2017 NFL Draft: New Era Pinstripe Bowl

Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports
Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports /
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Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports /

#5 OLB Ejuan Price (5’11 | 250 | 4.68)

Undersized edge rusher who is in his sixth year at Pitt after missing two full seasons with injury. Price has been very productive off the edge for the Panthers the last two season with 40.5 tackles for loss and 23.5 sacks. His stats were almost identical the last two years which shows a good consistency level.

While he lacks even average height for an NFL edge rusher, Price uses his small frame to his advantage. He gets extremely low to the ground coming off the edge, making it difficult for opposing blockers to get their hands on him. Price has an explosive burst off the line as well and has shown a knack for finding gaps in the offense line and getting through them to disrupt passing games.

While Price has shown he can use his speed and frame to his advantage against the pass, he’s probably going to be a liability against the run at the NFL level. He might be relegated to just pass rushing duties, but that still has plenty of value to NFL teams. Price has drawn comparisons to undersized NFL rushers like Elvis Dumervil and Dwight Freeney.

The Bears don’t have a glaring need for a pass rush specialist, but teams can never have enough players who can get to the quarterback. Price would give the Bears a different look on defense and a nice change of pace compared to power rushers like Young and McPhee.

Projection: 3rd-4th round

Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports
Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports /

#4 QB Nathan Peterman (6’2 | 225 | 4.93)

A late blooming prospect who’s been at the helm of one of the highest scoring offenses in college football this season. Peterman was a backup at Tennessee who used his last two years year of eligibility as a grad student to play for Pitt.

He doesn’t have any eye-catching physical traits, but he’s a solid athlete who has done an impressive job of taking care of the ball with 26 touchdowns and just six interceptions in a pro style offense. While not imposing physically, Peterman has a strong arm and is a fundamentally sound quarterback which is a rarity in this year’s draft.

The Bears will almost certainly be looking for a quarterback this year and in a weak class, an NFL ready prospect like Peterman could be tempting in the middle rounds.

Projection: 3rd-4th round

#24 RB James Conner (6’2 | 240 | 4.67)

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /

One of the best stories in college football this year as Conner not only returned from a 2015 MCL tear, but also beat Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He was one of the top running backs in the nation in 2014 with 1,765 yards (5.9 ypc), 26 touchdowns, and an ACC Player of the Year award, but no one knew if he would ever regain his dominant form after his trying 2015 season.

Conner came back strong this season with 1,060 yards (5.1 ypc) and 16 touchdowns as the centerpiece of one of the nation’s top offenses. He might be the biggest tailback prospect in this year’s draft class and he certainly has a unique skill-set. Conner doesn’t have the speed to get outside at the next level, but he’s a beast between the tackles.

He does a good job reading his blocks and bursting through the line of scrimmage. Connor isn’t going to make many people miss, but if he can get some momentum going he’ll be a challenge to bring down. He’s been almost unstoppable in short-yardage situations in college and he could excel in a similar role at the next level.

The Bears already have a power back in Jordan Howard, so I’d be surprised if they added another one in Conner, but after all he’s fought through to get to this point I’m rooting for him to succeed at the next level.

Projection: 4th-5th round