and as a downhill tackler, and he doesn’t square up and break down when tackling. In a league that has come to emphasize yards after the catch, Wingard will have to improve his hip fluidity to become more than a special teamer. He also occasionally has issues with form tackling, as he has a tendency to lead more with his arms at times.

Wingard is an aggressive and intelligent safety who could play either free safety or strong safety at the next level. With improved flexibility in his hips, he could be a dangerous ball hawk in the pros. For now, though, he projects as an early-to-mid Day 3 pick. If Amos leaves in free agency, then Wingard could be in the cards for them.

Matt Gay, K, Utah

I think I heard somewhere that the Bears, like, need a new kicker or something. I could be wrong, though.

Cody Parkey’s status for the 2019 season is up in the air. His contract makes it inconvenient financially to release him, but the kicker position is the only glaring need on Chicago’s roster, and they will likely look to upgrade there this offseason. If they don’t decide to spend money on a kicker in free agency (*cough* Robbie Gould *cough*), they will target a rookie to use a draft pick on or sign in undrafted free agency. The Bears have two seventh-round picks as a result of their trading of Deiondre’ Hall to the Philadelphia Eagles, and they could use one of those picks on someone like Matt Gay.

Gay, a former soccer player with only two years of collegiate football experience, caught on incredibly quickly with Utah. The six-foot, 230-pounder went 85-for-85 on his extra point attempts. That’s right: he did not miss a single PAT attempt in two years. He nailed 37 of his 38 field goal attempts from 39 yards or fewer, with his lone miss coming early in 2017. Save for the first two games of the year, he did not miss a field goal attempt in the 40-to-49 yard range in 2018. He is also 8-for-11 from 50 yards or more in two years, which shows that his team actually has faith in him to hit long kicks. It would be pretty neat if the Bears had someone with whom they could hold that same trust.

Gay is a big-legged kicker who can hit with accuracy from the hash marks. The 2017 Lou Groza Award winner would be a very good target for the Bears if they choose to not spend big money on a replacement for Parkey in free agency.