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2021 NFL Draft: Day 3 sleepers with high ceilings Bears could target

The Bears have had success on Day 3, and these high-upside players in the 2021 NFL Draft could outdo their eventual draft status.

NCAA Football: Michigan at Illinois Michael Allio-USA TODAY Sports

In the NFL Draft cycle, much discussion is had about some of the top prospects in the class.

This year, players like Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, and Justin Fields have proven to be the focal points of conversation surrounding the 2021 NFL Draft. While those prospects being in the limelight is warranted due to their undeniable talent, it can also cause some players to fall under the radar.

The Bears have found plenty of luck on Day 3 in recent years, with the likes of Eddie Jackson, Tarik Cohen, Darnell Mooney, Jordan Howard, Nick Kwiatkoski and Bilal Nichols all stepped into big roles for the team in recent years.

Many have claimed that part of the draft to be general manager Ryan Pace’s “sweet spot”, which has been much needed, especially considering their lack of early-round draft capital in recent years.

With Pace’s history and the need for young depth that the Bears have on both sides of the ball, they would be aided greatly by securing a few contributors in this year’s draft. If they want to do so, they might as well aim high.

For one reason or another, these six draft prospects aren’t viewed consistently as much more than Day 3 picks, but their respective ceilings indicate they could outdo their draft status with their NFL play.

These six players are under-the-radar potential stars, many of whom the Bears would be wise to keep an eye on.

Josh Imatorbhebhe, WR, Illinois

Had it not been for the circumstances that befell Illinois in 2020, there’s a strong chance we would be talking about Josh Imatorbhebhe as a strong Day 2 talent.

Imatorbhebhe had nine touchdowns and averaged 19.2 yards per reception in an entertaining season for the Fighting Illini in 2019. As starter Brandon Peters got COVID and their second-string quarterback got injured, though, Illinois started passing the ball less often, hurting Imatorbhebhe’s production. Nonetheless, he has the tools to be a much better pro than a better college athlete.

At 6-foot-2 and 218 pounds, he’s a big-bodied receiver with a muscular frame and good physicality at the catch point. For his size, he’s also an explosive athlete. He accelerates well off the snap and has an elite leaping ability — he should test well into the 40-inch vertical jump range and could genuinely push the 46-inch Combine record. Imatorbhebhe is tough to bring down after the catch, and he has shown promise as a route-running technician against press coverage.

Though a bit unproven and still improving in his sharpness as a route runner, Imatorbhebhe has a high ceiling. Currently projected around Rounds 4 or 5, he could develop into a quality long-term starter if all goes well.

Tamorrion Terry, WR, Florida State

Tamorrion Terry exited the Florida State program in a silent manner, and while quite a bit fell apart for him in 2020, that doesn’t change his elite ceiling.

Terry brings a lengthy frame at 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds. He has a tremendous catch radius and has fantastic ball skills, allowing him to box out defenders and contort his body to square up to the ball. He’s a surprisingly good athlete for his size, showing agility after the catch and subtle footwork needed to open up a receiver’s hips on tape. His combination of elusiveness, toughness through contact, and ball-carrier vision makes him a dangerous threat on screens — he led the FBS in yards per screen in 2019.

There are some questions for Terry to answer in 2020, such as his down performance and his abrupt departure from the program midway through the season. He can also stand to be a bit more explosive in his breaks. The tools are there for Terry to become a star, though, and as an early-round Day 3 pick, he could be a steal.

D’Ante Smith, OT, East Carolina

This year’s Senior Bowl class showcased numerous talented offensive linemen, and among the top performers was D’Ante Smith.

Smith brings a really intriguing blend of athleticism and power to the offensive tackle position. He does a great job of changing direction in pass protection and is explosive when climbing to the second level. His power at the point of attack is also apparent, as he packs a strong jab and has the grip strength needed to seal off defenders in the run game, as well as the flexibility to roll his hips through contact. He was tied for the fourth-longest wingspan at the Senior Bowl at 85 1/8 inches, and his wickedly long arms are apparent on tape. While still underweight, Smith was listed at 6-foot-4 and 274 pounds in college but measured at 6-foot-5 and 290 pounds in Mobile. His ability to pack on muscle, as well as being given an additional inch, is encouraging.

While that bulking up is impressive, he’s still fairly underweight for his size. He can pop upright coming out of his stance too often, and his small-school status could hurt his stock a bit. Though I have him as a Round 3 prospect, he could very realistically be available in Round 4, which could make him a potential steal.

Charles Snowden, LB, Virginia

It’s not often that a 6-foot-6 linebacker falls under the radar in draft circles, but that’s where we find Charles Snowden.

His incredible length and a 232-pound frame gives him a high physical ceiling at the next level. What’s perhaps even more intriguing than his length is just how fluid he is for his size: he changes direction well in space and has the fluidity needed to excel in zone coverage across the middle of the field. Snowden’s length gives him upside as a blitzer, and he has proven capable of rushing with nice burst up the A gap. A three-year starter with 178 tackles and 28.5 tackles for a loss to his name in that span, he is an explosive penetrator of the backfield whose size and speed makes him tough to stop in the run game.

Snowden is a bit wiry, and he doesn’t have significant physicality at the line of scrimmage when executing run fits. His pad level can be affected by his height, preventing him from staying low and getting his weight underneath him when he wraps up. He’s also still developing his football IQ and the quickness of his mental processing. He may have to take on more of a redshirt role in his rookie year, but he has plenty of potential at the NFL level.

Kelvin Joseph, CB, Kentucky

Remember the name of Kelvin Joseph: he’s slowly but surely picking up steam around draft circles, and it might not be long until he’s consistently viewed as a Day 2 prospect.

Known throughout Kentucky’s fanbase as Bossman Fat, Joseph brings plenty to be excited about in his game. Listed at 6-foot-1 and 192 pounds, he has very good length for an outside cornerback and could project as either a boundary or field-side corner, although he will likely end up being the former in the NFL. He has impressive ball skills, tracking down the deep ball incredibly well and doing a great job of squaring up to the ball and high-pointing it like a receiver. Joseph is an athletic cover corner with tempered footwork in his backpedal and explosiveness coming out of his breaks. He has shown some promise as a tackler, too, as he can wrap up well and tackle with solid physicality at the contact point. Breaking out with four interceptions in 2020, he showed in his redshirt sophomore year that he could hold his own against some of the SEC’s top receiving talent from both a physical and athletic standpoint.

Joseph’s hand usage at the line of scrimmage and his overall strength in tight windows could improve a bit, and being just a one-year starter at the collegiate level, he is still fairly unproven. That could potentially see him fall to Day 3, but he could develop into a quality starter at the next level.

Bryan Mills, CB, NC Central

If you’re looking for a lengthy, athletic defensive back with plenty of upside, pay attention to Bryan Mills.

Mills transferred to NC Central for the 2019 season after playing at the College of Canyons, and he excelled in his lone season at the FCS level. He finished with five interceptions and eight pass breakups in 12 games, including starts in the final 10 games. At 6-foot-1, he brings very good length to the outside cornerback position and projects well as a boundary defender. He uses his length well to fight with receivers in quick-jam press coverage, and he has an impressive leaping ability that allows him to fare well at the catch point. Mills is athletic for a taller cornerback and has the long speed needed to defend the vertical route.

As an FCS player, Mills not only didn’t play in 2020, but he also doesn’t have significant tape against NFL-caliber players. He had his flashes at the Senior Bowl, but he was fairly hot and cold. He can also improve his ability to anticipate sharp breaks in man coverage and add more bulk to an 180-pound frame. While a work in progress, Mills could be worth looking at in the range of Rounds 5 or 6.