Top prospects fall in the NFL draft every year.
That’s the way the draft goes. Some teams are much higher on certain prospects than the media is, and those same teams might not feel the same way about a player many believe should be a first-round talent. Last year, D.K. Metcalf surprisingly dropped to the end of the second round. Drew Lock, Jaawan Taylor, Cody Ford and Greedy Williams were also among those who were expected to be first-round selections but fell into Day 2 for one reason or another.
This bodes well for the Bears, who are slated to have two selections in the second round, with both picks in the top 50. In past years, draft picks like James Daniels and Cody Whitehair were widely considered to be potential first-round selections, but both ended up falling into Chicago’s laps.
They’ll hope for the same to happen this year, as they could use immediate upgrades at a handful of positions. With both Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy’s respective jobs not as comfortably secure as they were at this time last year, they would be wise to look for early-round players who could make an impact right away, as opposed to taking a chance on a developmental prospect in Round 2.
These four players are either currently seen by draft analysts as first-round prospects, or they were fairly recently and have since seen their respective stocks decline. The results of the draft are unpredictable, but these prospects are among those who could potentially fall to the Bears in the second round.
Laviska Shenault Jr., WR, Colorado
A recent procedure done to treat a core injury could see Laviska Shenault Jr. drop out of the first round, especially considering how good this wide receiver class is. Even with that injury, combined with a down year in 2019, he would be well worth a look in the middle of the second round.
Simply put, Shenault is an absolute playmaker. His 4.58 40-yard dash he ran while hurt at the Combine doesn’t do his actual play speed justice—he accelerates well off the snap and has electric athleticism in the open field. He has the athleticism to stretch the field as a deep threat, and his combination of vision and agility after the catch makes him tough to catch up to. Throw in his impressive contact balance and a 6-foot-1, 227-pound frame, and he is a nightmare for opposing defenders to tackle. He’s also a physical presence in contested-catch situations who offers plenty of strength and ball-tracking abilities. He also offers value out of the backfield, where he ran for 7 touchdowns in the past two seasons on just 40 carries.
While a bit raw as a route runner, Shenault’s athletic abilities project him well as a ‘Z’ receiver who can use his athleticism to play on the field-side and take advantage of space to make defenders miss or run them over. He would be a fun player to watch in the Bears’ offense, and one that Matt Nagy would love being able to use in many different ways.
Grant Delpit, S, LSU
Once viewed as a consensus top-10 prospect in the 2020 class, Grant Delpit has seen his stock fall over the past few months, making it uncertain if he’ll go in the first round at all.
With the emergence of Jeremy Chinn, Antoine Winfield Jr. and Kyle Dugger—as well as the reliable play of Xavier McKinney—Delpit’s hype has died down a little bit. Part of that stems from his down year in 2019, where he struggled heavily as a tackler and failed to replicate his production from 2018. However, the two-time consensus All-American is still a very talented prospect with a high ceiling at the next level.
The 6-foot-2, 213-pound Delpit is a stellar mix of size, athleticism, ball skills and instincts. He has fantastic length for the safety position and a well-built frame. He has great acceleration coming out of his breaks, as well as encouraging hip fluidity and direction-changing ability. Delpit’s quick processing skills allow him to react instantly and blow up a play, and his ability to read the quarterback’s eyes allow him to jump routes and make plays, regardless of whether he’s lined up high or underneath. He attacks the ball well and does a good job of adjusting to the ball in the air. The LSU star also offers value blitzing off the edge and has a physical side to him.
Delpit was recently mocked to the Bears in a mock draft on NFL dot com, which would be a steal at that point of the draft. His tackling form and his consistency in wrapping up ball-carriers will definitely need improvement, but let’s not overcomplicate things: Delpit is still a very good prospect with a high ceiling at the next level.
A.J. Epenesa, EDGE/DL, Iowa
Epenesa entered the 2019 season as a potential top-10 pick, but he fell down boards a little bit as the year progressed, despite tallying double-digit sacks for a second consecutive season.
A two-time first-team All-Big Ten member, Epenesa brings an ideal frame at 6-foot-5 and 275 pounds. As one would expect for a player who won Illinois state titles in discus in junior and senior years in high school, the Iowa standout brings plenty of power to the table. He packs a powerful punch at the point of attack and plays with incredibly violent hands when rushing the passer. His punishing clubs allow him to knock blockers off balance, leaving them prone to a finesse move. He's quick out of his stance, and he also does a good job of consistently maintaining leverage through his pads and hands. With 22 sacks and 30.5 tackles for a loss in his past two seasons, Epenesa is a productive and polished defender who brings value as a run defender and against the pass. While his overall athleticism and fluidity is subpar, he has proven that his strength and technique allow him to overcome that barrier.
Edge rusher admittedly isn’t a big need for the Bears after acquiring Robert Quinn to pair up with Khalil Mack, but with a value like Epenesa in the second round, one would be smart to at least consider the possibility of drafting him. He could be utilized as a 5-technique in the Bears’ defense who could occasionally spell Quinn or Mack as a stand-up rusher from time to time. Plus, adding Epenesa to their current front-seven would be an absolute cheat code, which for no other purpose would be a blast to watch.
Tee Higgins, WR, Clemson
Another case of “draft pundits overthink their evaluation and decide that, no, this good player actually isn’t very good”, Tee Higgins has fallen down draft boards after subpar testing at his Pro Day and the hyping up of many rising receivers like Justin Jefferson, Brandon Aiyuk and Denzel Mims.
Higgins, who had 118 receptions, 2,103 yards and 25 touchdowns in his two seasons as a starter for Clemson, is a massive wideout at 6-foot-4 and 216 pounds. He has a large catch radius and has some of the best ball skills in this year’s class, as he can adjust to the ball incredibly well and track down the deep pass with efficiency. He has strong hands, can box out defenders in jump-ball situations and is a tough runner after the catch. While not a burner of an athlete, Higgins is a fluid receiver with very good body control and coordinator who can flip his hips well.
Many assume the Bears will target a speedier receiver in the draft given their lack of speed in their current group of wideouts. While that is definitely a possibility, Higgins’ physicality, hands and top-notch ball skills project him as a high-end No. 2 weapon at the next level with the potential to become a 1,000-yard receiver in due time. Combining him with Allen Robinson on the outside with Anthony Miller in the slot would give Chicago a dangerous group of receivers.