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2021 NFL Draft: 10 Senior Bowl prospects Bears should target

The biggest college all-star game is just around the corner, and the Bears would be wise to pay attention to some of these prospects.

CFP National Championship Presented by AT&T - Ohio State v Alabama Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

The 2021 Reese’s Senior Bowl is just around the corner, with practices for this year’s annual all-star game kicking off on Tuesday.

Some of the best college football players in the nation have accepted Senior Bowl this year, putting forth what is quickly shaping up to be one of its deepest classes in quite some time.

Without any on-field Scouting Combine drills in this altered pre-draft process, the Senior Bowl has taken on an even greater importance, arguably now being the most important draft-related event of the 2021 offseason, outside of the NFL Draft itself.

The Bears would be wise to do their homework on as many Senior Bowl invitees as possible, but with their needs coming primarily on offense, they would especially be well-suited to look at many of the offensive prospects who will be present in Mobile, Alabama this year.

It was difficult to narrow this down to 10 prospects, and I tried my best to include a variety of positions to create a more diverse group of players. However, these are 10 of the Senior Bowl players whom the Bears should take an extra look at.

Mac Jones, QB, Alabama

Arguably the most notable player expected to play in the Senior Bowl, Heisman finalist Mac Jones will look to continue to build his momentum after winning a National Championship earlier in the month.

Jones broke out this year by throwing for 4,500 yards, 41 touchdowns and just four interceptions on a 77.4 completion percentage, leading Alabama to an undefeated, championship-winning season. He looked much improved this year, showcasing the deep-ball accuracy and the intelligence needed to not only be an NFL draft pick, but a high one, at that. He does a great job of making accurate reads and can sense pressure well, maintaining his composure and delivering an accurate ball. Jones throws with sound mechanics and has tremendous touch behind his throws, especially on deep balls outside of the numbers. He plays the game like a seasoned veteran in a college game where very few can accurately look past their first read.

The hold-up with Jones is a relative lack of upside: he doesn’t have a super strong arm, he’s only 6-foot-2 and 214 pounds, and he offers little value as a dual-threat quarterback. There also stands an argument about how much his deficiencies were masked by having elite weapons and a stellar supporting cast. While Jones probably won’t be a top-10 pick, that leaves him right in range for the Bears to consider at No. 20 overall. Considering their need at quarterback, he’s a legitimate option they could potentially get without trading up. The question remains, though: is he worth investing in as a franchise player?

Tylan Wallace, WR, Oklahoma State

With 3,318 yards and 26 touchdowns in the past three seasons, Tylan Wallace enters the 2021 NFL Draft with tremendous production.

Wallace has really good body control for the wide receiver position—some of the grabs he makes on film are just insane. He does a great job of contorting his body in a necessary manner to square up to the ball, high-point it and box out defenders at the catch point. Though he has decent size at 6-foot and 190 pounds, he attacks the ball with the talent of someone bigger than he. He is also a good athlete who accelerates pretty well off the snap and showcases solid burst coming out of his breaks as a route runner. Wallace has some of the most reliable hands in the draft; there are very few catches that he can’t make. He also offers toughness after the catch, as he is a difficult runner to bring down.

Oklahoma State didn’t have Wallace run a diverse route tree, so he doesn’t have significant experience running too many intricate route concepts. For his solid athleticism, he isn’t necessarily a burner in the open field, which could limit his upside a bit. The Bears already have a reliable ‘Z’ receiver in Darnell Mooney, but Wallace’s skill-set indicates they could move him around wherever they deem necessary, were they to target him in the Round 3 range.

D’Wayne Eskridge, WR, Western Michigan

If you’re looking for a big-play receiver who can break free for incredible gains, there are few Senior Bowl prospects who fit that bill quite like D’Wayne Eskridge.

With 18.5 yards per reception—including 23.3 in 2020—Eskridge’s eye-popping production translates to his style of play on tape. He is very much a home-run hitter with the ball in his hands, as he has tremendous agility after the catch and has the ball-carrier vision needed to extend the play and break free for big runs. He accelerates very well off the snap and has the deep speed needed to stretch the field as a vertical threat. Eskridge is a pretty savvy route-running technician, as well. He possesses a diverse arsenal of releases and is sharp coming out of his breaks.

Standing at 5-foot-9 and 190 pounds, Eskridge is lacking a bit in the size department. He doesn’t show much physicality at the catch point, nor does he offer a large catch radius. While he may not have the Power 5 production of a Kadarius Toney or a Rondale Moore, Eskridge is step-for-step with them in athletic ability. He could be enticing option for the Bears late in Round 3 out of the slot as they look to add more firepower to their offense.

Alex Leatherwood, OT, Alabama

As a three-year starter for a dominant offensive line who can play both tackle and guard, it’s no surprise Alex Leatherwood finds himself high in demand this year.

Leatherwood brings a quality frame with impressive length at 6-foot-6 and 311 pounds. His skill-set displays an impressive blend of aggressiveness and agility. He has done a good job of adding power and blocking with a nastier edge over the course of his career, and he has ideal acceleration to the second level and agility in pass protection. Leatherwood showcases awareness as a blocker, being able to pick up combo blocks and assist on double-teams when in need of work. His technique at the point of attack is ideal, as he is able to consistently square up to defenders, roll his hips through contact, and get his pads at an optimal level.

Though athletic, Leatherwood has some issues with balance and can find himself lunging too often, leaving him prone to getting knocked around easily. He can still add a bit more power in his lower half for his jump to the pros, though he has been able to make strides in that area since first becoming a starter in 2018. For his flaws, Leatherwood is a versatile and well-rounded tackle prospect who would likely be able to start Day 1 for the Bears if selected.

Liam Eichenberg, OT, Notre Dame

From 2009 to 2017, Notre Dame had a first-round pick at left tackle each year, with the likes of Zack Martin, Ronnie Stanley and Mike McGlinchey holding the job. Liam Eichenberg, who took over for McGlinchey in 2018, could extend that streak.

As is the case for many Notre Dame offensive linemen, Eichenberg is an intelligent blocker whose football IQ pops out on tape. He has the awareness needed to pick up blitzes, execute his assignments in a sound manner as a zone blocker, and time his disengagements well to be an effective combo blocker. He uses his hands well, combining his power at the point of attack with accurate placement on a regular basis. The 6-foot-6, 305-pounder has great length for the offensive tackle position, and he also takes precise angles to defenders, both as a down blocker on the move and in adjusting his set points in pass protection.

Eichenberg can stand to add some more weight to his anchor, as his neutralization of power rushes can be hit-or-miss. He also doesn’t have top-notch lateral quickness, and his lower-body stiffness affects how low he can get at the point of attack. While maybe not the flashiest tackle prospect in the class, Eichenberg is certainly one of the reliable, and the Bears would be wise to consider him early in this year’s draft.

Dillon Radunz, OT, North Dakota State

Despite having just one game in the 2020 season due to COVID restrictions in the FCS, Dillon Radunz stands out as one of the top offensive tackles in the 2021 draft.

A first-team FCS All-American in 2019, Radunz brings plenty of physical tools needed to succeed at the next level. He packs a 6-foot-6, 301-pound frame with long arms that allow him to easily lock out defenders at the point of attack. He has a polished usage of his hands, showcasing accurate strike placement and the ability to seal off defenders with his raw grip strength. Radunz is also a very good athlete who brings ideal agility and flexibility to the table. He does a good job of rolling his hips into contact, and he can change direction and explode in his kickslide with effective quickness.

Radunz is a bit raw from a technical perspective, as he struggles with keeping his pads low and maintain optimal weight distribution. He’s somewhat skinny for an offensive tackle, and while he showed good power against FCS competition, he will need to add weight—primarily to his lower body—to withstand the physicality of the NFL game. Those concerns could see him drop to Day 2, but as a team with a need at offensive tackle, the Bears would be smart to consider Radunz’s palpable upside.

Drake Jackson, C, Kentucky

Drake Jackson is as nasty as they come in this group of Senior Bowl interior offensive linemen.

Kentucky’s starting center since 2017, Jackson is an experienced offensive anchor who enters the 2021 draft with plenty of tape to go off of. That experience shows up in his technique, as he consistently is able to get his pads low and get his weight underneath him to generate maximum power in his lower half. He also showcases accurate strikes at the point of contact and has the grip strength and road-paver mentality needed to seal off defenders in the run game and drive them into the dirt. Jackson plays with a high motor on a regular basis, constantly looking for work and blocking with a nasty edge once he finds it. He also has good balance and is able to maintain his coordination well on the move.

A clear weakness in Jackson’s game is a lack of length. He’s 6-foot-2 and 310 pounds, and while that comes with its advantages, he has short arms for an NFL-caliber offensive lineman. He also has rather pedestrian athletic ability by those standards. Despite his flaws, he is a talented player who projects best as an early Day 3 candidate, and if the Bears want to push Sam Mustipher for their starting center role, Jackson would be a smart target.

Justin Hilliard, LB, Ohio State

Ohio State has as many as four linebackers who could be NFL draft picks this year, and Justin Hilliard might just offers the most passing down value of the bunch.

The Buckeyes’ primary SAM linebacker in their rotation at the position, Hilliard used his snaps to showcase sideline-to-sideline range and speed that makes him a threat as a backside defender. He accelerates quickly downhill coming out of his two-point stance, and he has the agility needed to counter jukes and other cuts ball-carriers may make. Patient in executing his run fits, Hilliard plays with a calculated, yet aggressive style that allows him to go with the flow of a play and then strike when the time is right. He is fluid in coverage, too, as he changes direction well in space and shows solid route recognition for the linebacker position. His experience on Ohio State’s special teams units should help him see the field early in his career, too.

Hilliard isn’t all that physical at the point of attack, and while his 6-foot-1, 231-pound frame isn’t the smallest in this draft class, he can struggle with disengaging from blocks near the line of scrimmage. He doesn’t offer much value as a blitzing option, and a lack of notable play strength can prevent his ability to form tackle against more powerful runners. He likely won’t be selected much higher than the middle of Day 3, but given the Bears’ needs at other positions, that would make him a nice target to satisfy their lack of linebacker depth.

Hamsah Nasirildeen, S, Florida State

It’s not often you see a 6-foot-4, 215-pound safety move as well as Hamsah Nasirildeen does.

To be blunt, Nasirildeen’s frame is incredible. He has jaw-dropping length for a defensive back, and he complements that length with a muscular frame that appears well-built for the physicality of the NFL. He isn’t afraid to make contact, as he shows a physical edge in the box and underneath. The 2019 second-team All-ACC defender is a reliable tackler who brings power at the point of contact and offers very good closing speed when charging downhill. In his two seasons as a full-time starter for Florida State, he tallied 192 tackles. Nasirildeen can also be an effective coverage safety in single-high shells, and his hip fluidity in a centerfielder role offers additional versatility. He has flashed the ability to read a quarterback’s eyes and charge to jump a route, and his size and physicality makes him a tough defender to beat in tight windows.

Nasirildeen suffered a torn ACL near the end of the 2019 season that saw him miss all but two games this year. His instincts in coverage are still a work in progress, particularly in man coverage. His route recognition can see him break a split second too late on the ball, and his speed, while good for his size, isn’t quite elite enough to make up for some of his gaffes. Nasirildeen should be selected around Round 3, and if the Bears choose not to bring back Tashaun Gipson, they could look to a player like him after making a few offensive selections.

Elijah Molden, CB, Washington

As far as nickel cornerback prospects go in the 2021 draft, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better, more well-rounded player than Elijah Molden.

Molden broke out in 2019, when he finished with four interceptions and 12 pass deflections en route to a first-team All-Pac-12 appearance. Though he was only able to play in four games this year with the Pac-12 significantly shortening their season, he did secure an interception in that span. His ball production reflects the tape, where one can see a nosy ballhawk who has great ball skills. He isn’t afraid to enter a receiver’s frame and get his hand on the ball, and he has the body control needed to adjust to the ball in the air and high-point it. Molden is a very good athlete who has the fluidity needed to cover sharp-breaking routes, as well as the deep speed to prevent his slot opponents to stretch the field. He has sharp route anticipatory skills, which combined with his athleticism, makes him a nuisance to try and create separation against. He’s also a capable tackler, keeping his pads low and breaking down in space to tackle with ideal form.

An issue with Molden is his size, as he only stands at 5-foot-10 and 191 pounds. He seems limited to the slot as a result, and his smaller stature can translate into issues against more physical wide receivers, as well as a limited catch radius. He also only has just over one year of starting tape, as the COVID-related shortening of the Pac-12’s schedule hurt his ability to get more reps as a starter. Molden’s limitations are clear, but the positives far outweigh the negatives. The Bears may choose to go cheap at the nickelback position, but he would be a great fit for their secondary.