The Bears have now finalized their 53-man roster, and they are about to face the Green Bay Packers. However, it’s also true that the college football season is underway, and there are still plenty of interesting players to watch there, too. We are trying to bring you prospects to watch during this college season, going by conference, to talk about who might look good donning Navy and Orange in 2020.
Chicago will have to make the most of their limited picks. They will have have a pair of 2nd-round picks and a fifth-rounder (their own), as well as two sixth-rounders. At least they didn’t burn a pick on a kicker only to cut him, though.
Josh: The PAC-12 usually has talent, but this year seems stronger to me than most years. It might just be because I feel like I’ve been watching some of these guys for longer.
Erik: So far, Ryan Pace hasn’t drafted a player from this conference in his first five drafts as the Bears’ GM. That’ll likely change this year, as the top players expected from the PAC-12 match up well with the Bears’ projected needs.
Cream of the Crop
Erik: Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon (6-6, 235 lbs). As Tua from the SEC is my top overall player to be had in this coming draft -- if he declares -- then Herbert is my #2 prospect overall. He has a similar vibe to Mitchell Trubisky in the sense he’s a highly talented, yet fairly raw player who will need quality coaching to reach his potential. That potential, is sky high.
His arm talent, for one, is ludicrous. In the season opener against Auburn, he made several passes against the grain almost effortlessly, with the ball flying out as he simply flicks his wrist towards the direction he wants the ball to travel. When he actually drives on the ball properly, it comes out as a straight laser almost every single time. Don’t let his size fool you, he is fast and has such a canny ability to escape from pressure.
With all his God-given talent comes a few deficiencies.
He will stare down his receivers when looking for the long ball. Also, when the pressure around him heats up, he makes critical mistakes as he resorts to depending on his talent for making plays that just aren’t good decisions. After suffering a few serious injuries, including a broken femur and a broken clavicle, the internal timer is much shorter than it used to be. His footwork will need the most polishing, his base gets too wide and that’ll cause for his body to be unbalanced when trying to go deep. His deep balls have sailed too many times to think this is an easy fix.
Herbert is the biggest “boom or bust” prospect at quarterback in this next year’s draft class. Still, I won’t be surprised to see his name being announced as the 2nd overall pick. I just hope whichever team drafts him is responsible enough to build around their young franchise passer properly.
Josh: Laviska Shenault - WR, Colorado (6-2, 220lbs). Originally, this was going to be Colby Parkinson, who I think might be the best tight end in college right now. However, with his starting quarterback hurt and with Erik’s optimism that he might be available for the Bears, I’ll move on to Shenault.
Shenault is the type of wide receiver that GMs fall in love with. He is explosive, and his ability to make plays once the ball is in his hands is really something to watch. Fans of receivers who fight for the ball and then deliver on yards after the catch will love his ability to take the ball out of the air and then turn on the athletic gifts for big gains. That said, the Bears fan in me sees echoes of Kevin White.
Shenault has a limited route tree, and he does rely on his physical talents. He has not been challenged the way NFL receivers are challenged, and it’s a different beast to play against other physical marvels every Sunday. That’s not to say that I doubt Shenault can deliver. However, there’s a lot of potential for him to find that the things that made him elite on Saturday make him simply above average on Sunday.
Top Bears targets
Erik: Colby Parkinson - TE, Stanford (6-7, 235 lbs). David Shaw’s program has developed a long list of great tight end prospects who were drafted by the NFL in recent years. Parkinson is no exception, as he’s the physical mismatch that we have hoped Adam Shaheen will become at this point in their career. He would add another dimension to the Bears’ offense as a player who can line up as either a “U” or a “Y” tight end.
His blocking isn’t spectacular, but I have a feeling he cleans that up this year with Shaw’s success of building solid all-round players by the end of their third season. His route running is decent; not perfect by any means, yet for a 6’7” target he’s fluid enough to gain separation. Colby is the type of player who’ll bust the seams in any zone coverage. His size and athleticism will prove to be a nightmare for defenses to cover in the red zone.
Josh: Jaylon Johnson - CB, Utah (6-0, 190lbs). Johnson plays bigger than his six-foot frame. He doesn’t avoid contact, and he uses his athleticism and physicality to play as a true boundary corner. He craves the chance to make a play on the football, and he has a pronounced ability to find the ball and to give himself a chance to make a play on it.
Despite those impressive traits, I still think there’s a chance the Bears can get him. He struggles to recognize routes at times, and he does not excel against all receiver types and in all defenses. In short, he’s a good player for a team that needs a do-anything corner, but he is not going to be the absolute best corner at doing any one thing. He lacks the length that some corners will have, and he lacks the instincts that define the true stars. However, I think Pagano could do a lot with his physicality, and he would be a nice addition to the Bears’ defensive stars.
Hoping They Slide
Erik: Troy Dye - LB, Oregon (6-4, 226lbs). Dye has the size, productivity, and athleticism defensive coaches crave when looking to build their linebacker corps. He’s led Oregon for three straight seasons in total tackles, and is in a position to break the university’s all-time record during his senior year. He has a bright future as an inside linebacker given his above-average coverage skills, good block-shedding, and a high motor to finish plays.
So long as he fine tunes his game.
Despite his statistics, Dye does need to be more patient with his reads. Too often does he chase the first shirt instead of trusting his keys. This leads him to vacating his gaps or getting drilled by pulling linemen. I’m not sure how Oregon coaches their pursuit drills, his angles are all over the place when defending the boundaries. It’ll take a savvy and experienced coach to really finish his development as a ‘backer. But, in the right environment, he’ll thrive as a pro-bowl caliber player who might be available on day two.
Josh: Walker Little - OT, Stanford (6-7, 315lbs). Little wins at the line of scrimmage and projects as a true left tackle. As a bonus, he comes from a family of athletes and he “gets” the pro sports grind. I feel like that’s all that really needs to be said about the guy to explain why I think he’s one of the gems in this draft, but it’s worth drilling a little bit deeper to talk about how he wins at the line of scrimmage.
He’s got plenty of strength, and he has the ability to recognize plays and the intelligence to know what he needs to do with very impressive physical gifts. He’s long-limbed, and he plays “quick”. Unfortunately, he’s raw. He lets his feet get away from him, he struggles with his pad level, and he will often struggle to handle things when he misdiagnoses his opponent. His gifts are clear, but his technical traits are lacking.
Here’s where things get interesting. Little was expected to have most of 2019 in order to clean up his game and to build the reps he needed to cement his status as a first-round player. Instead, he got injured against Northwestern. If it turns out that he’s sidelined for more than a few games, it’s possible that he could slide down to the range where the Bears could take a shot at him.
In this case, Little would be falling into a dream spot, in that the Bears could give him the time and the coaching he needs to become a truly dominant player. The Bears, meanwhile, would get a player with first-round talent when they lack a first-round pick.
Late Round Hopefuls
Erik: Julian Blackmon - Safety, Utah (6-1, 204). There is a large contingent that believes he would transition back into corner once he reaches the pros. I find those beliefs to be flawed if not impatient, Blackmon is playing Safety for his senior season after spending most of his career at corner. I really like the potential he has in his new position.
His tackling is what has most people worried. It’s not ideal, but it gets the job done, and he’ll do himself favors by building a stronger base to drive forward once contact is made. The aggressiveness and high energy he plays with is what makes him a potential steal in the later rounds. Blackmon’s range and size at the safety position is prototypical for what NFL coaches want in today’s game.
Much like Dye, if he’s drafted by a team that already has solid pieces on defense, Julian can really shine and develop into a legitimate stud.
Josh: Christian Rector - Edge, USC (6-4, 275lbs). I am going to include an Edge player in every one of these write-ups, and I will continue to do so until I am convinced that the Bears have a solid three-player rotation at the position.
Rector should be available to the Bears later on because I don’t see him flying off the board in the first two rounds. He’s a tweener, but not in the way that modern defenses love. He’s not quite a 4-3 defensive end, but he has struggled in the 3-4 OLB/predator role. More than that, he does not have the bend or leverage that scouts crave.
What does he do well? He’s just barely fast enough, with a quick enough first step, that he should be able to play on Sundays. He uses his length and size well to close up in the run game, and he’s not afraid to be aggressive to disrupt the line and to go after the passer on passing plays.
He needs the 2019 season to demonstrate that he has the mental discipline necessary to overcome the limitations in his physical game. However, if he does put together some tape, and if he does refine his game, he could be a quality piece to a defense that already has a true monster at the pass rush and a true utility knife as a counterpart.
Erik: Oregon @ Stanford (9/21). Oregon and Stanford take two completely different approaches to the game. With Oregon, we’ll see a lot of spread and high-tempo concepts being ran on offense led by Justin Herbert and a corps of freakish athletes at receiver. Meanwhile, Stanford will look to control the clock with their pro-style offense, as their punishing run game faces off against the fast and furious Ducks defense.
Most of the biggest names will be playing offense between both teams. Do not overlook the players on the defensive side of the ball, though. Oregon has a handful of players for their starting defense that may hear their names called during the draft as well.