Jacob Infante has been grinding tape on the 2019 draft class since April 2018. EJ Snyder has been laser-focused on the middle rounds of draft and dropping that accumulated knowledge on the Bears Over Beers (@bearsoverbeers) podcast. Eventually their opinions on draft-eligible prospects would collide - and a showdown would be necessary. This is that time. “Two analysts enter, one analyst leaves!” Chant it with us.
Hold up. That all sounds good in the movies, but this is real life. Here, I’ve got a ton of respect for Jacob and the work he’s done. He’s got a great eye and does a tremendous job communicating why he ranks players the way he does. Because of that respect I’m going to give him the chance to defend some of his, uhhh, “more questionable” takes from his recently released “Ranking top 10 prospects at each position” piece (which was really solid, but don’t tell him that... let’s just keep it between us). He deserves that much.
Niceties aside, it’s time to tussle. Jacob dropped takes and I took offense. I’m pretty sure them’s the rules on this here Internet. Nobody can agree. That being the case “I’m your huckleberry” Jacob. Let’s do this.
Take #1 - Running Back: Devine Ozigbo over Trayveon Williams
Jacob must have been a Tom Osborne, Husker-loving loyalist in a former life. He must have been dazzled by Ozigbo’s considerable physique, at nearly 220 pounds. I cannot think any other possible reasons that someone would look at Ozigbo’s game film (not his Senior Bowl highlights or his Combine workout) and rank him anywhere near (nonetheless OVER) a player with as many well-refined talents as Trayveon Williams. None. Nada. Zip. Zilch. You’ve got some splainin’ to do. Give it your best shot... but I’m guessing this kick falls well short of the crossbar.
I actually ended up with a very similar grade on both Trayveon Williams and Devine Ozigbo, so my ranking the former below the latter is no disrespect to his game. Williams will be a good player at the next level, and I actually think that he will end up getting drafted higher than Ozigbo will.
I feel that the game between the two backs is insanely small, but I do admittedly like Ozigbo’s running style a bit more. Both backs are good at a lot of things, despite not being necessarily great in a particular aspect of running the ball. In terms of ball-carrier vision, they are about the same. Williams is a better inside-zone runner who can bounce outside of the tackles, while Ozigbo is a better outside-zone runner who can cut inside and punish defenders with a powerful running style. Williams is a better athlete and receiver out of the backfield, though Ozigbo is no slouch in either category. You are actually right in my liking the former Husker’s physique, as I feel that his bulky and compact frame is able to deliver punishment, as well as absorb it. His power advantage, in my opinion, is not as narrow as Williams’ athleticism advantage.
If you’re asking for the better fit for the Bears, I’ll take Williams, as he has more value on passing downs. Plus, his running style offers a bit of a middle ground between Tarik Cohen and Mike Davis, whereas Ozigbo draws similarities to Davis as a runner. However, the Nebraska back just barely edged him out on my overall board.
Take #2 - Linebacker: Excluding Germaine Pratt entirely
As a Bears fan, I’m not sure how you can look a freakish athlete with size, who used to be a safety but them moved to linebacker, and in his only year starting as an LB dominated his conference... and not channel your own powerful positive memories of Brian Urlacher. But somehow you’ve managed to not only avoiding doing that, but also completely stonewalled one of the better ILB’s in this draft off your top-10 list. And that is saying something, because the talent at off-ball LB in this particular selection meeting is not awe-inspiring.
Pratt combines tremendous measurables (the guy ran a 4.5 40 at 240 pounds) with inspired production for his first year at his position (he was leading the ACC in tackles, having never played LB before). The only conclusion I can draw from that combination is that is arrow is pointing up. Waaaay up. But he doesn’t crack your top-10? Populated by pedestrian players like Joe Giles-Harris? Explain yourself.
I agree with you that this year’s off-ball linebacker class is not particularly a great one. There’s actually an incredibly minuscule grade differential between the linebackers ranked No. 6 through No. 12 on my board, so I do believe that Germaine Pratt is on a similar playing field with players I had ranked higher on my board like Blake Cashman and Vosean Joseph. I do see potential in his game, and the size and speed combination is definitely an enticing one. However, even though he has background as a safety, I’m honestly underwhelmed with what he offers in coverage.
Pratt’s instincts in zone coverage are pretty disappointing for someone with experience in the secondary. He can be a step too slow to diagnose plays coming across the middle, which affects his ability to accelerate and make a play on the ball on time. Even then, his lateral agility isn’t as good as his straight-line speed, and his acceleration coming out of his breaks isn’t incredible for a player who used to be a safety. I’m also not too sold on his value as a downhill tackler, as while he is a reliable tackler who can bring down ball carriers with good form, he can’t shed blocks very well and he doesn’t shoot up the right gap at times.
Nevertheless, I do see the upside in his game. His frame, his tackling ability and his downhill speed are very good foundations for a potential starter down the line. I just don’t see him as the surefire top-10 linebacker that you do.
Take #3 - Safety: Jaquan Johnson and Marvell Tell over Jonathan Abram
Now we’re going to come to blows. Fake, digital, Internet blows... but some kind of blows are absolutely necessary for a grievance of this level. Jaquan Johnson flashes now and again but his inconsistency and missed plays more than balance out his positive moments. He’s got potential but saying he’ll become a worthwhile contributor at the next level is pure projection.
Abram on the other hand is right here, right now. He a safety with size that knows how to use it. That will (predictably and lazily) get him labeled as a “box safety” and only a box safety... but there is far more to his game. He talents remind me of Landon Collins at Alabama (who was incidentally labeled [incorrectly] the same way) who could deliver a blow but is far from helpless when countering the opposition’s pass patterns. Five years from now I think you’ll live to regret this one, but share with us why you’ve chosen to die on this particular hill.
I really wanted to like Johnathan Abram more than I did. I saw that some draft analysts were much higher on him than I was, and I, being an open-minded person, was willing to take an additional look at his tape to see if I missed something in my first go-around. While his grade did increase the more I watched him, I just couldn’t fall in totally love with him.
Abram is an alpha personality who plays with a physical edge and lowers the boom with impressive closing speed. He takes good angles to ball carriers and plays with a nonstop motor. My issue with him, though, is that he was severely underwhelming in coverage. He can accelerate well downhill, but his hips aren’t very fluid and his direction-changing abilities are pedestrian. His instincts in coverage are solid, but he lacks the range and explosiveness to get to the ball and make plays, and his mere two interceptions at the collegiate level reflect that. Plus, while his motor is definitely a plus in his game, he needs to work on playing under control as a tackler: he has a proclivity to arm tackle on occasion. I do see him as a starter in the NFL, but he’s far from the fringe first-round prospect some think he is.
Jaquan Johnson has some traits in common with Abram, as they are both physical, downhill tacklers who can hit hard on a regular basis, and they are both alpha personalities on the field. They also both have similar lateral athleticism concerns in my book, as Johnson’s range in coverage doesn’t stand out. Where Johnson has Abram beat is that his processing ability is just a tad quicker, allowing him to make some plays on the ball that Abram can’t always make. The former Hurricane plays with more control as a downhill tackler, as well.
As for Marvell Tell, I see a ton of upside in his game, prompting such a high ranking on my board. While he needs work as a tackler and lacks physicality when engaging with blockers, I’m a big fan of the potential he offers in coverage. His six-foot-two, 198-pound frame gives him tantalizing safety for the safety position. He tested among the best defensive backs in this year’s draft class in the broad jump, the three-cone drill and the 20-yard shuttle at the Combine, and that athleticism is apparent on tape. Tell can flip his hips, change direction laterally and accelerate out of his breaks all at a high level. He has a future in the NFL as a free safety who can be trusted in single-high coverage, and his ceiling is as high as any safety in this class if he adds a physical dimension to his game.
EJ’s PS: I’m with you that Marvell has good breaks and change of direction. I actually think his future is at CB not safety, and (spoiler alert)... it may end up being with the Seahawks.
There you have it: three points and counterpoints on players the Bears might consider in the 2019 NFL Draft. What do you think? Drop your own reactions about these players (or positions) in the comment section below.