The NFL’s annual meat market is here.
Don’t listen to anyone who tells you it doesn’t matter. The Bears, in particular, seem to value athleticism with their early picks and there’s no reason to think this year will be any different.
Here are a few players to watch when the combine really gets rolling later this week.
Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama
Ridley is generally thought to be the top wide receiver but there are questions about whether or not he deserves to be a top-10 pick.
After a 1,000-yard season as a freshman, Ridley failed to reach that mark again in his final two years. While much of the blame for that has gone to Alabama’s horrendous quarterback play, there are still questions about the wideout.
One major thing NFL teams will need to see is if Ridley is taller than six-feet, like he is listed. If he comes in shorter, teams are going to question his ability to play outside. Since 2010 only two receivers who measured under six-feet were drafted in the top-10. Neither — Tavon Austin and John Ross — have worked out so far.
Even if he is six-foot-one, Ridley needs to show he has at least good athletic ability to create separation from defenders.
Read DBB’s Saturday Scout column on Ridley HERE.
Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech
You don’t often see off-the-ball linebackers who look and move like Edmunds.
Expected to measure in at around 6’5″, 250 pounds, Edmunds is a player a lot of teams are going to want to take a close look at. In addition to his freakish size, he flies around the ball and could be a menace covering the middle of the field.
Important for Edmunds will be his agility drills, displaying whether he can flip his hips and cover at an NFL level. Some teams, including the Bears, might want to see if he has the necessary skill set to line up along the edge and rush the passer.
The Bears value the inside linebacker position more than many teams and they don’t have a lot of surefire staples at that position right now, given Christian Jones’ contract status and Danny Trevathan’s injury history. Edmunds could fit the profile Ryan Pace tends to look for.
Harold Landry, Edge, Boston College
Landry had explosive junior season and dropped off as a senior. That’s what makes a week like this important for him. He managed 16.5 sacks, 22 tackles for loss and 7 forced fumbles as he was nearly unblockable in 2016. In 2017, however, the numbers dropped to five sacks, 8.5 tackles for loss and 0 forced fumbles.
Many believe the cause was an ankle injury that eventually ended Landry’s season. If that’s the case, NFL teams are going to want to spend some time with that ankle. Assuming it is OK, it will be really interesting to see how Landry measures in. Listed at 6’3″, 250 pounds, the Bears are going to want to see how long his arms are. If they’re longer than 33 inches, he could be in play.
Other areas to check Landry out include the three-cone drill and the short shuttle. If he can wrap the three-cone in under 7 seconds and the shuttle in the 4.2-second range, he has a good chance of cracking the top-10.
Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama
If there is a run on quarterbacks early, one of the best players in the draft could drop to the Bears and it would be interesting to see how they view him.
Some view Fitzpatrick as a safety, others a cornerback. For the Bears, his height and length could be key as those are traits they value at the cornerback position. If he’s a safety, however, they could pass with Eddie Jackson and Adrian Amos seemingly entrenched as starters.
Pace has been trying to get a premier cornerback for at least the last two seasons. The Bears made a big run at free agent Stephon Gilmore last off-season and — according to Adam Schefter — tried to trade up for Jalen Ramsey in 2016.
Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa
Jackson isn’t as well known as Fitzpatrick but he’s more likely to be available when the Bears pick.
Jackson has the height and length the Bears want but it’ll be interesting to see how he tests athletically. If he can clock a 40-yard dash time in the low 4.5 range, his other physical traits will likely be enough to put him in consideration for the Bears.
While the Bears defense cracked the top 10 in scoring and yardage last year, they’re still looking for a premier difference maker to take the ball away. Jackson had 8 interceptions, 2 of which were returned for touchdowns last year. Adding him and Eddie Jackson to the secondary in consecutive years could create a lot of excitement.
Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
This one isn’t as much for the Bears to draft him as it is for someone else to take him before they pick, thus pushing another player down the board.
Barkley is generally considered the best running back prospect in the draft and we’ve seen backs go in the top five the last two years. If that happens again, along with a few quarterbacks, a pass rusher and maybe an offensive lineman, the Bears could feel good about their options when they’re on the clock.
Quenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame
The combine isn’t going to tell you a heck of a lot about interior offensive linemen, but if the Bears are running the same kind of hybrid West Coast/Spread scheme that Kansas City ran, they’re going to need their linemen to move.
Nelson seemed to struggle pulling at times last year (watch the Miami game) and there are some questions about why Notre Dame never even tried him at left tackle. While he’s thought to be a generational guard prospect, he might not be a fit for every scheme. Keep in mind we saw the Bears cut Matt Slauson because he wasn’t an athletic fit.
Marcus Davenport, Edge, UTSA
It seems that Vic Fangio has generally preferred to have one bigger edge guy who primarily rushes the passer and sets the edge and another more athletic player who can drop in coverage. They have the athlete in Lenny Floyd and they could see Davenport being the other piece.
Davenport is incredibly raw but the size and length — 6’6″, 260 pounds, 81.75 wing span at the Senior Bowl — raises some eyebrows and could remind Fangio of Aldon Smith.
The Bears and every other team will want to see how agile he is and if dropping him into coverage is even a viable option. They’ll also want to see how coachable he is to see if reaching his immense potential is likely or even possible.
Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU
There is no consensus on Sutton but he could be a difference maker in the Bears passing game.
Expected to measure around 6’4″, 220 pounds, the question about Sutton is how well he moves. We once saw the Bears fall for a similar prospect in Kevin White, who wasn’t generally thought of as a top-10 prospect until he blazed a 4.35 40-yard dash at the combine. If Sutton has a similar performance, he could see a similar rise and the Bears could be the team that grabs him.
Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville
Like with Barkley, Jackson isn’t someone the Bears would likely consider, but he could be a player another team falls in love with.
He isn’t a polished passer, but I’m not sure he needs to be at this point. If Jackson breaks 4.4 seconds in the 40-yard dash, somebody is going to convince themselves that he is Mike Vick 2.0 and they can win with him.