About a week has passed since I released part one of this mock draft composite.
A few of those 13 expert predictions for whom the Bears will pick have changed since I compiled the list on February 23rd.
Take a look at who has changed their mind since last week, and get an inside look at the rest of the draft prospects who have been most commonly linked to the Bears.
Let’s start with who hasn’t changed their mind.
Paul M. Banks, The Sports Bank: Barrett Jones, OL, Alabama
Mel Kiper, ESPN: D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama
Josh Norris, NFL.com: D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama
Bucky Brooks, NFL.com: Zach Ertz, TE, Stanford
Seven of the 13 experts didn’t seem to be swayed too much by last week’s Scouting Combine. Either that, or they’ll release an updated mock draft in a few days that will blow this composite to smithereens.
But that means six of them had a change of heart. And some of these changes may surprise you.
Walter Cherepinsky, Walter Football: Travon Austin, WR, West Virginia (previously OT D.J. Fluker)
Rob Rang, CBS Sports: Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri (previously OT Lane Johnson)
Matt Fitzgerald, Bleacher Report: Zach Ertz, TE, Stanford (previously, Alex Kay picked OT Lane Johnson)
Charles Davis, NFL.com: No pick available (previously OT Lane Johnson)
OT Lane Johnson has shot up the boards and is now projected as a top-10 pick, which is why he is no longer linked to the Bears.
ILB Kevin Minter, on the other hand, seems to be falling. The highest I’ve seen him lately is 28th to the Denver Broncos, and he’s mostly linked to the Baltimore Ravens with the 32nd pick.
The two new names that buck the OL/LB/TE trend are WR Tavon Austin and DT Sheldon Richardson. We’ll take a look at these two new names, as well as OL Barrett Jones and TE Tyler Eifert.
Barrett Jones, OL, Alabama
22 years old, 6’4”, 306 lbs
Jones is one of the most decorated college players in recent memory and was an absolute stud for Alabama along the offensive line. Since 2009, he started in 49 of the team’s 53 games, appearing at three different positions. He has the most experience at right guard, having started his career there.
He earned first-team All-SEC honors in 2010 at right guard, but was asked to switch to left tackle for the 2011 season. Jones went on to earn consensus All-American honors, the Outland Trophy for the nation’s top lineman, and the Jacobs Blocking Trophy for the SECs top lineman.
Jones was moved once again for the 2012 season, this time to center. He started all 14 games, was named a consensus All-American for the second straight season, and won the 2012 William V. Campbell Trophy for being the “absolute best scholar-athlete” in the nation.
Jones has proven to be incredibly versatile, dependable, and knowledgeable. A player like Jones can be very valuable for the Bears, seeing that they have more than one hole to fill along the offensive line. Jones has excelled against top competition in the SEC at just about every position, so he could potentially shore up multiple problems along the line.
While he doesn’t blow anyone away with his athleticism, Jones made his name through constant effort and excellent fundamentals. He is efficient in both the running and passing game. Alabama coach Nick Saban has called Jones one of the top players he’s ever been around and has even compared him to Hall of Fame lineman Bruce Matthews.
With an endorsement like that, I’m not too sure why Jones is slated to go in the early second round in most mock drafts. We’re still about two months away, so things may change. But I’d have no problems with the Bears making Jones the 20th overall pick given his track record.
22 years old, 6’6”, 248 lbs
Tyler Eifert may as well be Greg Olsen 2.0. He’s a very tall, very lean tight end who relies on his speed and pass catching abilities. For a while, he even had the long hair to match.
Eifert ended up leaving Notre Dame after three seasons with nearly every tight end receiving record to his name, including catches (140) and receiving yards (1,840). He shows strong hands in his ability to make catches in traffic, and he uses his long arms and height to go up and snag passes over smaller defenders. Having a huge target like that would be a welcome addition for the Bears in the red zone.
Eifert elevates well, makes quick cuts, and can fight for yardage after the catch. His footwork and route running ability make him a viable option in the slot. And by running a 4.68 40-yard dash recently, he has established himself as a legit deep pass threat.
Blocking is the main area he must improve on. Bigger and stronger defenders will have no problem shedding him off due to a sheer size advantage, so Eifert must improve his angles and use of leverage to be successful.
I have a sneaky feeling Eifert will go before Zach Ertz. But if I’m wrong, I’m sure I’m not the only one who is ecstatic to see what Marc Trestman and Aaron Kromer can do with a speedy tight end at their disposal. Eifert would be a matchup nightmare.
Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia
21 years old, 5’9”, 174 lbs
Austin is just about as versatile as he is fast. And considering he ran a 4.34 second 40-yard dash last week, that makes him pretty damn versatile.
At West Virginia, Austin was used primarily as a wide receiver in Bill Stewart’s high powered offense, but he also contributed significantly as a running back, punt returner, and kick returner.
He was named to the Big East’s second-team all-conference in his sophomore year, but his breakout senior season launched him into contention for the Heisman. Austin set career highs in yards from scrimmage (1932), receiving yards and touchdowns (1289-12), rushing yards and touchdowns (643-3), and return yards and touchdowns (978-2). Those numbers earned him the Paul Hornung Award for the most versatile player in the nation, first-team All-American honors, and an 8th place finish in the Heisman voting.
Austin’s strengths stem directly from his speed. There are a select few people on this planet who can chase him down in the open field. He plays tough for his size, has improved his route running and pass catching abilities, and can make the first defender miss more often than not.
It seems like Austin would be the err-apparent to Devin Hester’s duties on offense and in the return game should Hester decide to leave. But there’s something about his size that prevents me from acknowledging him as a legit option for the 20th pick. He’ll be limited almost exclusively to the slot on offense, and I’m not sure how he’s going to react when he gets laid out by NFL-sized defenders on a regular basis.
Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri
21 years old, 6’3”, 294 lbs
The Bears recently slapped the franchise tag on Pro Bowl defensive tackle Henry Melton, and Richardson is slated to go in the low teens in most mock drafts. Combine those reasons, and I have a hard time seeing how this projection makes any sense.
As a former top-five recruit in the nation, Richardson was set to join the Missouri Tigers back in 2009. But since he was unable to fulfill academic requirements, he was forced to go to junior college at the College of the Sequoias for two seasons.
He would return to Missouri in 2011, where he started training camp on the bottom of the depth chart and quickly rose to a standout in the defensive tackle rotation. The following season, he set personal bests in nearly every category with 75 tackles, 10.5 for a loss, and four sacks.
Richardson is a freakishly gifted athlete with a motor that just doesn’t stop. He has great play recognition and instincts, and he has elite level explosiveness and closing speed. His athleticism makes him a menace in the running game and in the pass rush, and his speed and play recognition make him disruptive in the passing game.
But he has a distinct lack of experience at the NCAA level. He only has one dominant season to his name. He also has a history of struggling with academics and instances where he has broken team policy.
Richardson seems like an athlete with all the raw tools to make it big in the NFL. I’m just not sure if a project-type defensive player is something the Bears can afford to spend their pick on given their multitude of more pressing needs.
So there you have it. Over the past two parts of this series, you’ve been introduced to the seven players who are most often mentioned as draft targets for the Bears in recent mock drafts.
From the list of names given, I’d narrow it down to D.J. Fluker, Barrett Jones, Tyler Eifert, and Zach Ertz as viable options. Te’o’s performance at the combine has given me some cause for concern, and both Austin and Richardson don’t fill any of the Bears most pressing needs.
What’s your opinion? Now that you’ve seen all seven names, who would you like to see the Bears pick come April 25th?