NFL teams don’t mess around when it comes to draft preparation.
There are many prospects that staff members watch leading up to the draft, with no stone left unturned to ensure they make the most informed decisions on a prospect possible. This process includes such activities as watching film, attending games, player interviews, and talking with coaches.
Then, of course, there’s the all-star game circuit. When you start off with 90 players to a roster, teams need to search far and wide to find players to sign to compete for a roster spot. The Senior Bowl is a popular event for NFL teams to send scouts to, as is the Shrine Bowl. There are many other bowls out there that have produced NFL talent, like the Hula Bowl and the College Gridiron Showcase.
The all-star game that’s right around the corner is the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, which takes place on Saturday at 5 p.m. CST. The Bears have gone down that path to look for prospects before, with recent draft picks and free agent signings like Doug Kramer, Dazz Newsome, CJ Marable, Kuony Deng, Charles Snowden and Ihmir Smith-Marsette having participated within the previous two events.
You’ll typically find some of your late-round sleepers or undrafted free agency targets at the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, and there’s nothing quite as satisfying as hitting on a diamond in the rough. Here are some of the prospects the Bears should consider in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl.
Durell Nchami, EDGE, Maryland
If you want a total mystery as a late-round or undrafted target, Durell Nchami might be someone you’d be interested in.
2022 marked the first season that Nchami played the entirety of, as he only played in just 7 games in his previous three seasons due to various injuries. He’s a bit raw from a pad level and counter move perspective, presumably because of a relative lack of in-game experience. However, he’s an impressive athlete with a nasty first step and good flexibility to the outside. His high motor maximizes those athletic traits, as well. He’s a question mark from a durability and production perspective, but a team will likely take a chance on him because of his potential.
Jacob Slade, DL, Michigan State
There’s nothing really sexy about Jacob Slade’s game; he’s just a rock-solid prospect who gets the job done.
He’s versatile from an alignment perspective, and though I like him best as a 2-tech, he can kick slightly out to a 3-tech and thrive as far inside as a nose tackle, too. An experienced three-down defender, Slade times his jumps well off the line of scrimmage and does a good job of maintaining optimal activity in his lower half. He eats up gaps well in the run game and does a solid job of generating pressure with power in the passing game. A lack of top-notch athleticism hurts his ceiling, but I could easily see him sticking around the league for a while as a spot starter or high-end backup.
Joey Fisher, OL, Shepherd
Senior Bowl quarterback Tyson Bagent isn’t the only Shepherd prospect worth looking at in the 2023 NFL Draft!
In addition to running back Ronnie Brown — another NFLPA invitee — Joey Fisher has a strong chance to end up with an NFL squad. The two-time All-PSAC East honoree was actually a last-minute invitee to the Senior Bowl for how well he performed in practices at the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl. He’s a powerful blocker with a very strong anchor and some flashes of impressive leverage wins at the point of contact. I have him kicking inside from tackle to guard because I’m not sold on his lateral quickness on the outside, but I could see him selected late on Day 3.
Alan Ali, C, TCU
Few offensive linemen in the 2023 draft class are as battle-tested as Alan Ali.
A four-year starter at SMU before transferring to TCU, Ali played a big role in the Horned Frogs’ run to the National Championship this year. He’ll turn 25 years old in his rookie year and doesn’t have great athletic upside, which will likely prevent him from getting drafted highly. That said, he’s an intelligent blocker who does a good job of finding work, places his jabs well and passes a nice punch at the point of attack. He also has starting experience as a tackle, giving him an additional edge of versatility.
Quindell Johnson, S, Memphis
Box score scouting is my least favorite thing people do in the pre-draft process, but looking at Quindell Johnson’s production shows he deserves NFL looks.
Johnson, a safety with long arms at 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds, finished his four seasons at Memphis with 320 tackles, 15.5 tackles for a loss, 10 interceptions and 24 pass deflections. He plays with a physical edge, entering the frame of opposing receivers at the catch point and battling to disrupt passes in coverage. He has good long fluidity in space, which helps him out in two-high shell coverages. Johnson isn’t super crisp in his cuts and probably won’t test absurdly well, but he has the potential to become a solid special teamer and backup at the next level.
C.J. Johnson, WR, East Carolina
C.J. Johnson is one of the most interesting wide receiver prospects in the 2023 NFL Draft.
He broke out as a true freshman in 2019 with 54 catches and 908 yards, but his production fell off a bit the next two seasons, causing him to fade into the background a bit. He topped the 1,000-yard mark in 2022, though, and his tape indicates he could be a deep sleeper who outplays his draft positioning. He’s a massive receiver at 6-foot-2 and 222 pounds, and he’s gifted with tremendous play strength and impressive abilities after the catch. A comparison to A.J. Brown isn’t saying Johnson will reach that caliber — that’s an insanely high bar for a late-round prospect to reach — but from purely a size and YAC perspective, the play styles are similar.
Mitchell Tinsley, WR, Penn State
Teams who liked Bailey Zappe in last year’s draft probably ended up taking note of Mitchell Tinsley for this year’s draft.
A transfer from Western Kentucky, Tinsley had 87 catches for 1,402 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2021 before coming to Happy Valley to play for the Nittany Lions. His production in the Big Ten wasn’t as good, battling with several future NFLers like Parker Washington, Theo Johnson, Brenton Strange and Nicholas Singleton for touches. However, he’s a reliable hands-catcher with good ball skills, ideal coordination and a willingness to compete after the catch and at the catch point. I don’t expect him to test out of this world due to a lack of explosion on tape, but he more than deserves a shot to fight for a backup spot with an NFL team.
Lindsey Scott Jr., QB, Incarnate Word
I’ve covered Lindsey Scott Jr. at length in a previous article, and I strongly recommend you check that out. Simply put, though, I think he would be a very good fit as a backup for Justin Fields on the Bears’ roster.
I won’t repeat myself too much, since I went much more in-depth in the aforementioned article. However, Scott’s combination of athleticism and arm talent makes him my highest-rated quarterback at the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl this year, as well as the best scheme fit in Chicago of the bunch. Whether he’ll get drafted or not is unknown, but at the very least, he’s worth bringing in to see what he can do over the offseason.