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2019 Senior Bowl: 10 players the Bears should keep an eye on

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This year’s Senior Bowl class has talent galore for the Bears to target.

NCAA Football: Northern Illinois at San Diego State
Sutton Smith is an intriguing local prospect whom the Bears would be wise to keep an eye on during the Senior Bowl.
Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

EDIT: Hey guys, consider this your open thread for the Senior Bowl. Let us know the players you’d like to see the Bears take a chance on in the draft and as undrafted free agents.

The Senior Bowl is the premier collegiate all-star game. Every year, the game attracts some of the best senior prospects in the nation and gathers them to showcase their skills to NFL front offices and coaching staffs. Last year, the likes of Baker Mayfield, Josh Allen, Darius Leonard and Marcus Davenport got the chance to compete against some of the best college football had to offer, and this year promises to be another exciting year of competition.

While there are a handful of players who will warrant early-round consideration in this year’s group of players, the Chicago Bears will be focused on some of the mid-round talent this Saturday, of which there will be plenty. Without a pick in the first two rounds of the draft, the Bears will need to know Day 3 of the draft inside and out to find their next diamonds in the rough.

These 10 players - five from both the North and the South teams - are among those whom Chicago could be interested in.

North

Sutton Smith, EDGE, Northern Illinois

Though Sutton Smith lacks in size, he certainly doesn’t lack in effort and athletic ability.

Only six-foot-one and 237 pounds, Smith’s frame is bound to drop him down a handful of boards. He isn’t the strongest edge rusher in the world, and he doesn’t have much experience in coverage, which he will have to work on if he wants to stick around in the league for a while. However, Smith’s acceleration off the ball is very impressive. He times his jumps well and fires off the snap with eye-opening burst. He can dip underneath offensive tackles with ease - a positive from his lackluster length - and he excels at turning the corner in space. His movements in space are very fluid, as he consistently is able to get to the ball carrier in run support. Oh, and he had 29 sacks and 56.5 tackles for a loss in his last two seasons at NIU. Not too shabby.

With his motor and athleticism, Smith has the potential to be a wizard on special teams. He also projects as a solid rotational pass rusher, whether teams decide to use him as a 3-4 outside linebacker or as a blitzing 4-3 off-ball linebacker. He should be a hot commodity early on Day 3.

Jalen Jelks, EDGE, Oregon

Jalen Jelks made the transition from interior defensive lineman to edge rusher in 2018, a move which was best for his NFL development. The six-foot-six, 245-pounder was simply too light to play on the inside in the pros, so for Oregon to move him into a stand-up rushing role was a smart decision. In the role, he proved to be a player that NFL teams should keep an eye on.

Jelks has an intriguing blend of strength and speed. He is good at redirecting blocked in run support, and he packs a powerful punch upon initial contact at the line of scrimmage. At the same time, he fires off the ball with quickness, he can bend well and he can move well laterally in space. His pad level is consistent, and he plays with a high motor on every play. He will need to expand his pass-rushing arsenal with some counter moves, as too often he finds himself unable to re-enter the play after losing the initial battle at the line of scrimmage. Despite his experience along the interior, he also still needs to add some more power to his frame.

I currently have a third-round grade on Jelks, which seems to be roughly where most people have him at the moment. If the Bears plan on using an early pick on a rotational edge rusher, then he could be a possible option.

Kaleb McGary, OT, Washington

Heading into the season, Washington left tackle Trey Adams was one of the most highly-touted offensive line prospects in the nation. Though he decided to stay in college for another year, his teammate, right tackle Kaleb McGary, will be entering the 2019 draft to some fanfare.

McGary has an incredible frame at six-foot-eight and 324 pounds. He packs a strong punch at the initial battle at the line of scrimmage and has enough upper-body strength to physically overwhelm defensive linemen. He’s a solid longitudinal athlete, too, as he can advance to the second level well and is effective on pull blocks. From a technical standpoint, McGary still needs some work. Though his length is intriguing, it also comes as a slight detriment to his skill set. His pad level is too high at times, and he has relatively stiff hips and can’t bend or move laterally very well. He also struggles with consistent hand placement from time to time and has too wide of a wide base.

Though he needs some polishing, McGary is a big right tackle prospect with upside to grow. He would make sense as a potential pick late on Day 2 or early on Day 3.

Tony Pollard, RB/WR/KR, Memphis

If you’re looking for a Swiss Army knife in this class, you won’t find a better one than Tony Pollard.

The Senior Bowl lists him as a running back, but Pollard took a lot of his snaps as a wide receiver at Memphis last year. He has good ball-carrier vision and lateral agility as a runner, and he also has smooth hands and route-running abilities as a receiver. He’s also one of the most prolific return specialists in recent memory, as he returned seven kicks for touchdowns in the last three seasons. Pollard doesn’t have great contact balance or power, and he isn’t an incredibly physical receiver, so needless to say much of his value comes from his speed.

Pollard likely won’t be a bellcow back at the next level, but he is an intriguing gadget player with versatility to spare. Having him and Tarik Cohen in the backfield - and as return specialists - would make the Bears that much more of a pain to plan for.

Kris Boyd, CB, Texas

The North has a handful of talented defensive backs on their squad, with Delaware’s Nasir Adderley - the best defensive back playing in this game - and Penn State’s Amani Oruwariye among those on the roster. Though it’s unlikely the Bears could draft either of them, Kris Boyd would certainly be a great consolation prize.

Boyd’s six-foot, 195-pound frame makes him a good fit to play on the boundary in the NFL. He is good at being physical, yet not handsy, with receivers when the ball is in the air. He plays with a high motor in run support and is not afraid to lower the boom on a ball carrier. His ball skills are very good when he’s facing the ball, as he can high point the ball well and track down deep balls. Though his three collegiate interceptions are underwhelming, he did have 30 pass deflections in his last two seasons at Texas. Boyd is a decent athlete, but he’s not a burner by any means. He could have trouble guarding faster receivers at the next level. He is physical when attacking the ball, but he needs to prove that he can consistently jam receivers within the first five yards of scrimmage in press-man coverage. The potential that he shows off in his ball skills can be maddening at times because he does not consistently turn his head to make a play on the ball.

Boyd will likely end up coming off the board on Day 3. As a prospect in Rounds 4 or 5, he would be a solid addition to any secondary.

South

Jaquan Johnson, SS, Miami (FL)

If you’re looking for a strong safety who can hit the living daylights out of people, then Jaquan Johnson is your guy.

Johnson isn’t an incredibly big safety prospect at five-foot-eleven and 195 pounds. However, he makes up for it with his physicality. A reliable downhill tackler, he can consistently bring down ball carriers and close in on them with explosiveness. He takes good angles to ball carriers in space, and he delivers nasty pops on the regular. He’s also an intelligent player who can read the eyes of the quarterback, jump routes to make a play on their ball and make adjustments by communicating with his teammates. Johnson isn’t a super rangy safety, as his hip fluidity is decent at best. His backpedal speed and overall deep speed could use some improvement, too.

I have Johnson graded higher than late Round 3, but he could potentially fall due to his relatively mediocre athleticism. If he were to fall to the Bears, though, then they would be getting a tough and intelligent player who could replace Adrian Amos - who may leave in free agency - very well.

Rock Ya-Sin, CB, Temple

Besides having arguably the coolest name in this year’s draft class, Rock Ya-Sin has plenty of appealing traits to his game.

Ya-Sin - whose given birth name is Abdurrahman Ibn Ya-Sin, in case you were wondering - spent his first three years of college at Presbyterian College, but he managed to stand out in his lone season at Temple. He finished the year with two interceptions and 12 pass deflections, a solid year overall. The six-foot-two, 190-pound cornerback has fantastic length for his position, making him a natural fit for the boundary. He is a physical cornerback who can box out larger receivers and win 50/50 battles on a consistent basis. His ball skills are impressive, and he has the instincts and aggressiveness to jump routes and make a play on the ball. In press-man, Ya-Sin’s movements are fluid and his hips flip fairly well. He’s far from an elite athlete, as his deep speed leaves a bit to be desired, and he can give up too much cushion in off-man coverage too often. He also needs a lot of work as a tackler, as he needs to work on taking better angles and squaring up to the ball carrier more often. The fact that he only has one season against FBS competition could also impact his stock a little bit, as well.

He needs some additional development, but Ya-Sin is a big and physical cornerback with good ball skills. He would be a great target for the Bears in Round 5.

Andre Dillard, OT, Washington State

This year’s Senior Bowl class has a handful of intriguing offensive linemen, but among those with the highest ceilings is Andre Dillard.

Dillard has very good length at six-foot-five, but he could stand to add an additional 10 pounds or so to his 306-pound frame. He is one of the most athletic tackles in this year’s class: his kickslide is fluid and can cover enough ground to keep up with speedy edge rushers, he advances to the second level with impressive acceleration, and he has fluid hips and can adjust his set point at the line of scrimmage according to the alignment of opposing defenders. Dillard is also very technically sound, as his base and pad level are both refined. He’s far from a nasty blocker, as his functional strength isn’t quite what it could be. He can be overwhelmed by more muscular rushers and often struggles with consistently getting good hand placement on the opposition.

With some work with NFL strength coaches, Dillard can be a long-term starter at either left or right tackle. The Bears would have to draft him in the third round to select him, but he could realistically be selected higher than that with a good outing at the Combine.

Carl Granderson, EDGE, Wyoming

As far as athletic edge rushers go in this class, you won’t find many who can fit that bill like Carl Granderson can.

The Wyoming defender is coming off of a down year in which he only recorded three sacks as opposed to his 8.5 in 2017, but he still has the physical traits to be a productive sack artist at the next level. The six-foot-four, 246-pound Granderson constantly fires off the ball with great first-step acceleration, and he manages to keep that athleticism when moving around in space. He plays with a high motor, has quick and active hands and is constantly striving to get to the ball. Though he wasn’t used often in coverage in college, he has flashed some versatility in that regard. Granderson doesn’t offer much in run support, as he often struggles with redirecting blocks and taking blockers head on, which likely makes his best fit a 3-4 linebacker to come in on passing downs. His pad level and overall functional strength could also use some improvement.

Granderson can likely be drafted early on Day 3 due to his run support issues and his underwhelming production at a Group of 5 school. However, he would be a very good additional to any team looking for some additional boost to their pass-rushing unit.

Bruce Anderson, RB, North Dakota State

One of the most fun parts about the Senior Bowl is watching how small-school prospects fare against competition that hails primarily from Power 5 schools. There are a lot of talented prospects that come from programs outside of the FBS, but among the best is Bruce Anderson, who hails from FCS juggernaut North Dakota State.

Anderson is a five-foot-eleven, 210-pound running back who runs with more toughness than most backs his size. He has great contact balance and can run through defenders with ease. He runs with a relentless edge to his game, pummeling and carrying would-be tacklers to sizable gains. His patience as a ball carrier comes in flashes, but those flashes are quite good. Anderson has solid lateral agility and is capable of making defenders miss in the open field. As is the case with most small-school prospects, he has very little experience against NFL-caliber talent, so a good showing in the Senior Bowl would boost his draft stock. Anderson flashed some potential on tape as a receiver, but his sample size is too small to get a good enough reading. His breakaway speed is average at best, and he could work on bouncing outside of the tackles instead of chugging right up the middle when there aren’t any holes. Plus, his pad level when running is a bit too high, and while he was able to trample FCS defenders, he should work on running less upright in the pros.

Teams have been able to find plenty of talented running backs outside of the first two rounds of the draft, and the Bears will likely be in the market to draft one in that range. If they’re looking for someone who can outplay his draft stock, then Anderson could be that guy.