Shrine Game: Players to Watch (Offense)

Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports /
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Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports
Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports /

WR Austin Carr (6’1 | 200 | 4.56) – First-team All-Big10 receiver who finished 12th nationally in both receiving yards (1,196) and touchdowns (12). He was by far the Wildcats most consistent receiver with at least four catches in every game this season.

Carr has a cool story as a former walk-on, who eventually became a full scholarship player, and then a team captain this year. His off-field achievements are impressive as well; Carr has earned Academic All-Big Ten, Big Ten Distinguished Scholar, and Irving Kabiller Memorial Award for Excellence in Character, Commitment, and Community honors this year. He’s also visited East Asia as a member of Athletes in Action and has sung the national anthem twice for the NU softball team.

NU Coach Pat Fitzgerald raves about Carr’s character, saying he’s, “honored to be his coach”. He’s clearly an interesting guy off the field, but on it, Carr is one of the best slot receivers in the nation. Pro Football Focus had a statistical breakdown on why Carr was the most effective slot receiver in college football through nine games.

Carr’s pedestrian size and measurables may not be enough to get NFL team’s attention in the draft this year, but his elite production and solid character should earn him a spot on the draft’s third day.

The Bears could use a reliable slot receiver with the uncertain return of Eddie Royal and slow development of Daniel Braverman. Carr is polished enough to step into the slot and contribute as a rookie.

John Reed-USA TODAY Sports
John Reed-USA TODAY Sports /

WR Tony Stevens, Auburn (6’4 | 204 | 4.54) – Ideal build for an outside receiver at the NFL level, but there were production issues this year at Auburn. For the year, his numbers weren’t bad (31, 487, 3) in a run-heavy offense, but he disappeared in the 2nd half of the season.

Stevens lack of production shouldn’t be too much of a negative as he was playing hurt in the second half, the Tigers don’t throw the ball much, and had an inconsistent quarterback when they did. At times, Stevens flashed legit NFL potential, just didn’t do it often enough to get drafted before the third day.

He dominated at times in Shrine Bowl practices this week, but mostly in the drills portion. He has an elite burst out of cuts, enough straight line speed to get open deep, and a good catch radius. All the tools are there for Stevens to be a solid NFL receiver with the upside for more.

In drills, Stevens looks like a day two pick at worst, but his dominance in drills and athleticism tests doesn’t always translate on the field. Stevens seems to shy away from contact and contested catch situations (alligator arms) which will drop him off some teams’ draft boards.

If Stevens can show more consistency and a willingness to take a hit to make a catch, he could end up being a steal on day three of the draft. His size, speed, acceleration, hands, and natural athleticism are NFL quality, but the mental aspect of the game is a major question mark. A strong performance in the Shrine Bowl could boost Stevens solidly into the middle of day three.

The Bears may be set on the outside if they bring back Jeffery, White is healthy, and they keep Meredith outside. That’s a lot of ifs though and it makes sense for the Bears to add some receiving talent on the outside. Stevens has the potential to be special if he can get this head in the game consistently.

Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports /

WR Gabe Marks, Washington St (6’0 | 190 | 4.53) – He isn’t going to wow anyone with his measurements. Marks probably isn’t six feet tall, he looks thinner than 190, and he’s not a burner. Despite lacking any stand-out physical traits, he still ended up with 267 catches, 2,893 yards, and 35 touchdowns over the last three seasons.

Washington St’s spread offense certainly has something to do with Marks production, but he still has to get open and catch the ball. He’s consistently shown the ability to run precise routes and catch the ball away from his body. Marks has surprisingly long arms for his size, which gives him a surprising catch radius.

During Shrine Bowl practices, Marks flashed his route running skills and made opposing corners look bad all week. He’s one of the better route runners in this year’s draft and has the hands to be a reliable slot option at the next level. His lack of straight-line speed and slight frame will drop him to day three, but Marks could produce as an NFL slot receiver early in his career.

The Bears aren’t likely to bring back Eddie Royal at $5M this year with no guaranteed money. That will leave the Bears with a significant hole in the slot, though Cameron Meredith could play there if both Jeffery and White are on the field. Either way, the Bears need some depth at receiver and Marks could be a late round steal.