The college football season is officially underway, and with it comes the return of our annual college prospect preview.
Much will change between now and the end of the regular season, but there are a handful of college players who have shown that they can be legitimate NFL talents in the near future.
Cream of the crop
Jacob: Creed Humphrey, iOL, Oklahoma (6-foot-5, 307 pounds)
I listed Creed Humphrey as my top player in last year’s Big 12 preview, so I was genuinely surprised when he decided to stay in college for another season. While I don’t view him as the “top-three talent in the entire draft” player I did this time last year, I still really like him as a first-round talent.
Humphrey is a technically-sound prospect who does a very good job of keeping his pads low and blocking with his weight underneath him. He plays with active hands and delivers a powerful jab at the point of attack. He blocks with a nasty edge in the run game and has the raw strength in his frame to overwhelm defenders upon contact. A three-year starter heading into 2020, he is also an intelligent player who is able to pick up combo blocks and double-team blocks efficiently, as well as clearing out his zone on zone runs.
The one drawback on Humphrey’s game is that he’s rather pedestrian from an athletic standpoint. His lateral movements are just average, and he doesn’t have fantastic acceleration when climbing to the second level. While that may prevent him from being an elite center at the NFL, his skillset is still plenty good enough for him to be a starter for years to come.
ECD: Samuel Cosmi, OT, Texas, (6-foot-6, 295 pounds)
Admittedly, the Big 12 is rather boring in comparison to previous years. As Jacob will agree with his own report below, Sam Cosmi is the top, most pro-ready tackle in this conference. His combination of mobility and size will fit well as a Left Tackle in the right system. That being said, he also needs to get a heck of a lot stronger and get a bit more mean.
Top Bears target
Jacob: Samuel Cosmi, OT, Texas (6-foot-6, 295 pounds)
I’m in agreement with Erik here. The Bears will likely target an offensive tackle in the 2021 draft, and Samuel Cosmi is one of the best this draft class has to offer.
From his impressive length to his top-notch athleticism for his position, Cosmi brings plenty of intriguing physical tools for NFL coaching staffs to work with. A three-year starter heading into 2020, the Texas standout is light on his feet in pass protection and can change direction laterally at a very quick speed. He plays with good footwork and coordination and has the quickness to beat a speed rush from opposing edge rushers. He has flexible hips and does a good job of adjusting his set points to take the angles necessary to prevent a defender from getting a clear look at the quarterback.
Cosmi is also an intelligent blocker who can sense the blitz well and time his strikes well so he doesn’t end up lunging too far forward. He will need to add some more strength to his frame, as he doesn’t have much nastiness in his game, nor does he have top-tier power in his upper or lower body. He can also work on his ability to sink his pads and generate a lower center of gravity. With some work in an NFL strength and conditioning program, though, there's no reason Cosmi can’t develop into a quality starting tackle in the league. His agility and effectiveness as a blocker on the move would make him a great fit for the Bears’ zone-heavy blocking scheme.
ECD: Joseph Ossai, OLB, Texas (6-foot-4, 255 pounds)
No, I swear, me being born in Texas has nothing to do with me doubling down on Longhorns for the first two players discussed. Instead this is caused by my belief in stacking the pass rush with as many talented players as possible. Ossai fits the bill quite well.
The Nigerian-born phenom has only started learning how to play the game, yet his ceiling is incredibly high. Good size, well built frame, and he is fairly twitchy coming off the edge when his number is called. When he merges with any blocker, he slams into his target and never turns off his motor. It’s like watching a round being fired from a rail gun. Watch his game from the Alamo Bowl this past year. It reminded a lot of how guys like Khalil Mack, Jadeveon Clowney, and Robert Quinn took over games single handedly.
Ossai is also a player that sometimes plays too fast. Given his rapid development, he will still bite on the first shirt instead of making the right read, which takes time to recognize. Playing off the edge is never as simple as just lining up and pinning your ears back. Rather, he fits best as a rotational guy first, while he continues his seasoning.
Now, put him behind Khalil Mack and Robert Quinn, and you’ve got something pretty nasty. If Chicago is able to get Ossai, say the late first-to-second round, then he’d be a great pickup. It honestly depends on how much he grows from his sophomore season, though. This is the guy I will pay the most attention to moving forward.
Hoping they slide
Jacob: Tylan Wallace, WR, Oklahoma State (6-foot-0, 190 pounds)
Regardless of whether Allen Robinson gets re-signed, traded, franchise tagged or he leaves in free agency, the Bears could stand to add some more talent at the wide receiver position.
Tylan Wallace suffered a torn ACL near the end of the 2019 season that saw him play in just nine games, but his production at the collegiate level has been nothing short of impressive. In 2018, he finished the season with 86 catches, 1,491 yards and 12 touchdowns. He was on pace to shatter the 1,000-yard mark again the next year before he injury, as he had 903 yards and 8 touchdowns on 53 catches. The Oklahoma State star has very good body control and is able to make tough adjustments to square up to the ball and make tough grabs. He is a fluid athlete who flips his hips well when he runs his routes and has solid burst off the snap.
Wallace has shown some promise as a route runner, showcasing the ability to sink his hips into his cuts and make sharp movements to create separation at times. For a wide receiver who weighs less than 200 pounds, he’s also pretty physical, as he is able to box out defensive backs in tight windows and make challenging catches. He doesn’t run an extensive route tree in college, and he doesn’t always run the most precise of routes. His ability to shed tight man coverage at the line of scrimmage could also use some work. While his skillset could use some polishing, Wallace is a talented playmaker with a well-rounded profile that would make him a very good addition on Day 2 of the 2021 draft.
ECD: TJ Vasher, WR, Texas Tech (6-foot-6, 216 pounds)
I’m continuing my theme of loading up on as many talented weapons as I can muster for the Bears’ offense. This time, I’m taking notes on another talented receiver from a program that has produced a bunch of talent over this past decade alone. TJ Vasher, the nephew to former Bears DB Nathan Vasher, is such a player.
His hands are super-powered magnets. They draw anything and everything within his large wingspan, then lock the ball in place with little-to-no movement afterwards. He’s simply too big and tough to jam off the line as well. For a receiver of his size, he’s not incredibly fast, but he’s a long-strider who accelerates quickly when the ball is snapped.
Also given his size, he’s a bit stiff in the hips when it’s time to run deeper routes. Right now he almost depends entirely on his size to gain separation from much smaller DBs. That won’t cut it in the NFL. That’s not to suggest his route running is simply bad, it just stands for considerable improvement. If he can become more crisp, it’ll prevent him from tipping his routes to savvy veterans in coverage.
Vasher can become a high-end threat in the red zone for many NFL offenses. Some wonder if he can make a transition to tight end, if he can bulk up and refine his downfield blocking skills. Either way, he is an enticing option to consider.
Later round hopefuls
Jacob: Sam Ehlinger, QB, Texas (6-foot-3, 225 pounds)
The Bears are likely to look at drafting a quarterback in the first round of the 2021 draft, especially if Mitchell Trubisky isn’t re-signed at the end of this year. However, if they choose to target one later in the draft, then I really like Sam Ehlinger.
Ehlinger has been a full-time starter for three years now with the 2020 season underway, and he also had significant playing time as a freshman in 2017. He is a gutsy quarterback who doesn’t get scared in a collapsing pocket and is able to keep his mechanics and footwork under control under duress. He has solid arm strength and is capable of stretching the field vertically when necessary, as well as deliver a throw with nice velocity when throwing on the run. His athleticism is also more than passable for the quarterback position, and he has a well-built frame for taking hits at the NFL level.
A proven leader on and off the field, Ehlinger has come into his own as a key locker room figure for the Longhorns over his career. His upside isn’t the highest, as he doesn't quite have elite physical tools. He also has a tendency to stare down his targets and misfire deep balls from time to time. While he probably won’t be a full-time starter at the next level, I like him a lot as a high-end backup prospect on Day 3.
ECD: Charlie Kolar, TE, Iowa State (6-foot-6, 245 pounds)
Like I’ve said, you can never have too many good weapons in your arsenal on offense. And, not to continue the “Bears draft and sign every tight end” trend, but why not at least look at Kolar of Iowa State?
Regardless of his light frame, he’s a tough player to bring down as he muscles through arm tackles easily. His hands are dependable, and his route running is solid when looking at what he contributes to the receiving game. He’s a brute when it comes time to bulldoze defenders in run blocking, albeit his techniques can be refined along with his footwork.
Brock Purdy might be getting all the attention from the media. Don’t sleep on Charlie Kolar and his potential to make an impact at tight end, though.
Jacob: Texas vs. Oklahoma (Oct. 10)
You can’t go wrong with the two blue-blood programs in the Big 12. On one hand, there’s a Texas squad led by a battle-tested Sam Ehlinger, Samuel Cosmi and Michigan transfer Tarik Black on offense. Joseph Ossai and Caden Sterns hold the front on defense. They take on an Oklahoma unit who has true sophomore Spencer Rattler under center, but there are still plenty of draft-eligible talents to watch. Creed Humphrey, Ronnie Perkins, Charleston Rambo, Adrian Ealy and Jalen Redmond are among the prospects to keep an eye on.
ECD: West Virginia vs. Texas Tech (Oct. 24)
Both of these programs feature players who scouts will be keeping an eye on throughout the season. From Texas Tech you have TJ Vasher leading the way for a high octane passing attack. For West Virginia, Sam James is looking to take the next step, where Darius Stills continues to be the rock on the Mountaineers’ D-line. This game may not be as flashy as the next installment of the Red River Rivalry will be. I’d still pay close attention and look for players from these two programs to pop up in the middle rounds of the 2021 draft.