Bears UFA Targets
This is one of the deepest NFL drafts in recent memory so there is bound to be some quality NFL talent that slips through the cracks and doesn’t get selected in this year’s draft. The Bears haven’t had much luck with undrafted free agents in the last few years (ever?) but other teams have (Vontez Burfict, Arian Foster, Wes Welker, James Harrison, Antonio Gates) so it’s definitely possible and if it’s going to happen, this is probably the year. I know it’s been said quite a bit already, but this draft is stacked with talent at multiple positions, notably wide receiver and cornerback but defensive tackle, running back, and safety are all pretty deep as well.
I used my most recent mock draft, CBS Sports draft analysis, and NFL.com’s prospect grades to determine which players might go undrafted. Some of these guys will get drafted, some won’t and there will be guys that I have drafted in my mock that won’t hear their name called during this year’s draft. It’s an inexact science, especially in the later rounds. There were so many players undrafted that I think have NFL potential that I broke this post into two parts. The first part, offensive players, will be today and then I will follow-up with the defensive players tomorrow. If there is a player not expected to be drafted that you think could help the Bears, post him in the comments. There are plenty of guys I haven’t spent any time scouting and I am always interested in checking out players that are off my radar.
Ideally the Bears will be able to draft a decent QB prospect to compete with Jordan Palmer for the back-up job, but the reality is that the QB class is pretty weak this year after the first 6-7 guys. There are a couple of guys with upside outside of the top 7 (Murray, Savage, Thomas) but they will be gone before the 5th round which is the earliest I could see the Bears using a pick on a QB. They just have too many more immediate holes on defense and it’s a very deep draft on that side of the ball. Does it make sense to take a backup QB prospect who might be decent or a defensive player with a much higher upside who could contribute right away? Opinions are mixed on the issue, but I’d rather have the guy with more upside. Fortunately the Bears can get a QB as a UFA who is similar in talent to what will be available in the 5th-7th rounds. Here are a couple of my favorites:
Casey Pachall, TCU (6’4, 230) – He’s the Colt Lyerla of draft eligible QBs this year. That comparison might be a little extreme since Pachall didn’t quit on the team after being forced to leave due to a drunk driving incident and spent time in alcohol and substance abuse rehab before rejoining the team. Pachall came back in 2013 but broke his non-throwing arm in week 2 of the season and struggled when he returned later with a 6 TD /10 INT ratio. Pachall did have one great game that gave a glimpse of what he can do when healthy and focused, completing 40 of 58 passes for 394 yards and 3 TDs against West Virgina. Granted West Virginia’s defense was pretty bad, but before getting in trouble Pachall was dominant in 2012; he had a 38 TDs / 7 INT ratio, led the NCAA in passing efficiency and was projected to be no later than a day 2 pick when he entered the drat. He has prototype QB size, a cannon arm, good accuracy and the moxie and leadership (on the field at least) that you look for in a QB. I almost used one of the Bears 6th rounders on Pachall in my mock draft because I think he has more talent than all but 6-7 QBs in this draft and I’m a sucker for redemption stories.
Tyler Russell, Mississippi St (6’4, 220) - Prototype size and a cannon arm that can make every throw. Russell struggled with injuries his senior year, but was very successful as a junior (24 TDs / 10 INTs). Russell isn’t mobile and will need a good O-line to be effective in the NFL but he has a better arm than most prospects in the draft, good size, and has shown excellent accuracy at times. Other times Russell struggles to be on target with even short passes. He is inconsistent and his footwork needs some work, but with coaching could be a back-up QB that can win games with his arm.
James Franklin, Missouri (6’2, 228) – Very athletic with both good speed (981 rushing yards, 15 rush TDs in 2012) and a strong right arm. Franklin has had trouble staying healthy but has been very productive when on the field (70 career touchdowns). He is an inch or two shorter than ideal and there are questions about his arm strength and accuracy, but on tape he throws a nice deep ball and shows enough flashes of accuracy to think that he could improve with some coaching. He’s a long shot, but most UFAs are and he has the athletic ability to be at least a back-up in the NFL.
If the Bears draft a running back in the 6th round (Isaiah Crowell hopefully) they probably won’t target another one as a UFA since they already have Michael Ford on the roster, but I could see them bringing in a short yardage back to compete with Ford and provide insurance if someone suffers an injury. Both Trestman and Emery have stated that the ability to pass block and catch the ball out of the backfield are the two most important traits they are looking for in a back-up RB.
Lorenzo Taliaferro, Coastal Carolina (6’0, 229) - One of the best pass blocking RBs in the draft, so he’s probably on Emery’s radar. Taliaferro has good size and the vision, toughness, and short-area quickness to be a good short yardage back. He’s not flashy but he’s a well-rounded back that can contribute in a lot of different areas.
Alfred Blue, LSU (6’2, 223) – Platooned with Jeremy Hill which hurt both of their numbers and keeps them both underrated going into the draft. Blue is a tough inside runner with good size, vision, tackle-breaking ability, and a good enough burst to break one if he can make it to the second level of the defense. He is a good receiver out of the backfield, but his blocking needs work. Blue was a fan favorite at LSU and had a tendency to make things happen when he got the ball. I think Blue has 4th-5th round talent and is a steal this late.
Marion Grice, Arizona St (6’0, 208) – A natural receiver out of the backfield, with shifty moves in space, and a nose for the end zone. Grice is a versatile back who can catch, pass block, and even return kicks. He’s not powerful enough to be a short yardage back, but has a similar skill set to Forte and could give him a breather occasionally.