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Bears College Prospect Preview-Non P5 and Independents

To finish out the series, we look at players outside of the Power 5 conferences

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 14 New Mexico at Notre Dame

The Chicago Bears have only a limited pool of draft picks come 2020, and so every selection is going to matter. With college football under way, it can be fun to watch those games and to wonder who might play for Chicago soon. So far, Windy City Gridiron has brought you our thoughts on the SEC [Here], the Big Ten [Here], the ACC [Here], the PAC-12 [Here], and the Big 12 [Here]. To wrap things up, we’re looking at the best prospects in the Non-Power Five conferences and the Independents.

Josh: Non-P5 guys are interesting. Sometimes they turn out to be rockstars (Tarik Cohen), and sometimes they turn out to be headscratchers (Adam Shaheen). I think Pace likes the other conferences, so I pay extra attention to these games when I can.

Erik: Drafting out of Non-P5 schools has yielded a mixed back when discussing the results. Hidden gems like Jerry Rice out of Mississippi Valley State University and, of course, Joe Montana from Notre Dame are highlights as what Ryan Pace hopes to find in his search through these schools. Talent is there for the taking, it takes just a bit of patience and luck to find a golden prospect here.

Jacob: You never really know what you’re going to get with most Power-5 prospects. Unless they’re clearly blue-chip talents like Ed Oliver was last year, or they’re a highly-touted prospect from Notre Dame, you can either get a diamond in the rough or somebody who won’t make it to the 53-man roster his rookie year. That said, it takes an intelligent talent evaluator to hit on those picks.

Cream of the Crop

Erik: Julian Okwara - Edge, Notre Dame. (6-4, 240 pounds). Notre Dame has always produced NFL draft prospects, year after year, since one can remember watching the NFL. Okwara comes in high on most draft boards after a solid junior year that displayed his elite ability to pressure QBs from the edges of the line of scrimmage. He’s in the discussion for top player of his position heading into the 2020 NFL Draft.

If you want to turn on the film and watch how an outside linebacker is supposed to set up meetings in the backfield, here’s your guy. His bend, flexibility, and striking power with his hands will translate well into the pros. In a sense, he reminds me quite a bit about Leonard Floyd when comparing how his talents and traits stack up to others in his position.

Okwara will need to contribute as an all-around defender, and not just a speed-oriented pass rush specialist. Right now he’d be penciled in as a rotational player until he stops getting bullied so badly against the run. Also, he doesn’t read his keys as well as you’d expect for a player of his talents. If he can adjust his mindset to address these issues, I see him being a big time player in his third season.

Jacob: Jordan Love - QB, Utah State (6-4, 225 pounds). A lot of hype has been given to the likes of Tua Tagovailoa and Justin Herbert, and while that praise is definitely warranted, Utah State’s Jordan Love belongs in that conversation of first-round quarterbacks.

Love has near-prototypical size for the quarterback position at 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds. He throws with a tremendous sense of timing and anticipation, and he is very good at throwing with touch on nearly all of his throws. He has natural arm strength and can effortlessly make deep throws and fit balls into tight windows. In the face of a collapsing pocket, he is still able to throw with accuracy and place his passes well. He throws with a mechanically-sound release, and he is good at going through his progressions to find the open man, even if it doesn’t come in his first read.

In addition to his accuracy and arm strength, Love is also a talented athlete. He has good breakaway speed for a quarterback, and that athleticism makes him a tough player to defend on option plays. He reads defenses well and is able to determine whether to hand the ball off, run with it himself or get a pass off, depending on the situation.

Love can trust his arm a bit too much at times, which can lead to him forcing throws into tight windows that he can’t make. He threw for just six interceptions in 2018 but is already close to that total this year, having thrown five in just four games in 2019. His base is also a bit too wide on his dropbacks, and though he is still accurate under pressure, he doesn’t always rotate his hips along with his arm, which is an issue that has affected Mitchell Trubisky’s accuracy at the next level.

Overall, there is a lot to love about Love, pun entirely intended. He might not start right away in the NFL, but he has all of the tools of a future starter. The Bears likely won’t draft a quarterback early in the 2020 draft, but if they do want to, Love could be available for them.

Josh: Antonio Gandy-Golden - WR, Liberty (6-4, 220lbs). Gandy-Golden is a former gymnast with a remarkable ability to high-point the ball. He is a physical specimen that seems a little bit more like a comic book character than a real person, and he is not afraid to use his frame in a football game. He’s a capable blocker and is more than willing to fight for the ball.

It’s worth noting that his best plays have come against lower-level competition, and it is equally worth noting that even at the level he plays at, he is not great at creating separation. The reality is that Gandy-Golden has the physical tools that will make GMs fall in love with him, even if he should remind Bears fans of Kevin White in too many ways for them to be completely comfortable.

The good news is that it is highly likely he will be gone by the time Pace could make a move.

Top Bears targets

Josh: Julian Okwara - Edge, Notre Dame (6-5, 250 pounds). Look above or below to see where my fellow contributors have placed Okwara. I think Erik and Jacob profile him fairly well, but I do want to add that I think he’s situated to be an almost perfect target for the Bears. He’s a Edge player, so he’s likely to be overdrafted. However, right now he’s not likely to stand out and attract first-round buzz. That means that he’s a talent who can replace (permanently or in rotation) Leonard Floyd, and he might be available when the Bears pick.

Jacob: Tommy Kraemer - OG, Notre Dame (6-5, 319 pounds). As unfortunate of a reality it may be to accept, Kyle Long is no longer in his prime and is coming close to the end of his career. With no replacement plan in place, the Bears could consider drafting a guard early in the 2020 draft.

If you’re looking for a sizable interior lineman with a high motor, Tommy Kraemer is your guy. The 6-foot-5, 319-pound guard has great length and packs a lot of mass in his lower body. He blocks to the whistle on a consistent basis, showing off great drive in his legs and the desire to put someone in the dirt. He can pick up double-team blocks very well and is great at finding players to take on in zone-blocking schemes.

Kraemer packs a solid punch at the initial point of contact, and though his hand placement could use a little bit of consistency, he has shown dominance when he gets inside the shoulder pads of his defenders. He has good lateral agility when locked upon with defenders, and he takes good recovery angles in pass protection to knock off pass rushers at the top of their arc.

Where Kraemer could use some work comes in his athleticism in space. He doesn’t have very flexible hips, and his direction-changing abilities in the open field will need to improve at the next level. His body control will require some fine-tuning, and his straight-line athleticism likely won’t wow scouts when he runs the 40-yard dash at the Combine.

The Bears have built a reputation as a hard-nosed, blue-collar team, and a player like Kraemer would fit that stereotype well. A hard-working powerhouse who fits a need, the Golden Domer could be a target worth considering if they trade down into the third round.

Hoping They Slide

Josh: Curtis Weaver - EDGE, Boise State (6-3, 266 pounds). An explosive player who uses decent leverage and a lot of natural athleticism, Weaver is a pass-rush specialist who can do more, even if he usually does not need to do anything else.

He’s a strange one, in that at times his game seems extraordinarily polished and refined, and he can show some sophistication in his technique. At other times, he fals to do the basics right and seems to take bad angles or to get pushed past the pocket too easily.

Weaver is building a case for himself as a first round player, largely because he has multiple ways of getting to the passer, and that matters. However, if he does slip, there is a chance the Bears could get a player who only needs a bit of experience to turn into a wrecking ball, and he could gain that experience playing alongside Khalil Mack.

Jacob: Julian Okwara - EDGE, Notre Dame (6-5, 241 pounds). Leonard Floyd has been great to kick off the 2019 season, and Khalil Mack has been his typical, world-beating self. However, the depth the Bears have at edge rusher is lackluster, and though there’s now a good chance they re-sign Floyd, there could be a scenario in which they decide he is too pricey to re-sign. In that case, replacing him with a player with a similar skill set could ease the pain of that loss.

Julian Okwara is a lanky, athletic and versatile edge rusher with the physical tools to be a valuable defender in that next level. He is a very good athlete in space, as he has great body control and hip fluidity when moving in the open field. He accelerates well off the snap, has good straight-line speed and has the hip flexibility to dip underneath offensive tackles and take sharp angles to the quarterback. His motor runs high on every play, as he rushes the passer with active hands and great drive in his lower body, and he doesn’t take plays off as a run defender, either.

Okwara’s similarities also come in his value dropping back in coverage, as he has good acceleration coming out of his breaks and has the length and athleticism to play in man coverage if necessary. He has flashed the ability to play with inside hand positioning, and he has totaled 12 sacks and 16.5 tackles for a loss in his past 17 games. Plus, with his brother Romeo Okwara--who is an edge rusher for the Lions--already in the NFL, Julian has the bloodline to play in the pros.

Like Floyd was coming out of Georgia, Okwara is still a work in progress. He is a top-heavy pass rusher who needs to do a better job of building lower-body strength and rushing with his weight underneath him. His hands don’t carry a lot of weight, and he doesn’t pack much of a punch when he engages with blockers at the initial point of contact. If he wants to take the next step to become a top-tier prospect, he could also get better at adding some counter moves to his pass-rushing arsenal.

Based off of his physical abilities and high motor, Okwara is likely to be selected relatively early in the 2020 draft. The Bears likely wouldn’t consider him if they have plans to re-sign Floyd, but in the situation they don’t, Okwara would be a high-upside replacement.

Late Round Hopefuls

Jacob: Kyle Dugger - S, Lenoir-Rhyne (6-foot-2, 217 pounds). Ha Ha Clinton-Dix has been a welcome addition to Chicago’s secondary thus far, and he appears to be doing exactly what he came to the Windy City to do: boost his value on the open market in 2020 with a bounce-back season on a stacked defense. Assuming he leaves after this season, the Bears could be in the market for a new strong safety.

I had no idea that Lenoir-Rhyne was a college prior to watching Kyle Dugger, so for him to put it on the map for me says a lot about his talent level. He has great size for a small-school defensive back, packing great length and a muscular frame that can dish out punishment. His motor runs red hot consistently, as he does a great job of playing with aggression and constantly looking to get to the football in run support. He has great closing speed and takes sharp angles to ball carriers, and he is able to deliver powerful hits from just about any angle.

Dugger accelerates well downhill and plays with good explosiveness in a straight line. He has shown some promise in man coverage, as Lenoir-Rhyne has had him play in man coverage at times, where he has delivered some good jabs in squat-press coverage. He is solid at tracking down deep balls and positioning himself to get underneath them, and he plays with the willingness to engage with blocks. Plus, he’s a pretty talented punt returner, too, as he has three returns for touchdowns at the collegiate level and has broken off for numerous big plays.

However, some of Dugger’s plays in coverage likely come as a result of his playing inferior competition. He doesn’t have very good lateral agility or hip fluidity, and some of the plays he makes in single-high or two-high sets won’t be able to fly against strong-armed NFL quarterbacks. He has flashed some quickness in his diagnoses, but he will need to play at a quicker mental level in the pros, which could be a tough adjustment.

Dugger’s lack of top-end fluidity will likely prevent him from being a high draft pick, but his physicality, size, and aggressive style of play could garner some interest from NFL teams as a special teams player who can eventually contribute in big nickel packages. The Bears would be wise to remember his name as a late-round pick or a priority undrafted free agent.