The 2018 NFL Combine kicked off as usual with the big offensive linemen. And apparently, the two groups drew a ton of interest from the Bears brass.
#Bears section was full during OL drills. More so than most teams. Afterward they went back to the lounge area of it and held a meeting.
Could mean something, or it could mean nothing. Just sharing my observation.
— The Chicago Audible (@ChicagoAudible) March 2, 2018
This offensive line group does have a lot of interesting talents. At tackle there isn’t an elite franchise blindside protector, but there are plenty of intriguing developmental talents.
The talk of Day One is Oklahoma’s Orlando Brown Jr., and not in a good way. Brown followed up a 14-rep bench press showing on Thursday with an extremely slow 5.85 in the 40-yard dash. The reps on the bench were the lowest of any lineman with 35” arms since 2003. The 40 time was among the slowest ever recorded at the combine. While Brown likely was never a great fit in the Bears’ offense, he potentially lost a lot of money with his performance on Friday.
My top rated tackle in the draft, Connor Williams, did nothing to lose his throne. While Williams did measure with shorter than the ideal 34-inch arm length during weigh-ins, he showed on the field why he is definitely an NFL left tackle. Williams placed among the top five in the broad jump, long jump, and the 40-yard dash while displaying ideal athleticism in the field drills. He’s a first round talent that will make teams regret if they pass on him because of lack of ideal length.
On the surprising side, UCLA’s Kolton Miller turned out a huge day for his draft prospects. At 6-foot, 9 inches, Miller broke the combine record for the broad jump for linemen. He also ran a sub-5 in the 40 and looked nearly flawless in drills. Miller will have scouts running back to his college tape as he showed first-round athletic traits in Indianapolis.
Another big star on Friday was Pittsburgh’s Brian O’Neill. O’Neill didn’t quite conjure up memories of Lane Johnson, but he proved to be quite athletic in his own right. O’Neill ran an impressive 4.82 in the 40-yard dash and displayed very quick feet and athleticism in the field drills. O’Neill is likely an early second-day pick, who could be an NFL starting left tackle with the right coaching.
On the small school front, Alex Cappa and Desmond Harrison both showed some intriguing traits. Harrison looked like a stud athlete, but he’s extremely raw. He ran a fast 40 (4.90) and had extremely quick feet, but was all over the place in drills. Harrison has a ton of off-field baggage but showed some of the raw athleticism which made him a big recruit for the University of Texas out of high school. Meanwhile, Cappa had the opposite story. He was not highly recruited and has some dominant tape against Division II competition. But Cappa showed surprising footwork and athleticism. Both players look like early Day 3 projects who need a year of NFL coaching before seeing the field.
While the tackle group features a lot of projects for offensive line coach Harry Heistand, the interior class is full of plug-and-play Day 1 starters.
Head and shoulders above the rest is Quenton Nelson. Nelson didn’t run sprints but confirmed his “can’t miss” status with smooth, explosive movement in the field drills. While, he didn’t look to be quite athletic enough to project as a tackle, as many have speculated recently, he’s about as safe of a guard prospect as there has ever been. Nelson will likely go in the top seven picks, out of reach for the Bears without a trade up.
Will Hernandez is likely going to be the second interior lineman to hear his name called on the first day of the draft next month. Hernandez looked to be the most athletic player, per pound, on the field during offensive line drills. At 348 pounds, Hernandez moved effortlessly and looked like an anchor in pass protection that can also get out and pull in the run game.
Maybe the most impressive lineman today during field drills was Iowa’s James Daniels. Daniels doesn’t have prototypical size, but has great length and displayed amazing footwork on Friday. His work in the mirror drill had NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock raving and urging the network’s producers to save the tape of his drill to show “what it’s supposed to look like”. Daniels has some medical history to look into, but could also find himself in the top 32 picks in April.
A sleeper interior prospect on the day was Nevada’s Austin Corbett. Mayock also raved about him, touting him also as a potential first-round pick. Corbett is a 6’4”, 305-pound guard who placed above average in each exercise. He also stood out in field drills. Corbett is another “go back to the tape” guy to see how his athleticism plays on game day. Still probably a Day 2 pick for me.
Others who impressed are Scott Quessenberry (Center, UCLA), Braden Smith (Guard, Auburn), Skyler Phillips (Guard, Idaho St), and Rod Taylor (Tackle, Ole Miss).
On the surface, running back doesn’t appear to be much of a need for the Bears. However, with Tarik Cohen not being a between the tackles runner, and Jordan Howard not being much of a pass catcher, it’s possible the Bears add a third guy. That third back can serve as the primary inside runner should Howard go down, while also adding something out of the backfield if Cohen lines up wide more consistently.
Ironically, the first guy that fits this bill reminds me a lot of now-retired ex-Bear Matt Forte. Kalen Ballage is big enough to run between the tackles (6’1”, 228) but also has soft hands that he displayed in pass-catching drills on Friday. Ballage finished in the top five in the 40-yard, broad jump, and three-cone drills. Ballage is likely a final day pick who has a chance to slip through the cracks and be a productive all-around back.
Also impressive in Indianapolis today was Northwestern’s Justin Jackson. Jackson has solidly consistent college tape but appeared to lack explosion. He proved many wrong on Friday with near top-five finishes in nearly every combine event. He doesn’t have great size to run between the tackles but has good enough hands to be a solid third down back.
While Nyheim Hines probably isn’t going to be a guy that runs between the tackles with a bunch of success, he is easily this draft’s best receiving back. Hines showed wide receiver like hands, catching everything in sight and was the fastest running back of the day, posting a 4.38 40-yard dash. Hines has started double-digit games at both running back and receiver in college and is a guy that can line up in the backfield or the slot. He’s a third-day pick that can be a day 1 third down back.
The forgotten man in this running back class is Oregon’s Royce Freeman. Freeman came in at 234 pounds but ran a very good 4.54 for a guy that size. He also scored near the top of the class in all the agility drills. Freeman has underrated hands and is an ideal fit for the Bears offense, which he ran under current offensive coordinator, Mark Helfrich. He’s another third-day sleeper that could outplay his draft slot in the long run.
The man nobody will soon forget also put on a show on Friday. Saquon Barkley cemented himself as probably the top overall prospect in the draft with a strong showing in all events and field drills. Like Nelson, Barkley probably goes before the Bears ever are on the board. But if for some reason he falls, the Bears would have a tough decision to make with Howard already on the roster.
Photo Credit: Carlos Orario/AP