There is good news for the Chicago Bears coming out of the Senior Bowl that was played this past weekend in Mobile, Alabama. There were a couple of quarterbacks who played better than expected in the college all-star game, which should drive the asking price for the Bears #8 pick higher. A number of players flashed potential at key positions, like wide receiver and defensive back, that gives the Bears hope, to fill their two biggest areas of need in the latter rounds of the upcoming draft. But, there is also bad news as I look back at last years Senior Bowl, in which the North was coached by the Bears. Bad news first, after a brief explanation of what the Senior Bowl means to teams in the NFL.
The Senior Bowl is the first step toward the NFL for college seniors who wish to play professional football. It invites the top players from all levels of college football and the teams are divided geographically from a player’s college in the north and south. The teams are coached by 2 NFL teams that finish with the worst records in the NFL for that past season and voluntarily accept the invitation. NFL teams can turn down the invitation to coach, but most accept the opportunity to get up close evaluations of these players. By coaching for that week, a team like the Bears a year ago, get’s a head start to evaluate players for the draft in April.
This year the Bears were, like the other 30 teams in the league not coaching the Senior Bowl, relegated to the far sidelines to do their scouting and interviews. Frankly, the Bears can’t do worse this year, being on the outside with their evaluations, than last year, when they were on the inside. That the North lost 16-15 to the South, proved that Dowell Loggains couldn’t coach an all-star team to a respectable offensive showing.
Out of all the players they evaluated in that game a year ago, the Bears drafted Jordan Morgan out of tiny Kutztown College. That’s right, you’ve never heard of him because, after a mediocre training camp, the 5th round pick was put on injured reserve with a bad shoulder. This year he will just provide depth, since he’s a long term project. It’s unlikely he makes the team, even this year, and probably heads for the practice squad if he can stay healthy.
More disconcerting was that Morgan was the third, small school pick by general manager Ryan Pace last year, after selecting Adam Shaheen from Ashland College in the 2nd round, and Tarik Cohen in the 4th round out of North Carolina A&T. I don’t know what Pace and his staff are trying to prove by taking so many players other scouts have never even heard of. Small school players provide false positives, because they have been performing against slower and smaller players at their level. It’s like sending men to play boy’s. Or Kramer, dominating kids, at his dojo on Seinfeld. Would you draft three Kramer’s? I think not!! Only Morgan was even invited to the Senior Bowl a year ago, Shaheen and Cohen were not.
It’s one thing to gamble and pick one guy a year from what we used to call a division 2 level, but last year the Bears selected 3, and traded their third round pick last year and the third round pick this year, to acquire Mitchell Trubisky, arguably the least experienced quarterback selected in last years draft.. The only problem with that is, Pace said a year ago, that Trubisky, he believed, would be better than any quarterback coming out in this years draft. Based on what I saw last weekend, I don’t think Trubisky would’ve been the third best quarterback I saw in this years Senior Bowl. By trading up to get Mitchell, Pace severely, and negatively impacted two drafts, in the midst of his lengthy rebuilding process, that is now on its’ second head coach.
By drafting the small school guys like Shaheen and Cohen, who made little impact on the Bears last season, the Bears passed on two of the best running back prospects in years in Alvin Kamara and Kareem Hunt, who played on the Bears coached North squad that lost. And Hunt, a rookie of the year candidate, was named the North’s most valuable player! Both Kamara and Hunt were selected in the third round last year and got their teams into the playoffs. There were also two wide receivers selected after Shaheen, who made big impacts for their teams last year, Cooper Kupp for the L.A. Rams and Ju-Ju Smith Schuster for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
In hindsight, the Bears had the opportunity to acquire big-time skill position talent at quarterback, wide receiver and running back, but instead tried to be clever, tricky and act like the smartest people in the NFL, in spite of their position of drafting the third player in each round. A chimpanzee could draft productive players at number three. It’s unlikely that any other team in recent memory has had less production than the Bears got out of their very high draft position from a year ago. Did Trubisky and Shaheen do anything last year to justify giving up the third round pick traded for Trubisky?
They could’ve had college national champion Deshaun Watson at quarterback, wide receiver Cooper Kupp, and Alvin Kamara or Hunt at running back if they had just stayed pat and drafted where they were supposed to. Kamara and Hunt were 1st team all-pro’s and Watson would’ve been, had he not gotten hurt. He threw for 5 touchdowns in 3 of the 5 games he played in. That’s 15 touchdowns in 3 games, Trubisky threw 7 Td’s in 10 games!! His college coach said Watson would be the Micheal Jordan of the NFL. Maybe Pace is deaf?
Now they don’t have those players, they have something much worse and one less pick to show for it, and a year later to make up for it. And because 7 other teams were even more dreadful and injured than the Bears this year, the Bears will be selecting 8th in rounds 1, 2, two 4th round picks, 5, 6, and 7.
It’s inevitable that the Bears will even screw this up, in spite of the good fortune the Senior Bowl and this years draft class has bestowed upon them. In spite of the Bears saying a year ago, that this would be a bad year overall for talent and especially quarterbacks, this year is actually looking pretty strong across a number of positions, based on the quality of play this past weekend.
It was the quarterbacks that shined the most this past weekend. Now normally the top talent doesn’t show up for the Senior Bowl, because players and their agents fear getting injured. But a couple top players did show and didn’t disappoint in limited time. Heisman trophy winner, quarterback Baker Mayfield, was the first Heisman winner in 15 years to show and play. Even though he only led two drives that resulted in one field goal, he displayed arm strength and mobility that was Trubisky’s equal at any time this past year. Reporters said that many scouts were pleasantly surprised by Mayfield, who displayed maturity and knowledge in his interviews.
The player who has been rising up mock drafts the fastest during this evaluation period has been defensive end Marcus Davenport, from Texas San Antonio. Rarely does such a player show up at the Senior Bowl and play extensively, for fear of injury. He has been one of the most talked about players so far, because his game tapes have been drawing comparisons to the top consensus pass rusher, Bradley Chubb from North Carolina State. The small school concerns scouts had with Davenport were quickly erased with a dominating Senior Bowl performance, against big school offensive line talent, that had everything; sacks, tackles for loss, forced fumbles and even a touchdown. Davenport may have played into the top 10 and into the Bears lap at #8, with his performance. He is a small school player I could support drafting at number 8. Reminds me of Bears Super Bowl MVP, Richard Dent, who came from tiny Tennessee State.
But the stars of the day were quarterbacks Kyle Lauletta, of Richmond, who was the games MVP, Mike White of Western Kentucky, and Josh Allen of Wyoming. They were poised, accurate, mobile and prepared. They appear to be starter quality for the NFL, but Lauletta looks like a star in the making, his arm strength, accuracy and touch, was really impressive. With a strong showing at the Draft Combine in a few weeks, his stature may have gone from 4th round to top 10 in the first, he was that good.
Allen was already getting talked about as moving up the 1st round board into the top 10, and White may have played to the top of the second round. Top prospects and underclassmen Josh Rosen of UCLA and Sam Darnold of USC, didn’t attend because they were junior’s.
Senior, and former Heisman winner Lamar Jackson, who I believe is probably the best quarterback of the draft, didn’t attend to get ready for the combine.
Hub Arkush of Pro Football Weekly, says Mason Rudolph of Oklahoma State is his best quarterback prospect, and USA Today reported that when Rudolph didn’t attend the Senior Bowl to nurse a foot injury, he interviewed with the Buffalo Bills, who own picks 21 and 22 of the first round. Saw tape of Rudolph, and ironically, he looks like Bears quarterback/pariah/stiff, Mike Glennon. Which is fine if you have an offensive line that can block for the immobile quarterbacks they both are.
The current consensus is that Rosen, Darnold, Allen, and Rudolph are top 15 picks, with Lauletta and White climbing the ranks, possibly into the first round, and my guy, Lamar Jackson, actually dropping in status. Some people are suggesting Jackson, a Deshaun Watson clone, should be a wide receiver, which will only motivate him more at the scouting combine.
I say right here and now that Lauletta and Jackson will be playing in Super Bowls, while the rest, combined with Trubisky, will be lucky to win a single playoff game in their careers.
The more quarterbacks going high means that the Bears pick at #8 becomes infinitely more valuable. The chances to draft Davenport, an impact pass rusher, with NFL size and speed already, might be too great to pass up though. There is no shot to draft DE Chubb, who will be the first defender taken. At least 3 quarterbacks may now be taken in front of the Bears, along with the best running back Saquon Barkley, I believe going number one. The Bears options are to take the 2nd best pass rusher, the best defensive back in Minkah Fitzpatrick, offensive guard Quenton Nelson, the best left tackle, my guy Mike McGlinchey, or the best wide receiver in Calvin Ridley.
If I were the Bears GM, I would trade down with either, Oakland at 10, Washington at 13 or Buffalo at 21 and 22, and try to pick up an extra couple of picks and still be in position to draft the best left tackle I could get. Hopefully Mike McGlinchey, the 6’8″ left tackle from Notre Dame would still be on the board. There are a number of teams that will be wiling to trade up to get a quarterback or Davenport after their eye opening Senior Bowl performances
In the second round is when I would target wide receiver D.J. Chark, 6’2″, who probably should’ve been Senior Bowl MVP. Marcell Ateman, 6’4″, was another wide receiver from the Senior Bowl that I would target in the third or fourth rounds. Both players have ideal size and speed combinations to be productive picks at possibly the Bears greatest area of need. The only question is whether Chark will last until the 39th pick. If he doesn’t than I would look for the best linebacker or cornerback available. From the Senior bowl that would be cornerbacks Kameron Kelly of San Diego State, and M.J. Stewart of North Carolina. And outside linebackers Marquis Haynes of Mississippi, and Shaquem Griffin of Central Florida. Griffin is undersized though, safety might be his NFL position.
Productive performances by all the players I have mentioned mean, there should be plenty of talent and trading options when the Bears pick 8th and 39th in the first two rounds of the draft. If Pace is smarter than I think he is, he will try to trade down from 8th overall, and try to pick up at least 2 more picks, before the Bears two picks in the fourth round, starting at pick 101. Having a gap between 39 and 101 is much too large to allow other teams to pick from, without having any picks yourself. Buffalo and Carolina both have three picks between 39 and 101, that’s 6 chances to get back a pick that was wasted, moving up to get Mitchell Tubisky.