With the first two college all-star games in the books and the Senior Bowl coming up this weekend, it’s officially draft season. Last Saturday was the East / West Shrine game. It is a step or two below the Senior Bowl in talent, but plenty of current NFL players once played in the E/W Shrine game as well as a few recent Bears drafted or acquired by Phil Emery.
2013: Zac Stacy, Sio Moore, Joe Fauria, Micah Hyde, Christine Michael, David Bass (Bears).
2012: Alfred Morris, Bobby Rainey, Duke Ihenaho, Evan Rodrigez (Bears), Brandin Hardin (Bears),
Other past participants: Tom Brady, Brett Favre, Cecil Shorts, Cameron Jordan, Kam Chancellor, Dennis Pitta, Altarruan Verner
This year’s E/W Shrine game is short on players projected to be drafted in the first three rounds, but there are a couple of players with a chance and plenty of solid middle round prospects. Here is a breakdown of players that stood out in this year’s game that could be on Phil Emery’s draft board:
QB Jimmy Garappolo (6’2. 219) Eastern Illinois: QB from Tony Romo’s alma mater who actually draws a lot of comparisons to… Tony Romo. Garappolo stood out as the best QB on the field and earned the offensive MVP award. He completed 8-14 passes for 98 yards and a TD. Garappolo showed poise in the pocket, good decision-making, and a rocket arm. He also led a perfect two-minute drill capped off with a TD before the half. Garappolo definitely helped his draft stock. He’s already received an invite to replace A.J. McCarron at the Senior Bowl this weekend and there is talk that he could be drafted as early as the 2nd round.
Bears: With only Jay Cutler on the roster at QB, the Bears could be looking for a developmental QB. Even if they end up re-signing McCown, who is 34, it wouldn’t be a terrible idea to have a 3rd QB on the roster who could eventually replace Cutler. With so many holes on defense I don’t think the Bears would use anything higher than a 4th round pick on a QB, but if Garappolo slips he would be a good fit for Trestman’s offense.
RB Tim Flanders (5’9, 210) Sam Houston St: Short but muscular, Flanders reminds me of ex-Bear Thomas Jones. He is a great inside runner who uses his exceptional vision and patience to consistently pick the right hole and make the right cut. Flanders won’t go down without a fight either and is a reliable receiver out of the backfield. He was extremely productive at Sam Houston St. (1,478 yards, 5.9 ypc, 14 TDs) and didn’t put up all those numbers against weak FCS schools; Flanders had 173 yards on 20 carries (8.7 ypc) against Texas A&M this season. Flanders is a two-time Walter Payton award finalist and by all reports a leader on the field and a good guy off of it.
Bears: The Bears could use some new blood at running back. With Michael Bush a potential salary cap casualty, Flanders and his strong inside running could replace Bush as a short yardage back and he could be acquired with a day 3 draft pick.
RB Zach Bauman (5’7, 196) Northern Arizona: I watched this guy in person this season and he was unstoppable (1,456 yards in 2013). I figured it was due mostly to the lack of competition in the Big Sky conference, but Bauman looked like the best running back on the field in practice and than backed it up in the game with 8 carries for 47 yards. I think Bauman secured a spot late in the draft.
Bears: With Michael Bush a candidate to be released, the Bears will be looking for running back depth. Bauman is very small, but could be a change of pace back for the Bears in a Danny Woodhead type role. Worth a gamble in the 6th or 7th round.
WR Jeremy Gallon (5’8, 183) Michigan: He is about as small of a WR as you’ll ever see in the NFL, but has exceptional athleticism. His vertical, cone drill, and broad jump should be near the top for receivers at the combine and Gallon has shown excellent hands in his career at Michigan. Gallon showed them again during the game with two outstanding catches and finished with 4 catches for 55 yards on the day. He’s a third day pick for sure, but could provide value on special teams right away and eventually as a slot receiver.
Bears: When was the last time the Bears had a dangerous slot receiver? Tom Waddle? I may be forgetting someone, but I’m pretty sure it’s been awhile. Gallon would give the Bears a completely different type of weapon than they have now at the receiver position.
WR Matt Hazel (6’1, 196) Coastal Carolina: Stood out in practice during the week as the best route runner of the wide receivers. Hazel has good height, though he measured lower than the 6’3 he was listed at, and a lean frame that has room for added muscle. Hazel’s route running is his best attribute though he also has excellent hands. He’s not a burner or exceptionally strong but isn’t embarrassing in either category. Hazel only had 1 catch during the game (1yd TD), but stood out so much in practice that he should get a look at the end of the draft. Hazel projects as a possession receiver in the NFL, but has the potential to eventually become a solid #2 WR.
Bears: I have a feeling Earl Bennett and his $2.45M cap hit are getting the ax this off-season which will leave the Bears a little thin at receiver besides Marshall, Jeffery, and Wilson. With so many holes on defense I can’t see the Bears using a draft pick on offense before the 4th or 5th round, so that narrows the options considerably. Hazel should still be around in the 5th or 6th and is polished enough to step in right away as a 4th WR and special teams contributor.
WR Chandler Jones (5’9, 180) San Jose St: He’s not big or exceptionally fast (4.5 40), but he just keeps getting open and catching the ball. Jones had 79 catches for 1,356 yards and 15 TDs in his senior year. Similar to Hazel, Jones runs crisp routes and has shown an instinctive ability to find holes in zone defenses. Jones had a good week of practice and then led all receivers in the game with 7 catches for 73 yards. Jones is a classic slot guy and could have a Davone Bess type career (minus recent arrest) in the NFL.
Bears: Earl Bennett has never become the reliable slot guy the Bears envisioned when they drafted him. Some of that is due to injury, but even when healthy Bennett drops too many balls. The Bears could probably snag Jones with one of their two 6th round picks or maybe as an undrafted free agent.
TE Jordan Najvar (6’6, 260) Baylor: Has ideal size for a tight end and was a solid blocker in college. Unfortunately blocking was all he did at Baylor; Najvar had only 10 catches for 85 yards as a senior. Najvar was the surprise of the week in Shrine game practice, displaying good hands, fluid mobility and a knack for finding soft spots in cover-2 and cover-3 zones. Najvar raised his stock from an undrafted blocking TE to a potential 3-down TE worthy of a late round draft pick.
Bears: Martellus Bennett has the starting TE position locked down, but the Bears don’t currently have another TE on the roster and I don’t think Donte Rosario did enough to be brought back. At worst Najvar could be a blocking TE in short yardage situations, but he showed the ability this week to develop into a solid receiving option as well. The Bears need a 2nd TE and Najvar has enough upside to warrant a 6th or 7th round pick.