In life and in football, connections are key.
Having certain connections can help one find a job, make new friends in the form of mutual acquaintances, and open up several opportunities to learn and experience new things.
That also rings true in football, as connections can help an NFL team find new coaches to hire, free agents to sign, or draft prospects to target.
As is the case with many teams, the Bears have several coaches on their staff who have recent experience at the collegiate level. That experience gives said coaches experience working with several NFL hopefuls, and quite a few of the players Chicago’s coaches have worked with are entering the 2021 NFL Draft.
In a draft process that will not have an in-person Scouting Combine and virtual interviews and meetings, connections could prove to be even more important to NFL teams in their evaluations this year.
With that in mind, the Bears would be wise to consider these seven prospects who have ties to their coaching staff.
Jalen Mayfield, OT, Michigan
The offensive tackle position should be one of tremendous priority for the Bears this offseason, and luckily for them, they have an inside scoop on one of the top tackles in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Chicago’s offensive line coach, Juan Castillo, served as an offensive analyst for Michigan in 2019, which was Jalen Mayfield’s first season as a starter at right tackle for the Wolverines. A 6-foot-5, 319-pound prospect with plenty of length and raw strength to work with, Mayfield is practically the whole package from a physical perspective. He packs a powerful jab at the point of attack, and he has good natural power in his anchor needed to stand his ground in pass protection. He’s also a very good athlete, though: he’s mobile in his pass sets, accelerates well to the second level, and is coordinated when blocking on the move.
Mayfield is essentially just a one-year starter, starting in two games in 2020 before an ankle sprain saw him miss time. He’s raw in terms of his football IQ, and his hand placement can be hit-or-miss. From an upside perspective, though, there are few tackles with as high of a ceiling as Mayfield, and giving Castillo a chance to work more hands-on with him could turn him into a high-quality offensive tackle if the Bears draft him in the first two rounds.
Jermar Jefferson, RB, Oregon State
The Bears recently hired former Oregon State running backs coach Michael Pitre to serve in the same role. If they’re looking to add depth at that position in this year’s draft, they already have plenty of information of Jermar Jefferson.
With 2,923 yards and 27 touchdowns in 27 games for the Beavers, Jefferson has been incredibly productive but has fallen under-the-radar nationally since he plays in the Pac-12, which typically plays its games incredibly late at night for CST and EST viewers. Those who haven’t followed Oregon State have been missing out, though, as Jefferson is a dynamic runner with impressive agility in and out of the tackles and the breakaway speed needed to project as a home-run hitter in the NFL. He is incredibly patient and calculated with his movements out of the backfield, and that ball-carrier vision allows him to easily exploit holes and break free. Rushing for over 100 yards in all but one of his six games in 2020, Jefferson’s production should translate to the pros with his impressive combination of vision and elusiveness.
While somewhat unproven as a receiving back and lacking consistent aggressiveness when engaged with tacklers, Jefferson has the potential to be one of the biggest steals in the 2021 draft. If the Bears find it necessary to add running back depth early on Day 3, they would be wise to consult Pitre and consider adding him to their backfield.
Pat Freiermuth, TE, Penn State
In his lone season off from the NFL, Bears offensive coordinator Bill Lazor served as an analyst for Penn State in 2019. Among the talented players he had the chance to work with was star tight end Pat Freiermuth.
If you’re looking for a prototypical in-line tight end in this class, Freiermuth is your guy. He packs an imposing frame at 6-foot-5 and 258 pounds that gives him tremendous value in the red zone. He attacks the ball like a power forward, boxing out defenders easily and high-pointing the ball in a necessary manner to make difficult grabs look easy. With 16 touchdowns in 29 games, he was a consistent force for Penn State throughout the course of his collegiate career. Freiermuth accelerates well off the snap, and he also has a high football IQ that allows him to attack leverage points in man coverage and create separation. He’s also a solid blocker, as he utilizes powerful hands and a mean streak to hold his own at the line of scrimmage.
It’s somewhat unlikely the Bears take Freiermuth, simply because he projects more as an in-line ‘Y’ tight end, rather than a complementary ‘U’ to Cole Kmet in that role. However, he is an incredibly talented player, and if Lazor views him as a possible ‘U’ prospect, Chicago could consider him if he’s available in Round 2.
Chris Rumph II, EDGE, Duke
The ties between Chris Rumph II and the Bears is obvious: his father is the team’s defensive line coach!
Rumph was hired this offseason after serving as the outside linebackers coach for the Texans in 2020. His son was a standout at Duke, tallying 14.5 sacks and 25 tackles for a loss in his last two seasons. At 6-foot-3 and 235 pounds, Rumph II is a bit undersized for an edge rusher, he makes up for it with athleticism, a high motor, and a versatile skillset. He accelerates well off the snap and has the agility needed to chase down ball-carriers in the open field, as well as bounce inside to rush across an offensive tackle’s body. Rumph plays with plenty of activity in his hands, fighting hard at the point of attack with a diverse arsenal of pass-rushing moves needed to disengage and penetrate the backfield.
Though Rumph’s lack of size and top-notch play strength in setting the edge could see him fall to early Day 3, that could put him in perfect range for the Bears. It wouldn’t be surprising to see them add some athletic depth at the edge rusher position, especially if they can’t re-sign Barkevious Mingo. Reuniting father and son would make for a fun storyline, too.
Tedarrell Slaton, DL, Florida
Chris Rumph’s son isn’t the only notable NFL Draft prospect the coach has ties with.
In 2017, Rumph served as the defensive line coach and co-defensive coordinator for Florida, and among the players he worked with was Tedarrell Slaton. Slaton entered Gainesville as an offensive lineman, but he made the transition to defensive line in his freshman year and stepped in right away as a rotational lineman. Though still raw, he offers intriguing physical upside. He’s a massive individual at 6-foot-5 and 340 pounds, and his combination of length and raw bulk makes him very tough for interior defender to lock up. He’s surprisingly quick off the snap for his size, and he has great natural strength in his hands that helps him disengage and generate some pressure as a pass-rusher.
Slaton is still fairly raw in his pad level and gap-eating awareness in the run game, but he has tools galore. The Bears will have just three interior defensive linemen under contract on the active roster when free agency kicks off, so they could be in the market for depth up front. With someone as physically gifted as Slaton likely being available early on Day 3, the Bears could look to reunite him with Rumph to maximize his potential.
Quincy Roche, EDGE, Miami (FL)
Defensive quality control coach Ronell Williams has been with the Bears since Jan. 2019. Prior to his hiring, Williams was a defensive analyst for Temple, where he worked with one of the top edge rushers in the 2021 draft.
Quincy Roche was a consistent force for Temple on defense, notching 26 sacks and 39.5 tackles for a loss in three seasons before transferring to Miami for his senior season. He had just 4.5 sacks in 2020, but still tallied 14.5 tackles for a loss and proved capable of handling the transition into a Power 5 conference. Roche is one of the most explosive edge rushers in the class, accelerating well off the snap consistently and having the lower-body flexibility needed to bend and turn the corner on outside speed rushes. He has good body control when chasing down ball-carriers in space, and consistently showcases quickness and activity in his hands, especially with his swim move.
While a bit undersized at 6-foot-4 and 235 pounds and somewhat raw in his ability to set the edge in the run game, Roche has a high ceiling as a pass-rusher and a versatile defender who can be dropped back into coverage or even plugged in as a 4-3 SAM linebacker. He’s currently projected to go in either Rounds 2 or 3, so if the Bears find him to be a target they can’t pass up on, he could be a fantastic eventual replacement for Robert Quinn.
Daniel Archibong, DL, Temple
Ronell Williams has connection to another defensive lineman in the 2021 draft; one who arguably is a more realistic target for the Bears.
A three-year starter with 87 tackles to his name, Daniel Archibong brings an incredibly lengthy frame at 6-foot-6 and 300 pounds. With his long arms able to lock out blockers from, his frame at the line of scrimmage, it can be a challenge for opposing offensive linemen to block him. His hand usage as both a pass-rusher and a run-stuffer are impressive, as he packs his hands with quickness, power, and a diverse arsenal of moves at the point of attack. Archibong brings solid short-area burst to the table, and his long arms make him an asset as a pass defender: he has deflected eight passes over the course of his career.
Archibong is a bit top-heavy, and his height can make it tough for him to get his pads low and center his weight so that he has a stable base as a run defender. It can provide for some balance issues and inconsistency in pushing back the pocket with power moves. He has solid nice tools to work with, though, and if the Bears find themselves looking for solid value late on Day 3, he could be a nice addition to their defensive line room.