As the NFL regular season comes to a close, discussions surrounding the 2021 NFL Draft begin to heat up.
Well over 100 college football players have already declared for the upcoming draft, and plenty more are expected to follow suit in the coming weeks. With the option of an additional year of eligibility being granted by the NCAA, it can be incredibly tough to determine which players are staying and which will declare for the draft.
We’ve talked plenty about some of the first-round prospects that the Bears could keep an eye on this class, from all of the top quarterback options to the intriguing offensive tackle prospects. Not much attention is ever truly paid to the mid-to-late-round prospects, though, which is unfortunate. There are seven rounds in the draft for a reason, and this year’s class has its fair share of potential gems.
To take a look at some of the more unsung prospects in this class, let’s break down a few of the biggest draft sleepers at each offensive position, many of whom the Bears would be wise to target.
Quarterback: Brady White, Memphis
It can be difficult to find a true “sleeper” at quarterback, mostly because the starting-caliber prospects are all rightfully hyped this time of year. Though he doesn’t necessarily have the highest ceiling in the draft, Brady White should find himself drafted this year.
White is a three-year starter for Memphis whose experience is apparent in how he throws the ball. He does a good job of hitting his receivers in stride, leading his teammates open and execute throws with an acute sense of anticipation. He is able to stretch the field with nice touch on the intermediate ball, and he has proven that he can place the deep ball in a necessary window so that the receiver can make a play on it. White is also a good athlete for the quarter position, as he has solid breakaway speed and has good agility once he gets on the move.
There are a few issues with White, as he’ll be 25 years old by the time his rookie year starts, as he redshirted his freshman year at Arizona State in 2015 and played in just two games in total from 2016 to 2017. He also has a mediocre arm and is skinny at 6-foot-3 and just 210 pounds. He probably won’t be more than a late-round pick, but he does have enough tools in his profile to warrant a draft selection.
Running back: Caleb Huntley, Ball State
Several small-school running backs have found success in the NFL. That bodes well for Caleb Huntley, who has been incredibly productive at the MAC level.
With two 1,000-yard seasons on his resume and 437 yards and 6 touchdowns in the three games he played in 2020, Huntley’s production is impressive as he prepares for the 2021 NFL Draft. He is a thickly-built runner at 5-foot-10 and 229 pounds who brings plenty of power and a high motor when engaged with would-be tacklers. He is tough to bring down, as his determined style of running combined with his bulky frame makes him an ideal power back at the next level. Huntley is also an intelligent back who has patience out of the backfield and diagnose running lanes in between the tackles and run with varying tempos.
The biggest issue with Huntley isn’t necessarily his lack of top-notch breakaway speed, it’s his unproven abilities as a receiver out of the backfield. He has never caught more than seven passes in a season, and his lack of elite athleticism limits his upside to an extent. Though he probably won’t be more than a Day 3 pick, his talent in between the tackles indicates he could be a strong rotational back in the NFL.
Wide receiver: Jaelon Darden, North Texas
It’s not very often a wide receiver with 74 receptions, 1,190 yards and 19 touchdowns in nine games flies under the radar, but such is the case with Jaelon Darden.
The C-USA Most Valuable Player for this season, Darden was fantastic in 2019 but became even more dangerous this year. An explosive athlete for the wide receiver position, he accelerates very well off the snap and has the deep speed to beat cornerbacks vertically on a consistent basis. He not only has great agility after the catch, but very good ball-carrier vision in space, too. He is also a gifted route-running technician, as he does a good job of attacking a cornerback’s weak spots in coverage by altering his stems, and he has the crispness in his cuts to explode coming out of his breaks.
Darden is just 5-foot-9 and 174 pounds, so his frame provides some concerns from a physicality and durability perspective. I like him as a slot receiver at the next level, but I can see him utilized as a ‘Z’ if he adds a little more bulk to his frame. Regardless of where he plays, Darden is a Day 2 talent who hasn’t been recognized nearly as much as he should be.
Wide receiver: Ben Skowronek, Notre Dame
Notre Dame produced an enticing, big-bodied receiver last year in Chase Claypool, and his success at the next level should have teams excited about the player filling a similar role for the Fighting Irish: Ben Skowronek.
A graduate transfer from Northwestern, Skowronek is a big-bodied receiver at 6-foot-3 and 224 pounds. He has the height and catch radius needed to be a physical mismatch against practically any defensive back he faces. He uses his frame well, boxing out defenders in contested-catch situations and using his brand of bully ball to intimidate teams in the red zone. Skowronek is not just your average big receiver, though: he has very good ball skills and offers ideal body control in his adjustments to the ball, as well as optimal fluidity across the middle of the field.
Is Skowronek the most explosive route runner? Not quite, and his lack of elite production could limit his draft stock to an extent. Despite not having more than 650 yards in a single collegiate season, he was invited to the Senior Bowl to showcase his talents, and it wouldn’t be surprising if he became a more nationally-recognized prospect by the end of that week.
Wide receiver: Josh Imatorbhebhe, Illinois
If there’s any wide receiver in this class who will benefit from a Combine invite, it’s Josh Imatorbhebhe.
The 6-foot-2, 215-pound receiver is known as a very good athlete for his size, which translates to both his testing measurements and his play on the field. Imatorbhebhe pulled off a vertical jump of 47.1 inches back in 2015, and he should easily clear the 40-inch mark if invited this year, which would put him in the 95th percentile among wide receivers at the very least. That explosiveness shows up on tape, as he accelerates well off the snap and showcases a large catch radius with his length and leaping ability. He has shown promise as a route runner, attacking leverage points in coverage and using his releases off the line of scrimmage to open up a cornerback’s hips and leave them susceptible to a sharp-breaking route. He also brings nice physicality after the catch and is tough to bring down.
Imatorbhebhe is raw, as he can do a better job of sinking his hips into his cuts as a route runner. He isn’t as effective at boxing out as one would hope for his size, and his collegiate production doesn’t necessarily scream “early-round talent”. The Illinois standout will probably come off the board on Day 3, but he has the potential to outplay his draft positioning.
Tight end: Quintin Morris, Bowling Green
In order to be a successful tight end in today’s NFL, you have to be a good pass-catcher. It would make sense, then, for a team to take a shot drafting a former wide receiver whose receiving skills have converted to the tight end position. Enter Quintin Morris.
Morris started off his collegiate career as a wide receiver before transitioning to tight end for the 2020 season. His experience as a wide out is apparent in his game, as he has very good acceleration off the snap and does a good job of stretching the field vertically. The 6-foot-4, 251-pounder brings ideal fluidity across the middle of the field and is able to contort his frame to square up to the ball when tracking it down. For someone as new to the position as he is, he also shows willingness and effort as a blocker in the run game.
He could stand to lower his pads at the point of attack and get his weight underneath him in order to maximize his strength as a blocker, and even then he doesn’t project as a traditional in-line tight end. That said, though, Morris brings above-average athleticism and ball skills for the position and should be an intriguing target on Day 3.
Offensive tackle: Myron Cunningham, Arkansas
Arkansas hasn’t necessarily been the best football program in the SEC, but they have an intriguing offensive line prospect this year in tackle Myron Cunningham.
Cunningham brings an impressive combination of length and athleticism. He’s 6-foot-6 and 300 pounds, so he has ideal height for the blind side and has long arms, making it easier to lock up defenders at the point of attack. He plays with above-average lateral quickness and is able to change direction easily in pass protection. Cunningham is also an intelligent player who can sense pressures incoming from twists and can clear off defenders in his zone as a run blocker in zone schemes. He has also shown some promise in his ability to stay low at the point of attack and get his weight underneath him.
While a lack of notable play strength or a mauler mentality at the point of attack could hurt Cunningham’s draft stock and limit him to Day 3. However, he has the physical upside that, if he gets some work in an NFL weight training program, could make him a good starting offensive tackle in the pros.
Offensive guard: David Moore, Grambling State
The middle rounds have been a hot spot for interior offensive linemen in recent years, and one intriguing guard prospect who could develop into a solid starter is David Moore.
Another Senior Bowl invite who will have a lot to prove that weekend, Moore is a powerful interior blocker who packs a mean punch upon contact and plays the game with heavy hands. He excels at sealing off defenders in the run game, using his grip strength and his ability to roll his hips through contact to clear lanes for his teammates. He is an effective combo blocker and has shown promise in regards to the placement of his strikes. A nasty, determined lineman at 320 pounds, Moore blocks with a mean streak that offensive line coaches will likely fall in love with.
Being an FCS offensive lineman, there is the risk that Moore could face a stiff learning curve early in his NFL career. He doesn’t have top-notch height at 6-foot-3 or long arms, and he’s limited from an agility and lower-body flexibility perspective. Though his ceiling isn’t the highest in the world, his floor should see him get drafted and, if all goes well, break into a starting lineup down the line.
Center: Jack Wohlabaugh, Duke
Centers need to be two things in particular: intelligent and powerful at the point of attack. Those two traits describe Jack Wohlabaugh to a T.
A three-year starter whose father, Dave, played for nine seasons as a center in the NFL, Wohlabaugh’s experience as a starter and his bloodline within the game show up in how he plays on tape. He is a smart blocker who has the awareness needed to pick up blitzes, find work through double-teams, and rub off interior defenders to pick up stunting edge rushers. The 6-foot-4, 305-pound Ohio State transfer is an accurate snapper who delivers his snaps out of the gun with solid placement and velocity. Wohlabaugh is a powerful player, too: he has heavy hands that allow him to control interior defenders at the point of attack, and he has the necessary anchor strength to hold his own against a bull rush in pass protection.
Wohlabaugh will likely be limited to a Day 3 selection due to rather pedestrian athletic tools. He struggles with moving laterally in space, doesn’t show much flexibility or body control in his lower half, and he has a tendency to lunge forward when he executes his jabs. It’s unlikely he’ll be able to start right away, but down the line, he could be a serviceable player in the league for quite some time.
Offensive guard: Cade Mays, Tennessee
Versatility is key for a rookie offensive lineman, especially one that may not be touted as an early-round pick. Luckily for Cade Mays, he has plenty of experience all across the offensive line that should help his draft value.
Even before transferring to Tennessee for the 2020 season, Mays shows off his versatility at Georgia. In 2019, he saw playing time at every single offensive line position and started at least one game at four out of the five positions—he took over the center role midway through the Missouri game that year. He has a well-built frame at 6-foot-6 and 318 pounds, and he complements that with active and powerful hands at the point of attack, a powerful anchor and a nasty edge when engaged with a defender. A five-star recruit coming out of high school, Mays is good at rolling his hips into contact to seal off running lanes for his teammates, and he can keep his pads low to get his weight underneath him, as well.
Mays isn’t the greatest athlete in pass protection, nor is he mobile out in space. That lack of lateral quickness could provide for some issues at the next level, but if you’re looking for a mean and versatile blocker early on Day 3, he’s your guy.
Offensive tackle: Brenden Jaimes, Nebraska
In years past, Nebraska has been associated with hog-mollies who excel in the trenches. Though that reputation has faded with the program’s rough past few seasons, they can revive it through draft hopeful Brenden Jaimes.
The 6-foot-6, 300-pound Jaimes is a four-year starter on Nebraska’s offensive line who has played at both offensive tackle positions for the Cornhuskers over the course of his collegiate career. He has long arms that, combined with his impressive grip strength at the point of contact, make it easy for him to lock out defenders once he gets his hands on them. The strength in his upper body allows him to seal off defenders and control them in the run game, and his thick anchor makes it easy for him to prevent edge rushers from converting speed to power in pass protection. Jaimes is pretty coordinated in the passing game, too, as he moves with polished footwork coming out of his set point.
Jaimes struggles with changing direction, as while he can accelerate fairly well out of his stance in pass protection, he doesn’t have the ability to cut the opposite way to take on twists or inside moves off the edge. His lower half is a bit stiff, and for all of his raw power, he doesn’t block with a nasty demeanor. All told, though, he deserves more recognition as a late Day 3 target than he has been getting.