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2021 NFL Draft: 6 Senior Bowl standouts who would fit Bears

The Senior Bowl has concluded, and if the Bears are wise, they’ll do their homework on some of these top performers.

NCAA Football: Senior Bowl Practice Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports

The 2021 Reese’s Senior Bowl has come and gone, and this year’s event was arguably more important than any other Senior Bowl in recent memory.

Without in-person Scouting Combine workouts to showcase a player’s skills, the Senior Bowl is the only major opportunity for a lot of players to provide a fair and unbiased look into what they offer as draft prospects (and no, Pro Days don’t quite fall under that criteria).

This year’s game was an entertaining one, and the week of practices that led up to it also served as a launching pad for several intriguing players.

Though the extent to which they sent personnel down to Mobile is currently unknown, the Bears’ organization did have a presence at the Senior Bowl. Such a development is far from surprising, seeing how an invitation to the game is essentially a guarantee that the player is worthy of a draft pick, or at the very least a priority undrafted free agent look.

When breaking down which Senior Bowl prospects the Bears could consider, one has to keep in mind each player’s position and their potential draft stock. A player projected as an early first-round pick would likely be out of reach for Chicago, and a player at, say, edge rusher wouldn’t be a likely target for them early in the draft, either.

So, with those things in mind, here are a few Senior Bowl players who could be potential targets for the Bears in the 2021 NFL Draft.

Mac Jones, QB, Alabama

Like it or not, Mac Jones is a realistic option for the Bears in the first round.

There’s a lot up in the air surrounding not only the Bears’ quarterback position, but the quarterback carousel around the NFL this offseason. If they enter the draft without a clear starter in place, they could look to acquire a signal-caller early, and Jones would likely be the best option they could get while either staying at No. 20 or moving up a slight amount.

Jones looked really good at the Senior Bowl. After a slow start to the first day, the national champion was able to pick up steam in the remaining two practices. He looked accurate at just about all areas of the field, and he was able to make sharp and quick reads in game-like situations. He also excelled at maneuvering the pocket under pressure, showcasing ideal footwork and the awareness needed to avoid would-be sack artists.

His arm strength was decent and his overall athleticism was just okay, but he didn’t prove or disprove anything that showed up on tape. He was consistent and reliable, if unspectacular, and he looked the part of a capable NFL quarterback. For his 2020 tape and the enhancement of a strong Senior Bowl showing, Jones seems like a first-round lock who could be high in demand within the Bears’ organization this offseason.

Dillon Radunz, OT, North Dakota State

With the Bears’ glaring need at offensive tackle, they would be smart to target one of the early-round prospects who partook in the Senior Bowl—more specifically, Dillon Radunz.

Radunz played in just one game in 2020 due to the FCS moving their season to the spring, so a big question was whether he would show any rest. Luckily for him, that did not prove to be the case. He dominated in one-on-one drills on a consistent basis. His feet were quick, his frame was powerful, his pads were low, and his strikes were accurate. That carried into team scrimmages, and those team scrimmages carried into the game itself. In an afternoon that saw numerous offensive tackles struggle in pass protection, Radunz was a reliable fixture at left tackle.

Considering how strong his tape is, as well as his Senior Bowl week performance, it wouldn’t be surprising if Radunz goes before the Bears’ Round 2 selection, even with his small-school status. If he falls, though, he would be a welcomed addition to their offensive line.

Amari Rodgers, WR, Clemson

After a disappointing Year 3, Anthony Miller could be on the outs in the near future, leaving the Bears with a potential hole at the slot receiver position down the line.

Amari Rodgers had a breakout year for Clemson as their top receiver with the departure of Tee Higgins and the injury to Justyn Ross. He carried that momentum into the Senior Bowl, where he was consistently one of the best receivers all week. He was explosive off the snap, crisp coming out of his breaks and more polished in his releases than some of his tape led on. Once the actual game came around, he was able to serve a solid role for the American team, catching four passes for 23 yards and a touchdown. He was one of the more dynamic athletes in Mobile this week, and he enters the rest of the pre-draft process with a hot hand.

As the Chiefs have shown, there’s no such thing as too much speed at the wide receiver position. Granted, they also have the best quarterback in the NFL in Patrick Mahomes, but the point remains that, just because you have one speedy receiver, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t draft another one. Rodgers in the slot and Mooney as the field-side receiver would be an extremely explosive duo, hopefully flanked by Allen Robinson in the long run on the boundary.

Quinn Meinerz, OG/C, Wisconsin-Whitewater

If you followed up with the Senior Bowl in any capacity, there’s an extremely slim chance you didn’t hear about Quinn Meinerz.

As was the case for Radunz, Meinerz didn’t play a 2020 season with Division III moving their season to the spring, but he showed little to no rust over the course of the week. He was utterly dominant on a snap-by-snap basis. Whether he be hold up defenders at the point of attack in one-on-ones or driving them into the dirt in team scrimmages, the Wisconsin-Whitewater standout physically overwhelmed the opposition with low pads, a strong anchor, powerful hands, a nasty edge, and an exposed gut. Even after breaking a bone in his hand on Day 3, he fought through the rest of practice and pushed to play on Saturday, although his coaches ended up denying him the opportunity.

Perhaps even more intriguing to the Bears would be Meinerz’s versatility. As he proved in Senior Bowl drills, he is capable of not only playing guard, but center, as well. As the Bears look to determine where they want to fit Cody Whitehair and James Daniels along their offensive line, having another interior lineman who can play wherever could help help maximize their two veterans.

James Hudson III, OT, Cincinnati

While the Bears will likely keep one of either Charles Leno Jr. or Bobby Massie in 2021—presumably the former—there’s a strong possibility both of them could be gone by the 2022 season. In that case, they could look to double down on tackles this year if the value is right.

James Hudson III entered Senior Bowl week as an intriguing commodity. His physical gifts were apparent, but his technique was still a work in progress. As a former defensive lineman at Michigan, Hudson is still pretty raw, but his pure talent was on full display in Mobile. He looked agile in drills, showing off above-average lateral quickness and burst to neutralize speed rushes off the edge. He was also able to shut down defenders at the point of attack, using his powerful grip to latch onto the opposition and stop them in their tracks. As far as Senior Bowl offensive tackles go, few boosted their stock more than Hudson did this week.

With a two-tackle approach in the 2021 draft, the Bears can secure a Day 1 starter at one tackle position and a player who could potentially develop into a starter within a year or so. Hudson would give them a high-upside player who could serve as a valuable asset down the line.

Richie Grant, S, UCF

With new defensive coordinator Sean Desai likely to utilize more two-high shells in coverage, the Bears need two safeties who can cover well. Very few, if any, safeties at the Senior Bowl were as efficient in coverage as Richie Grant.

Coming away with two interceptions on Day 3 of practices, Grant was able to close out his week in Mobile with a bang. He looked fantastic all week, though, as his fluidity in coverage stood out every time he stepped onto the field. His ability to change direction make him a rangy threat up high, and he was able to read the eyes of the quarterback and make jumps on routes to make plays on the ball. Grant was also effective in one-on-one drills, being physical with receivers through their stems and also utilizing his athleticism to hang with numerous wide receivers in man coverage, which was something few safeties were able to do over the course of the week.

Grant solidified this week that he is what his tape showcased: a ball-hawking safety with above-average athleticism with the fluidity and instincts needed to be a reliable starter at the next level. The Bears have bigger needs on offense, but pairing Grant with Eddie Jackson would give them a rangy and athletic safety tandem on the back end.