The NFLPA Collegiate Bowl is only in its third season and is a considerable step down in talent from the Senior Bowl and even the East/West Shrine Bowl. There is still talent to be found in this game though as a number of past participants have been drafted and made an impact in the NFL. The list of players below all played in one of the first two Collegiate Bowls and have started at least 1 NFL game.
2013: Marquis Goodwin (Buf), Mike James (TB), Demetrius McCray (Buf), Jeff Tuel (Buf), Luke Willson (Sea)
2012: Jarrett Boykin (GB), Oliver Vernon (Mia), Jontae Green (Det), Sean McGrath (KC)
Granted none of the names above are Pro Bowlers yet, but in 2013: Boykin had 681 receiving yards, Vernon had 11.5 sacks, James started three games at RB, Goodwin had 3 TDs, McGrath had 2 TDs. Those players all provided valuable depth for their respective team last year. Bears fans saw first hand the value of depth last season, when the Bears defense collapsed after a series of injuries. The Bears so called “depth” was incompetent and couldn’t maintain even a league average performance level. By comparison the Patriots dealt with the same number of injuries to their defensive starters and didn’t miss a beat. The Bears are basically rebuilding their entire defense and a lot of their new depth will come from the late rounds of the draft and undrafted free agents. That’s where most of the players in the Collegiate Bowl will end up. Here are a few that stood out in the game and week of practice preceding it and might end up on Phil Emery’s draft board:
QB Dustin Vaughan (6’4, 234) West Texas A&M:Put up Peyton Manning numbers in DII last year (5,401 yards, 53 TDs, 67% comp) and has prototypical size for an NFL QB. Vaughan looked the best of all the QBs at the NFLPA bowl and showcased an NFL caliber arm with two deep balls that were both on target. Vaughan isn’t a runner but looked like he had light enough feet in the pocket to avoid pressure. He’s projected anywhere from the 4th to 7th round and would make an interesting developmental project for the Bears.
RB Anthony Wilkerson (6’1, 214) Stanford: Didn’t get many carries at Stanford backing up both Stephan Taylor and Tyler Gaffney, but Wilkerson took advantage of his chance to shine at the NFLPA Bowl with 7 carries for 65 yards and a TD. He ran with power and showed pretty good burst through the hole. Wilkerson isn’t flashy, but has value as a tough between the tackles runner. The Bears depth at RB is sketchy after Forte, so Wilkerson might have a chance to stick as a 3rd RB & special teamer.
FB J.C. Copeland (5’11, 285) LSU: The MVP of the Collegiate Bowl and by far the most entertaining player on the field. Copeland had two short touchdown runs and 3 or 4 excellent blocks, one of which sprang Wilkerson for his TD run. Copeland probably needs to lose a few pounds to make it in the NFL, but he is a beast as a blocker, very agile for his size, and looked unstoppable in short yardage and goal-line situations. Copeland has a gregarious personality as well, he was roaming the sidelines talking up his teammates all game. When interviewed after his second touchdown, Copeland responded to a question with “I don’t worry about sh*t”, and then walked away. It was hilarious. The Bears have struggled in short yardage scenarios the last few years, which is a problem that Copeland could definitely solve. The Bears just extended FB Tony Fiammetta through 2015, so the Bears getting Copeland is probably a pipe dream, but some lucky team might get the next Ironhead Heyward.
WR Isaiah Burse (5’11, 185) Fresno St: Led all receivers with 4 catches for 50 yards and stood out all week at practice as the best WR on the field. Burse did drop a perfect deep ball from Vaughan that hit him in the numbers, but made up for it with a highlight reel grab in double coverage. Burse also had 41 punt return yards including a nifty 25 yarder where he juked a few tacklers before running out of bounds. In the NFL, Burse is a slot receiver at best, but he would bring an added dimension to the Bears receiver core with his quickness and guts over the middle while also adding value as a kick/punt returner.
TE Asante Cleveland (6’5, 262) Miami: Barely used as a receiver at Miami (3 catches, 23 yards, 1 TD), Cleveland wasn’t used much in the NFLPA bowl either with only 1 target. That one target might be enough to get Cleveland’s name called in this year’s NFL draft. Cleveland ran a fade route to the corner of the end zone and out-jumped two defenders to catch the ball at it’s highest point and got both feet in bounds for a TD. It was an NFL catch. Cleveland has the size and athleticism teams look for in a TE and if he has the ability to make plays like he did on that TD, some team is going to give him a shot. The Bears need a #2 TE, but not enough that they will use a high draft pick on one. Cleveland should be available in the 7th round or maybe as an undrafted free agent and could be an interesting developmental prospect.