The Bears began with a fizzle, even though there is plenty of football left to play in the season. Still, it can be fun to speculate about which college players would make great additions to the Beloved next season. Therefore, Windy City Gridiron is trying to bring you prospects to watch during this college season, going by conference, to talk about who might be good targets for Chicago in 2020. Ryan Pace will not pick until the second round, and he will also miss out on third- and fourth-round action unless he trades. What are the chances, there?
Just a reminder, we’ve already covered the SEC [Here] and the Big Ten [Here], the ACC [Here], and the PAC-12 [Here]. Now we’re on to the Big 12, a conference that the Bears might have wanted to scout a bit more thoroughly in the past.
Josh: The Big 12 isn’t always laden with talent, but when there are gems, they tend to have the potential to be difference makers. For example, Oklahoma has now had back-to-back #1 overall picks (Murray and Mayfield). Not bad.
Erik: For me, this year is all about the Oklahoma Sooners, and then it’s everybody else. With that, I’ll point out the fact Ryan Pace has frequently scouted and drafted players from this conference. David Montgomery along with Cody Whitehair serve as two examples.
Jacob: The Big 12 known more for its explosive, offensive talent, but it has been home to a handful of talented defenders, as well. Any Power 5 conference is one worth looking deep into.
Cream of the Crop
Erik: CeeDee Lamb - WR, Oklahoma (6-2, 191 lbs). No Hollywood Brown? No problem. CeeDee ascended as one of the very best receivers to be had in the upcoming draft despite being overshadowed in 2018. His game is about as complete as it gets for a receiver destined to be picked early by a team needing weapons.
His route running is arguably the best of any player expected in 2020. The footwork, the crispness he runs with when breaking on his routes, and the level of discipline he plays with are all the best I have seen thus far. He’ll pluck any ball in the air so long as it’s within his radius. He constantly contests for the ball without failing, using his frame and balance to shield off defenders. It’s fairly hard to point out any weaknesses to his game.
Perhaps the only thing that might drop him on teams boards is his level of explosiveness being perceived as “meh.” A lot of people will look at him as more of a “safe” pick as opposed to an “exciting” pick. His floor is fairly high, with his ceiling being decent, but not spectacular. Sometimes, it’s the players seen as “boring” who become the very best at their position. Lamb could certainly be a candidate for that logic.
Josh: CeeDee Lamb - WR, Oklahoma (6-2, 190lbs). Erik already said everything that needs to be said about Lamb, but he’s the only player in the Big 12 right now I think is even close to a sure bet for Day 1, and so I feel compelled to list him here.
Jacob: Creed Humphrey - C, Oklahoma (6-foot-5, 315 pounds).
When I put an interior offensive lineman in the top 3 of my big board, you know that guy is a stud.
Creed Humphrey will have to battle with Wisconsin’s Tyler Biadasz for the throne of the top center in the 2020 draft class, but I really like what the Oklahoma redshirt sophomore has to offer. He plays with fantastic pad level, consistently keeping himself low and blocking with his weight underneath him. He regularly gets his hands inside the shoulder pads of defenders, maintaining complete leverage on a regular basis. Few blockers in this class can match Humphrey’s level of nastiness, as his combination of a high motor and pure strength allows him to plant defenders into the dirt. He does a very good job of picking up double-team blocks, approaching blitzers and clearing out his zone in appropriate schemes. Plus, his 6-foot-5, 315-pound frame is packed with muscle and is well-proportioned for the NFL game.
Humphrey is only an average athlete at best, and his lack of top-end lateral agility suggests he not be utilized as a pull blocker very often. However, with his technique, intelligence, and brute strength, he’s a top-level interior offensive line prospect.
Top Bears targets
Erik: Brandon Jones - S, Texas (6-0, 205 lb). I’m continuing with my trend of picking safeties high, as I target a potentially elite player in Brandon Jones. He has the size, talent, and athleticism to make him a 1st round pick in most years. His availability will be made for the Bears not because of his own problems. Instead, it will be due to the epic level of talent available at the safety position in this 2020 class.
Jones does everything that coaches want to see from their safeties. He’s a willing run defender when stacked inside the box. He’ll match up one-on-one with receivers if asked to play nickel. He has a built-in radar that detects and tracks the ball once it’s in the air. He can be utilized as an additional tool to blitz with, although that would take away from his strength in being an exceptional player in coverage.
To be frank, Jones’s stock is lowered only because players like McKinney from Alabama and Delprit from LSU have flashed far more on highlight-type plays. He could fall to the Bears early in round 2, and they would be foolish not to jump on him.
Josh: Reggie Walker - Edge, Kansas State (6-2, 240lbs). Every year an edge player or three shoots up the rankings somewhat unexpectedly. I think this year one of those players might be Reggie Walker. Right now, he doesn’t even crack that many Top 200 lists. However, there’s a chance he might look a lot better in February or March.
First, there’s the position. Walker plays Edge, and he does so with aggression. He has almost caught his school’s record for forced fumbles, and he also has an ability to anticipate where the ball is going to be--he delivers in breaking up passes, in making tackles for a loss, and in doing all of the little things that suggest he has a nose for the football.
Second, he’s got raw strength, and he knows how to use his strength. He wraps up players and takes them down with finality.
Why is a strong, instinctive edge rusher not going any higher according to most people? Right now he’s a limited player. He doesn’t have a lot of tools in his toolkit, and he doesn’t always have a plan for what to do when he’s blocked initially. He certainly lacks the footwork or bend to be considered a top prospect at the moment. However, if he improves his technique this year, he could climb the boards.
Jacob: Jeff Gladney - CB, TCU (6-foot, 183 pounds).
TCU isn’t the perennial powerhouse it was during the Andy Dalton days, but it is still a good program that cranks out a couple of NFL-caliber players. Jalen Reagor is one of them—a dynamic speedster of a wide receiver whom I would love to talk about if I felt the Bears needed new talent there—but another standout on their roster is cornerback Jeff Gladney.
Gladney, who was the No. 40 prospect on my board, combined for four interceptions and 17 pass deflections from 2017 to 2018. He is an intelligent corner who can read through the stems of the receivers he covers very well. He can read the eyes of the quarterback and time his jumps on the ball with sharp precision, Gladney’s acceleration out of his breaks is impressive, and his changes direction with fluid hips and good footwork. For a lankier cornerback, he also isn’t afraid to get physical and break up passes in contested catch situations.
He doesn't offer much in terms of run support yet, as his angles are inconsistent and his play strength will need improving at the next level. However, Gladney is a fluid and intelligent cornerback with starting upside. Though he isn’t a reliable press-man corner like Prince Amukamara is, his ability to jump routes and aggressively attack the ball would fit well in an aggressive scheme like Chuck Pagano’s.
Hoping They Slide
Erik: T.J. Vasher - WR, Texas Tech (6-6, 210lbs). You want a tall weapon at receiver, here he is. I can’t recall seeing someone as tall as he is being able to be a natural receiver downfield. Not even Mike Evans, another former product of this university, can say he’s the tallest man roaming in the passing game.
He’ll definitely need to bulk up once he reaches the pros. Aside from that, Vasher is a huge weapon to abuse secondaries with, just lob the ball at him basketball style if you want to generate big plays vertically. His blocking is good enough to have me wondering if it would be worth the time to convert him into a tight end. Then again, his skillset is strong as a flanker type receiver.
Josh: Lucas Niang - OT, TCU (6-7, 328lbs). I worry when the only people who agree with me are at Pro Football Focus, but I don’t understand why Niang is generating so little buzz. He’s okay at mirroring and I like the way he moves his feet. His arms have the right length to stay at tackle, and he has adequate strength for his position.
Honestly, Niang’s aware of his biggest problem, and that’s in the run game. He’s working on it. He was already visibly improving his technique over the 2018 season, and that’s likely to continue over 2019. As a result, Niang might be something the Bears need--a well-rounded right tackle prospect who is actually available when they pick.
Jacob: Kenneth Murray - LB, Oklahoma (6-foot-2, 243 pounds).
If Danny Trevathan has another year like he did last season, he could become too expensive for the Bears to re-sign this offseason. In that case, they would be wise to target an inside linebacker with one of their second-round picks in April.
Kenneth Murray was the epitome of productive in 2018, tallying 155 tackles, 12.5 tackles for a loss and four sacks for the Sooners. He is an instinctive tackler who can diagnose plays quickly and act upon them to position himself to make a tackle. His range as a tackler is very good, as his straight-line speed allows him to quickly reach the sidelines once he gets out of his stance. Murray’s size for the position is fantastic, and the strength in his frame allows him to shed blocks and engage with offensive linemen on downhill plays.
Though he doesn’t have much range in coverage due to rather mediocre lateral agility, Murray is a sizable and intelligent tackler who could be very good value outside of the first round. If he manages to fall to either one of the Bears’ second-round selections, he could be worth considering.
Late Round Hopefuls
Erik: Grant Calcaterra - TE, Oklahoma (6-4, 233). Oklahoma’s passing game already looks deadly with the emergence of Jalen Hurts at quarterback. So much so, that I see Hurts ascending into the 1st round as well as being a frontrunner for the Heisman. Calcaterra, on the other hand, might be available in the 4th round or later.
He’s a grinder with an attitude that plays bigger than his listed size. Of all the tight ends I’ve seen so far, his blocking stands out as the most NFL-ready. His size, on the other hand, puts him at a disadvantage against linebackers he’ll face against in the pros. He’s a capable receiver that brings a balanced element to the game. His hands are dependable, his route running is O-K, and he will truck through weak attempts at tackling.
Not a lot of “wow” to his game, but he’s someone that’ll compete and possibly earn a long-term role with a team thanks to his work ethic and toughness.
Josh: Jalen Hurts - QB, Oklahoma (6-2, 210lbs). I don’t usually see a developmental quarterback as a reasonable investment for a team, and the Bears certainly don’t have picks to burn on projects. However, this one is interesting to me. Considered by many to be outside of the Top 100 prospects heading into 2020, Hurts has the one thing that Trubisky has lacked his entire career--experience.
I think that Hurts is a guy who might be interesting. He has mobility and struggles a little with accuracy. He can’t make all of the throws that might be expected from a pro, but he does have the intangibles in terms of leadership and poise. He’s big enough, and plays big enough, that he can take a hit. Ultimately, I see in hurts a discounted version of Trubisky. Because the Bears need a backup, I harbor a pipe dream that a 5th or 6th-rounder might be better spent on turning Hurts into Trubisky’s shadow for the two games a year he might miss due to injury. That seems better than paying Chase Daniel a few million a year.
Jacob: Brandon Jones - S, Texas (6-foot, 205 pounds).
Erik already touched on Jones, and while I don’t feel as strongly about him as Optimist Prime, I do believe he can start in the NFL.
I do think he can improve his ball skills and tackling form, and his lack of “splash” plays will prevent himself from being a sexy picks in early rounds. However, I like the consistent motor that he plays with and his dangerous closing speed with which he crashes into ball carriers. He has solid range in coverage, accompanied with solid hip fluidity and good acceleration coming out of his breaks. Coincidentally enough, I see a bit of Adrian Amos in his game.
If the Bears choose to go in a different direction from Ha Ha Clinton-Dix or Deon Bush this offseason, they would be wise to add another safety in the draft. Though the Bears’ lack of draft picks in Rounds 3 and 4 could make it difficult to land Jones without reaching for him or making a trade, but he is a talented player who would fit well in their system.
Erik: Oklahoma @ Texas (10/12). The rivalry between these schools continues to be a fun one to watch. A lot of current and former greats have played in similar contests throughout the years, and I expect a large bandwagon of scouts to be in attendance. I expect no less than a shootout between two high powered offenses to take place at Darrell K Royal - Texas Memorial Stadium.
I’m looking forward to seeing how Brandon Jones fares when Jalen Hurts looks for CeeDee Lamb with the long ball in mind. Also, Texas has a plethora of solid receivers who will hear their names called by NFL teams. Plenty of excitement is surrounding both teams when thinking about the future for players to watch turning professional in the coming years.
Jacob: TCU @ Oklahoma (Nov. 23).
I agree with Erik that Oklahoma-Texas is the big game to watch in the Big 12 this year, but I’ll go with another game for the sake of some diversified analysis.
Jalen Hurts is off to a fantastic start to the year, and with an innovative offensive scheme and weapons like CeeDee Lamb and Grant Calcaterra, it’s not hard to see why. Their high-powered offense will go up against a TCU offense that features one of the fastest men in college football in Jalen Reagor, as well as one of the nation’s best right tackles in Lucas Niang. Jeff Gladney and Kenneth Murray lead the defenses of TCU and Oklahoma’s respectively.