The 2021 NFL Draft is creeping closer by the day, and as the end of the pre-draft process draws near, it has become more clear which prospects could fit the Bears in Round 1.
Mock drafts, big boards, and general speculation have made it easier to determine which prospects could be options for Chicago in the first round next Thursday. Of course, it’s no guarantee the Bears will even stay put at No. 20. A trade-up for a quarterback could be in the cards if the board falls a certain way, and a trade-down could make sense if they want to stockpile draft picks.
However, until the Bears do choose to make a move, one can assume they’ll be picking at the No. 20 slot in the first round.
There have been several prospects tied to Chicago in the first round, making their first-round selection a difficult one to try and predict. Out of that bunch, though, a few prospects stick out as particularly possible options for them to try and boost their roster.
Here are seven prospects who project as realistic draft picks for the Bears in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft.
Teven Jenkins, OT, Oklahoma State
If you’ve been remotely following our draft coverage this year at Windy City Gridiron, odds are you’ve read about Teven Jenkins.
Jenkins is a big, nasty SOB at 6-foot-6 and 317 pounds who has a lengthy frame and plenty of well-proportioned bulk. He plays with a mean edge at the point of attack, fighting hard to bury defenders with powerful grip strength and a willingness to churn his legs and pummel his opposition. His temperament to pummel opponents upon contact and shut them down completely is one of the most intriguing aspects of his game.
He locates his strikes well and has the power in his upper body — as well as the body control to roll his hips through contact — needed to seal off defenders in the run game. Though he isn’t an elite athlete on film in terms of agility and lower-body flexibility, he tested very well at his Pro Day and plays with good footwork in pass protection.
The current leader as the Bears’ consensus pick via NFL Mock Draft Database, Jenkins’ nastiness and precision would make him an enticing Day 1 starter along the team’s offensive line. Having not investing a pick in an offensive tackle beyond the fifth round since 2011, the Bears would be wise to take a shot on him, should he be available at No. 20.
Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota
Rashod Bateman has drawn comparisons to Allen Robinson in the pre-draft process, so why not have him join forces with the Pro Bowler in Chicago?
Bateman broke out in 2019 with 1,219 yards and 11 touchdowns on 60 catches, and he followed that up by averaging 94.4 yards per game in the five games he was able to play in 2020. The 6-foot, 190-pound receiver is a physical weapon who excels in tight windows and has both the hands and the focus needed to box out defensive backs and come down with grabs against shadowing coverage.
It’s not like defensive backs have many opportunities to blanket him, though; he is a polished route runner with precise footwork and an acute understanding of how to exploit leverage. He measured smaller than expected at his Pro Day, and his speed on tape is just okay, but with a 4.43 40-yard dash at his Pro Day, it seems like his quickness in a straight line should be more than passable for the NFL.
Though Bateman projects best as an ‘X’ receiver — the alignment Robinson primarily plays — the Bears have a tendency to move their receivers around. Their heavy pursuit of Kenny Golladay in free agency shows their interest in flat-out talent over specific scheme fit, and Bateman would give them a high-upside receiver who would be a great addition to their offense.
Alijah Vera-Tucker, OG/OT, USC
As a proven blocker against top competition at both tackle and guard, Alijah Vera-Tucker has the plug-and-play ability that teams have likely fallen in love with.
A left guard in 2019 before moving over to left tackle in 2020, Vera-Tucker has two very strong seasons of tape at multiple positions. He is a technically-savvy blocker who does a great job of timing and placing his strikes inside the shoulder pads of the opposition, and combined with his raw power, his upper-body effectiveness is among the best in the 2021 draft class.
He has a thick frame that packs plenty of bulk in it, and he is able to pretty consistently get his weight underneath him and generate anchor in his lower half. Vera-Tucker is an intelligent lineman who is quick to diagnose blitzes and twists, and he has above-average body control. He’s a bit smaller at 6-foot-4 and 308 pounds, and his explosiveness out of his stance is just okay, but there’s a lot to like in his game.
Vera-Tucker is undoubtedly a talented offensive lineman who should be able to start and contribute early on in his career. Would the Bears play him at tackle despite having shorter arms, or would they slot him at guard and move James Daniels or Cody Whitehair to center? That’s a question the team would have to answer at a later time, but if you can get a lineman as good as Vera-Tucker is, that’s a problem you’d be willing to have.
Samuel Cosmi, OT, Texas
Despite being one of the top athletes at the offensive tackle position, Samuel Cosmi’s high ceiling might be getting overlooked in the grand scheme of things.
With a nearly-perfect 9.99 RAS score from his Pro Day, Cosmi more than backed up the athletic ability he displays on tape. He has tremendous fluidity in his movements, shuffling laterally with ease in pass protection and showing off very good body control in how he changes direction. He accelerates very well to the second level, and his footwork as a down blocker is encouraging in a zone scheme.
A three-year starter for the Longhorns, Cosmi is a quick processor who can pick up twists and clear out zones well in the run game. He also possesses very good size at 6-foot-6 and 314 pounds. His pad level can be a bit high too often in pass sets, and his overall power is lacking at times, but he’s a stud from an athletic perspective.
His momentum among draft circles may be slipping a bit, but don’t get it twisted: Cosmi is still a high-upside offensive tackle with elite physical attributes. Athletic, long and intelligent, he carries a high ceiling and the ability to step in and be a quality pass protector out of the get-go. With his Texas head coach Tom Herman in their coaching staff, the Bears would be wise to do their homework on Cosmi at No. 20.
Kadarius Toney, WR, Florida
Very few wide receivers had as big of a breakout season as Kadarius Toney in 2020.
Florida utilized Toney in a variety of different roles prior to last year, but it wasn’t until his senior year that he truly exploded from a receiving standpoint. He ended the year with 70 catches, 984 yards and 10 receiving touchdowns, and he also added 161 yards and a touchdown on the ground and a punt return for a score. He is one of the most explosive weapons in this year’s class, as he has tremendous straight-line speed and has the insane lateral quickness needed to make defenders miss in the open field.
Toney’s agility and ball-carrier vision make it a challenge for would-be tacklers to wrap up him after the catch. He has shown promise as a route runner, as his natural quickness allows him to explode coming out of his breaks. His technique as a route runner and lack of physicality through his stems and at the catch point are worrisome, but his athletic profile projects him as having a massive ceiling.
He may be a bit raw, but Toney is one of the most electric playmakers in the 2021 draft who fits in perfectly as a slot receiver at the next level. Assuming the Bears look to deal Anthony Miller, they could aim high and take a shot on the Florida standout to add another layer of speed and agility to their wide receiver room.
Greg Newsome II, CB, Northwestern
A Chicago-born defensive standout who fits a major need and has Day 1 starting potential: what’s not to love about Greg Newsome II’s game?
Newsome finished his collegiate career with 20 pass deflections and an interception in his final 11 games at Northwestern. He didn’t have many chances to show it, but he is essentially the total package at the cornerback position. He brings good length at 6-foot and 192 pounds, and he uses his height and long arms to compete at the catch point and jam receivers through their stems.
Among the most fluid defensive backs in the class, Newsome changes direction seamlessly and does a great job of working across his body to explode coming out of his breaks. He has good deep speed and accelerates uphill very well, allowing him to cover vertical concepts with ease. He also has tremendous route recognition and can time his jumps on routes efficiently to make plays on the ball. The big concern with him is his injury history: he missed time in all three of his seasons with the Wildcats due to numerous injuries, playing just 19 games in that span.
Taking Newsome in Round 1 would require a big risk in trusting his durability at the next level, but the play he showed off in both 2019 and 2020 was nothing short of remarkable. He checks all of the boxes teams want at the outside cornerback position: he’s fluid, tall, physical and incredibly smart. The Bears having a long-term hole at the field-side position, Newsome could be a risk worth taking with just how his high ceiling is.
Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech
Had it not been for a recent surgery, Caleb Farley falling to the No. 20 pick would have been a pipe dream.
With 19 pass deflections and 6 interceptions in his two seasons playing at Virginia Tech, Farley was able to solidify himself as one of the top ball-hawking corners in the nation. He has tremendous ball skills, high-pointing the ball with ease in the air and doing a great job of tracking and adjusting to the pass. He showcases ideal fluidity on film that allows him to change direction and rotate across his body to mirror routes. Farley has flashed impressive route-recognition ability, and his precision in timing his jumps on a route or reading a quarterback’s eyes stand out.
Patient through a receiver’s stem, Farley plays with great footwork and doesn’t sell too hard on single-move releases against press or route concepts that utilize double moves. His 6-foot-1, 207-pound frame gives him prototypical size for the cornerback position, helping him get inside of a receiver’s frame and make a play on the ball in tight windows. He only has two years of full-time experience at cornerback, which is apparent in occasionally missteps as a tackler. The bigger issue is his injury history: he tore his ACL in 2017, had back spasms in 2019 and recently underwent a microdiscectomy for his back.
Farley’s microdiscectomy procedure has arguably caused his draft stock to tumble a bit too much, but durability is still a concern in his profile. Regardless, he was viewed by many as the top cornerback in the 2021 draft prior to his injury for a reason. He offers top-notch ball skills, fluidity and length, and as he continues to grow in his position, his ceiling is arguably that of a perennial Pro Bowler. Assuming the Bears do their homework on his medical situation and like what they see, Farley would be a fantastic addition to their secondary.