College football bowl season is officially underway. If you are like most NFL fans, you know some of the top NFL draft prospects but that is about it. As a Bears fan, I’ve been looking forward to the draft for a few months now, so I’ve gotten an early start on my scouting for the 2017 NFL draft.
Like last season, I will be breaking down the potential NFL players in most bowl games to give you an idea who to watch. I’ve tried to list at least one player on each team who has a shot at hearing their name called in the draft or at least getting a training camp invite.
If relevant, I’ll discuss how the player may fit on the Bears in 2017. So if you end up watching the Armed Forces Bowl, here are some players to keep an eye on.
Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl: Louisiana Tech vs Navy
Friday, December 23, 4:30 p.m., ESPN
#1 WR Carlos Henderson (5’11 | 191 | 4.42)
One of the most productive receivers in college football this season. Henderson finished ninth in the nation in receiving yards with 1,406 and second in touchdowns with 17. He also finished fourth in the FBS in kick return average (30.4, 2 TDs) among qualified returners. Henderson capped off his season with first-team Conference USA honors as both a receiver and kick returner.
In a season full of impressive performances, his best may have been against UMass when he had 12 catches for 326 yards and five TDs (!). Henderson is only the 10th FBS player ever to score five receiving touchdowns in one game.
He may undersized, but Henderson plays much bigger with a physical style and a surprisingly powerful stiff-arm. His quick-twitch moves make Henderson a challenge to cover at the line of scrimmage and even harder to corral when he has the ball in space (career 20.1 ypc). Henderson also has shown reliable hands and the strength to make contested catches.
He’s only a junior and hasn’t declared for the draft yet, so Henderson may not be on the Bears draft board in 2017. If he is, Henderson would give the Bears a weapon in both the slot and the return game.
Projection: 3rd-4th round
#7 S Xavier Woods (5’11 | 219 | 4.58)
With the Bears hopefully looking for new safeties in this year’s draft, I’ll be posting plenty of info on this year’s safety class. This won’t be the last time I write about Woods, who fits the profile that DC Vic Fangio looks for in a safety.
Woods is a former corner with enough coverage and ball skills to play free safety, but also hits well enough in run support to play strong safety. He’s a little undersized for strong safety at the NFL level, but has been good in run support and a vicious hitter at the college level.
A three-time All-Conference USA selection, Woods has been very productive against the run with 264 tackles and has shown elite ball skills with 14 interceptions the last three seasons. The only knocks on Woods are a lack of ideal size and just average speed. He’s not a burner, but always seems to be in the right place and his instincts allow him to play faster than his timed speed.
It’s a good safety class this year and hopefully the Bears will take advantage of it. Due to the overall depth at safety, Woods could be available early on day three.
Projection: 3rd-4th round
#5 WR Trent Taylor (5’8 | 178 | 4.52)
Even smaller than Henderson, but Taylor was arguably more productive with 124 receptions (2nd in FBS) and 1,570 yards (3rd in FBS). It wasn’t a one-year fluke either as Taylor has 315 catches in three seasons as a starter. His diminutive size hasn’t kept Taylor from the end zone either with 30 career touchdown receptions.
Taylor lacks elite speed and obviously size, but is a crisp route-runner, has shifty open-field moves, and his reliable hands make him a good fit for the slot role at the next level. His measurables will relegate him to day three of the draft, but Taylor could be a steal if he ends up in the right system.
Projection: 6th-7th round
*No Navy prospects are projected draft picks at this time