For those who don’t know, I got to cover the Reese’s Senior Bowl in-person this year, which was an incredible experience for two reasons:
- I got to live a lifelong dream of covering an NFL event as a credentialed media member!
- Getting ready for Senior Bowl practices forced me to become a “Draft Guy”... and it turns out it’s a lot of fun!
With that in mind, I wanted to walk through a Senior-Bowl-inspired 7 round mock draft — it’s a bit early since we’re doing this before Free Agency (which will likely plug a few of the Bears’ holes), but nevertheless it’s a fun way to start thinking through new GM Ryan Poles’ choices when it comes to making the Bears better in late April.
Considering the Bears have 5 draft picks (#39, #71, #147, #149, #186) I’ll keep formatting simple: we’ll go pick-by-pick and I’ll explain both the options I had at choosing and why I ultimately went in the direction I did. We’ll be using Pro Football Network’s Mock Simulator for this exercise.
Pick #39: Traded down with Arizona for Picks #55, #87, and #243
In a stroke of luck, Boston College’s Zion Johnson (OG) fell to pick #39 and I had two suitors to trade down with — the New England Patriots offered me #54 and two future picks, but the Arizona Cardinals offered me #55 and #87 for Johnson’s services and I couldn’t turn that down. I jimmied out an extra 7th and took their offer for one major reason: the Chicago Bears aren’t “one player away” no matter who that player is, so while Johnson looks as good as a Guard prospect can he’s not worth the extra two players I could get in a trade-back.
To me, a move like this is key for Poles’ 2022 draft — this draft is loaded with talent between picks 32-130, so the more lottery tickets you can hoard within that window (currently they have two), the quicker you can build a young nucleus for the new regime’s team. As you’ll see, this move set me up well.
NOTE: Draft simulators are notorious for how easily you can “break” the mock via excessive trading, so I limited this mock to one trade-down in an effort to keep things somewhat realistic.
Pick #55: Jalen Tolbert, WR, South Alabama
I had a lot of options I loved at this pick: Jahan Dotson (XWR), Isaiah Likely (U-TE), Derion Kendrick (zone CB), Chad Muma (MLB), and Trey McBride (U-TE, one of the best pass-catching TEs I’ve seen in a while) were all available and further re-enforced how valuable a trade-down could be, but the Bears currently only have 1 WR under contract (Darnell Mooney) and I wanted to address that in a big way.
Not only did Tolbert show out all week at the Senior Bowl, but his 6’3” frame, smooth footwork, ability to vary his releases, and overall athleticism make him a perfect pair to Darnell Mooney (a better “Z” receiver than “X” receiver). The Bears need an “X” receiver and Tolbert would be just that, threatening at all levels of the field and pairing well with a middle-tier Free Agent to set Justin Fields up for success in 2022.
Next up we have...
Pick #71: Devonte Wyatt, DT, Georgia
I absolutely could not believe Wyatt fell to 71, but once he did I couldn’t pass on him — with Akiem Hicks and Eddie Goldman likely leaving Chicago, they’ll need a 3-Tech that can both stuff the run and rush the passer to make Eberflus’ Cover-2 defense sing. Wyatt is just that — the “second bannana” of the Georgia DL is a 310lb behemoth that moves like he’s 260lbs, rushing the passer with violent hands while blowing up rushes all the same.
He’s got any qualification you could ask of him — he played on a national championship defense, he’s perfectly sized for a modern IDL, and he rushes the passer better than you’d expect from his position. Really, the only question I have about this pick is whether it’ll be possible — come April, Wyatt may not get past pick #30, let alone #60.
Other options I liked: George Pickens (WR), Jalen Pitre (STAR defender), Trey McBride (U-TE)
Next up we have...
Pick #87: Tyler Smith, OT, Tulsa
Do you like violence from your offensive linemen? Then you’ll fall in love quickly with Tyler Smith, who I certainly couldn’t pass on at 87. He’s got pass-protection technique to clean up, but he’s a Guard-Tackle tweener that plays like he hates the man across from him and I think the Bears could use a bit more of that on their OL.
I’m currently throwing a video together on this very player so I won’t belabor the point, but I’ll cite one worry I have with this pick before we move on: Smith is currently pegged as a mid 4th rounder by most draft sites, but I have a feeling he’ll be much, much higher come Draft Day and could make this mock (where I technically overdraft him) look like a joke. Smith is a hell of a talent and drafting him here would be stealing him, but the system let me do it so I’ll take the player!
Other options I liked: Trey McBride (somehow!), Coby Bryant (CB)
Next up was a gap I’m not super fond of as the Bears don’t pick until the mid-140s, where fun depth options like John Ridgeway (DT), Calvin Austin III (WR), Jamaree Salyer (OG) and others have all flown off the board. With that in mind, I went BPA and selected:
Pick #147: Max Mitchell, OT, Louisiana
Those who spent time with me at the Senior Bowl had to put up with how much I like Max Mitchell, so once all my 4th-round guys had flown off the board I went BPA with a true-OT that’s too good a striker to not love watching. He’s a bit light in the pants, weighing in at 299lbs in 2021, but he’s quick-footed and sure-handed in pass-pro while holding his own as a zone run blocker.
He won’t fit every scheme, especially if the Bears switch to something more gap-oriented, but he’s a solid swing OT that could develop into a starter and I don’t think the Bears can pass on talented young lineman right now. They’ll likely need to find a Center in Free Agency, but Mitchell’s technical skill and Smith’s pure violence would be major boons to a Bears’ offensive line that really only offers Whitehair, Jenkins, and Borom right now.
My next pick came quickly and I took...
Pick #149: JT Woods, Safety, Baylor
I’ve liked Woods since before the Senior Bowl, but how fun is it to watch a guy show off center-field range in the big game?
I honestly can’t get a sense for Woods’ value — consensus big boards pre-Senior Bowl had him ranked in the 300s, but I love his track-star speed and knack for playing both downhill and in coverage, particularly 2-high setups. With Chicago likely staying in a 2-high base defense, Woods is a safety I don’t want the Bears to miss out on (even if it means over-drafting him a bit). Would certainly be a better option next to Eddie Jackson than Tashaun Gipson has been.
Next we moved to...
Pick #186: Neil Farrell Jr, DT, LSU
This pick and the next were all Senior Bowl — Farrell’s LSU tape didn’t impress me much coming into the week, but Farrell dominated Day 1’s practices so noticeably that at Wednesday morning’s Media Breakfast the players couldn’t stop talking about “that guy from LSU”.
He’s a short-armed under-athletic DT that dominated against the run but struggled while rushing the passer, but on account of the Bears’ need at 1-Tech DT and a good week of Senior Bowl practice I took him in the 6th all the same. Felt like solid value, though I’ll be the first to say I’m pretty light on knowledge past pick ~150.
For my final pick, I chose...
Pick #243: Velus Jones Jr, WR, Tennessee
Jones Jr was another Senior Bowl standout that flashed downfield speed and varied releases, but the soon-to-be 25-year-old WR still isn’t as refined as you’d otherwise want. Thankfully, a 7th round pick isn’t a particularly high investment, so I took Jones expecting a hard-working ST player that might just become more.
I think I added a lot of talent in this draft while also addressing needs that’ll be harder to fix in Free Agency — the NFL Guard market is always hot, as is Defensive Tackle and high-end X Wide Receiver, so picks like Tolbert, Wyatt, and Smith would help the Bears keep their finances balanced while working towards a 2023 run at the Super Bowl.
I’m not wildly excited about the drop-off after Smith though — I still like Woods as a potential starter, but Mitchell, Farrell Jr, and Jones Jr are either backups or true lottery tickets. Obviously you can’t look for a star in every draft slot, but with more research hopefully I can find a few more diamonds in the rough.
I also wish I liked my options at MLB, Center, and CB more — Derion Kendrick and Coby Bryant really made me think at Corner, but all three positions feel like they’d be easier addressed in Free Agency this year rather than relying on rookies to shoulder the burden. I wish I liked my linebacking options a bit more in this draft (Eberflus’ defense relies on a pretty versatile MIKE linebacker, assuming Roquan plays Darius Leonard’s WILL spot), but Free Agency definitely feels like a better route to address that spot than high-value draft capital given the players that might be available.
Overall, I’d love it if Ryan Poles came away with a similar haul though. My only worry with posting this draft is that Wyatt and Smith in particular will likely fly up boards over the next few months, so a draft like this could become totally unrealistic in a hurry. If they don’t though... sign me up.
What do YOU think? Who are your current draft crushes?