While most of the football world is focused on a Super Bowl matchup between two top-flight quarterbacks, the Chicago Bears have their sights on this Saturday’s Senior Bowl – where perhaps they might find a quarterback of their own.
If not, there appears to be enough talent lined up to improve the quality and depth of the Bears roster in 2017. Nine of the top-10 players on Mel Kiper Jr.’s list of the 15 best NFL prospects at the Senior Bowl (ESPN Insider) play positions that are deemed as needs for the Bears in 2017.
Alabama tight end O.J. Howard tops the list, followed by Kansas State defensive end Jordan Willis, Western Kentucky lineman Forrest Lamp, Alabama outside linebacker Ryan Anderson and LSU cornerback Tre’Davious White rounds out the top five. The rest of the top-15 features five defensive linemen, three cornerbacks, a wide receiver and a center. On the surface, it looks like the 2017 draft projects to be a good one if your team is looking for help on the defensive side of the ball.
Over at Sports Illustrated, Chris Burke runs down 12 of the top prospects participating in this week’s Senior Bowl. Burke lists the top six players to watch on the North team that will be coached by John Fox and the South team led by Hue Jackson of the Cleveland Browns.
Looking at Burke’s list with a focus on the North, it seems like a good idea to keep track the performances of Illinois defensive end Duwuane Smoot, Temple linebacker Haason Reddick, Bucknell offensive tackle Julie’n Davenport, Iowa defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson and Air Force wide receiver Jalen Robinette. Each of those prospects plays a position bereft of talent as far as the Bears’ depth chart is concerned.
The Bears defensive front seven rated in the bottom half of the league. Injuries depleted the team along the defensive line and among the linebackers, but a handful of players are starting to reach the age in which a drop-off in production usually begins. If healthy, the Bears front seven possesses a ton of upside, but Pernell McPhee and Lamarr Houston can’t necessarily be trusted to be healthy for a full 16-game slate based on recent injury history.
Iowa cornerback Desmond King is going to show up often on top prospect lists. And over at CBS Sports, Rob Rang writes that King and the rest of the cornerbacks assembled in Mobile, Ala. make up the most talented defensive position group at the Senior Bowl. This group is deep with high-end talent at a position in which the Bears lacked both depth and talent.
Remember, Pro Football Focus ranked the Bears secondary 30th in 2016 and the cornerbacks who were projected to start for them were either hurt all season (Kyle Fuller) or played poorly (Tracy Porter). Bears defensive backs came up with only eight interceptions and forced only three fumbles in 2016, showing how desperate the need is for playmakers in the defensive secondary.
Dane Brugler of CBS Sports highlights the top talents on the offensive side of the ball, which features a mix of skill position players and linemen. O.J. Howard’s name comes up again as arguably the best Senior Bowl offensive talent in what could be the deepest offensive position group in the game.
Brugler writes that Howard and the other two tight ends on the South team (Evan Ingram of Ole Miss and Gerald Everett of South Alabama) make up what might be the single most talented position group on one Senior Bowl squad in the last decade. The group of wide receivers projects to be deep as well, even though the top two seniors – Western Michigan’s Corey Davis and Oklahoma’s Dede Westbrook – declined their invitations.
But if you’re looking for a quarterback, it might take a real big showing from the assembled group to make waves. Last year’s Senior Bowl quarterback class featured Carson Wentz, Cody Kessler and Jacoby Brissett – each of whom was drafted in the top-100. Dak Prescott wasn’t a top-100 pick, but impressed at the Senior Bowl, landed with the Dallas Cowboys, and put together a Rookie of the Year-caliber season.
The game will not feature Deshaun Watson, by the way, although he was invited. Further, MMQ reports that the Browns – who hold the number one overall pick, and whose coaching staff will lead the South squad that Watson would have landed on – talked to Watson about playing in the game, and he still declined.
We recently looked at the six quarterbacks at the Senior Bowl, in case you’re curious about what developmental quarterback prospects might be worth looking at during Senior Bowl week.