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2022 NFL Draft: Local prospects Bears could target

Which Illinois natives could fit the Bears as potential draft targets?

NCAA Football: Cincinnati at East Carolina James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

I’ll start this article off by clarifying that, just because a player is from Illinois, they aren’t more or less deserving of being Bears targets.

Nonetheless, it’s still a fun story to see a collegiate prospect get drafted by his hometown team. Chicago got to experience that firsthand with Cole Kmet in 2020, with the Barrington native’s family showing plenty of excitement, especially after he was selected by his favorite team growing up.

Illinois high school football has grown in recent years, and there are a handful of prospects from the Chicago area who could be players worth taking at various points in the 2022 NFL Draft.

These 7 Illinois natives should be prospects for the Bears to consider in this year’s draft.

Alec Pierce, WR, Cincinnati

If Luke Getsy’s offense mirrors the philosophies displayed in Matt LaFleur, Kyle Shanahan and Joe Moorhead’s scheme, Alec Pierce would fit the vertical threat archetype very well.

The Glen Ellyn native was a four-sport athlete at Glenbard West, so it’s no surprise that athleticism is a calling card of his game. He’s a 6-foot-3, 211-pound weapon with a 4.41 40-yard dash and both broad and vertical jumps in at least the 94th percentile for the wide receiver position all-time. Pierce’s deep speed stands out on tape, and he has the breakaway ability to outrun defenders in space. He uses his size very well when boxing out defensive backs at the catch point, and his physicality and body control are stellar in the air.

In terms of being a route salesman, Pierce doesn’t do a great job of disguising intricate concepts yet, nor does he generate fantastic sharpness in his cuts. However, a receiver with his size, speed and ball skills is worth taking a shot on. He could be a solid trade-down target for the Bears in Round 2, but if he’s available in Round 3, he would be a fantastic addition.

Perrion Winfrey, DL, Oklahoma

The 3-technique defensive tackle plays an important role in generating pressure in Matt Eberflus’ scheme, and an explosive defender like Perrion Winfrey would be a tremendous fit.

Winfrey is a Lake Park product who has killed it in the pre-draft process, excelling at the Senior Bowl and killing it at the Combine. His athletic ability is on display on a down-by-down basis, as his first step is tremendous and his speed in pursuit gives him plenty of range as a defender in space. He has a diverse arsenal as a pass-rusher, with quick and active hands at the point of contact needed to free himself up and disengage.

Pad level can be an occasional issue for Winfrey, and he can stand to add some more muscle to his 290-pound frame. A player with his explosiveness and high motor has three-down value at the next level, and though the Bears might not go with an interior defensive lineman in the second round, Winfrey would be a very good fit for their defense.

Kevin Jarvis, OG, Michigan State

Why isn’t a four-year Big Ten starter being talked about more? That’s the question I face with Kevin Jarvis right now.

Jarvis was a four-star recruit at Maine South in Park Ridge, and he has served as an anchor for Michigan State over the last few years. He’s a powerful interior blocker who packs a mean punch at the point of attack, pairing good hand placement with powerful grip strength and a lower body that makes it tough for the opposition to push the pocket against him. He is a quality run blocker who is able to seal off defenders to pave open lanes for his teammates.

The issue with Jarvis stems from mobility and flexibility, as he’s a waist-bender who doesn’t change direction incredibly well or move around with ideal coordination in space. That could stop him from reaching a high ceiling at the next level, but his strength should see him generate NFL looks, especially for a team that needs offensive line help like the Bears.

Vederian Lowe, OT, Illinois

The Bears haven’t drafted a player from the University of Illinois since 1986. With Vederian Lowe entering at a position of need for the team, that drought could end this year.

Lowe is a four-year full-time starter at the collegiate level who also started 7 games in 2017. The three-time all-conference lineman at Auburn — in Rockford, not the college — proved to be a powerful anchor for the Fighting Illini with a well-built frame, long arms and good raw power proportioned evenly. He fights hard to maintain inside leverage with his hands, and he packs very good power in the initial point of contact. By all accounts, Lowe is also a high-character individual to have in the locker room.

Though he showcases solid bend in his lower half, Lowe’s lateral mobility isn’t all that great in pass protection, and he doesn’t stand out as great in a particular aspect of his game. That said, he is a well-rounded lineman with solid backup upside at the next level, and the Bears may want to consider him as depth late on Day 3.

Jack Sanborn, LB, Wisconsin

Jack Sanborn isn’t a flashy prospect, but he brings a lot of substance to the table as an off-ball linebacker.

An all-state linebacker at Lake Zurich who was a first-team All-Big Ten defender in 2021, Sanborn is an intelligent player who processes well in the box and is able to execute his run fits with good timing, precision and a willingness to engage with contact. He is a reliable, wrap-up tackler with good play strength when he hits an opposing ball-carrier, as well as a low center of gravity and ideal pad level.

Sanborn tested pretty well athletically, but his play speed and fluidity aren’t fantastic on tape. He can also stand to add a little bit more muscle to his frame. However, he would be able to project as a solid special teamer and backup MIKE linebacker for the Bears late on Day 3.

John Ridgeway, DL, Arkansas

Much conversation has been made about the 3-technique in Eberflus’ system, but what about 1-techniques?

John Ridgeway is a four-year starter at the collegiate level who starred at Illinois State before transferring to Arkansas for the 2021 season. The Bloomington native, who was able to dominate in his hometown as an imposing nose tackle, is a well-built defender with a strong anchor which allows him to eat up gaps in the run game and hold up blocks. He generates solid power in his upper body, and he has solid straight-line speed for a 6-foot-5, 320-pounder.

Is Ridgeway a bit limited in terms of long-term athletic upside and overall mobility? Sure, but he could be a quality rotational defender who could be had on late Day 3 or as an UDFA if developed properly.

Eric Johnson, DL, Missouri State

I enjoy writing about Eric Johnson because it allows me to shoutout Plainfield.

Johnson starred at Plainfield South, and he put together strong performances at both the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl and the Senior Bowl. Here’s what I had to say about him in my small-school sleeper article from February:

Though he best projects as a 3-technique defensive tackle, he played just about everywhere along Missouri State’s defensive line. He accelerates well off the snap, and his raw power and explosiveness allows him to push the pocket consistently, even when his pads aren’t relatively low. Mobile for a 6-foot-4, 300-pounder, Johnson’s lateral quickness in the open field makes him a dangerous backside threat, too. He may be raw in terms of pad level and his counter move arsenal, but Johnson’s first step and sheer explosive ability should be enticing to NFL teams late on Day 3. The Bears could view him as a good fit as a 3-tech defensive lineman in Matt Eberflus’ scheme.