While it’s still too early to judge any of the young talent Pace has acquired from the college ranks as both draft picks and priority free agents it would appear that Pace has a knack for uncovering hidden gems that fall out of the drafted status and into college free agency.
This season appears to be no different and may actually be the best crop yet. There are a lot of interesting prospects who the Bears have supplemented their relatively low draft total of five after all the trades they made to move up to get a couple players in this past draft. Without the ability to properly evaluate all the Bears college free agents due to lack of tape, I’ll do my best to present a case for the ones that I find have the best chance of making an immediate impact and perhaps even make the roster, or at the very least get on the Bears practice squad to be groomed for future roster impact.
Freddie Stevenson – Fullback – Florida State University
Meet Dalvin Cook’s lead blocker. A very athletic fullback who can adjust his blocking on the second level to put a hat on athletic linebackers and defensive backs to spring backs for big runs. He fits well in the Bears Stretch zone blocking scheme. Thought by many to be the best fullback in this draft, and is a consensus top two by every draft expert who’s opinion I value. Unfortunately for him and all fullbacks trying to make NFL rosters these days, that’s the equivalent of the tallest midget award as most NFL franchises don’t even carry the position yet alone feature it in their offense prominently, or in most cases at all.
He does need to work on his pass protection as FSU does not run a pro-style offense and needs work on his pass catching which (along with battling it out with one of the better rated NFL fullbacks last season free agent Michael Burton) diminishes his chances even more of making the Bears roster. Throw in the fact the Bears have a ton of tight ends on the roster who can play the H-back role and it is likely a long shot for Stevenson. However, he is one of the best prospects out of this draft class at his position if the Bears decide to go with a fullback on their roster, so it does bear watching.
Tanner Gentry – Wide Receiver- Wyoming
This may be the most intriguing UDFA signing and maybe my personal favorite out of the bunch. There is a lot of negativity by fans and media regarding the Bears Wide Receiver group. Most of it due to health concerns in the form of former 2015 7th overall pick Kevin White, and free agents Victor Cruz, Marcus Wheaton, and Kendall Wright, as well as, the loss of Alshon Jeffery via free agency to the Philadelphia Eagles. This gives Gentry a significant chance at making the roster. It’s also possible he passes through waivers and gets added to the practice squad as a developmental player.
Gentry offers a lot to be excited about. He’s a big body wide receiver who has very good hands and specializes in catching the ball deep and over defensive backs with great size (6’2″ 210) and explosive leaping ability ( 38″ vertical – 10’03” long jump). He also played in a pro-style offense and has run the entire route tree and has experience adjusting his routes on the fly based on his pre and post snap reads. This means he’s not as far away cerebrally as most of the current college Wide Receivers coming out of predominate spread offenses that currently rule college football. This increases his chance of not only making the 53 man roster but possibly even dressing on Sundays quite a bit.
The one thing that may play against him is the sheer number of players competing at the same position. His showing on special teams will be key to making this team. That would make Joshua Bellamy expendable who is a key valued member of that special teams unit. It is extremely crowded with many wideouts competing for roster spots. Aside from the aforementioned three the Bears have veteran’s Ruben Randle, Bellamy, Deonte Thompson and last seasons seventh round draft pick Daniel Braverman all competing for spots. Braverman probably has the advantage as a former draft pick just a season ago and a kid who was limited by injury issues. The Bears may want to see what he can do for them this season when healthy. Cameron Meredith is a lock for the roster, but there is also Titus Davis out of Central Michigan who was a camp try out the Bears thought enough of to sign to the camp roster. So competition is deep and furious. Gentry will have his work cut out for him, but one I think he’s up to the challenge for.
Rashaad Coward – Defensive Tackle/3-4 end – Old Dominion
If Gentry is my favorite of this group than Coward is my favorite to be a lock to make this team and my second favorite prospect of this UDFA bunch. A real good sign that he has made a good impression on this team is the fact that he is the lone undrafted player on the Bears annual meet the rookies video that usually only features drafted players.
Also, when you hear interviews with players Coward’s name frequently gets mentioned when players are asked about guys they like and pal around with which means he’s good for the locker room. Seems to have leadership ability and good football character which go a long way in the minds of this Bears coaching staff. Particularly Head Coach John Fox.
There is also the physical talent he brings with him. He’s a large man (6’6″ 322 lbs) who moves well (5.03 40) and brings with him high football IQ and toughness. He also has Multi positional versatility which is coveted by this coaching staff, and well, any coaching staff. Who doesn’t want as much positional coverage in one player in a sport that has injuries as often as it does especially in the trenches. It also possibly frees up a roster spot seeing as Coward can cover every position up and down the Defensive Line. He has to work on things of course. Like his hand fighting as he tends to stay engaged with his blockers too long trying to beat him rather than disengaging and moving towards the play. However, things like that can be taught. His size and movement combination can not.
Andy Phillips – Kicker – University Of Utah
It is very possible that Phillips unseats incumbent place kicker for the Bears Connor Barth who leveled out after a rough start with the Bears after replacing fan favorite Robbie Gould. Phillips brings with him experience in life as he’s 28 years old and experience in high-pressure situations as he was a finalist for the Olympics as a downhill skier.
While certainly strong enough his claim to fame is not his booming leg, but his accuracy as he converted an impressive 80 percent rate on his career field goals in four years at Utah. While it’s good to have range as a kicker, accuracy is far more important. Phillips does, however, have a good leg too as he’s very disciplined in the weight room and has strong legs as one would expect from a downhill skier.
Another thing he brings is a level head minus the quirkiness that sometimes comes with kickers. He has a focused strong mind which helps him concentrate on his kicks while blocking out everything else and making a pressure filled position less so by having the ability to slow down his heart rate in big moments. Also, he seems like he’d be a good mentor to the kids on the team and someone who can actually be a part of the team as opposed to some dude who kicks the ball on the other side of the field as he can participate in the weight room and in many varied discussions. He also has a masters degree in business and information systems which are a big part of a football career so he should be popular with advice giving in the Bears locker room.
Dieugot Joseph – Offensive Tackle – Florida International
This is another pick up that has a chance to be a long term acquisition for the team. If he develops well I would not be surprised to see him as Charles Leno’s replacement at Left Tackle once Leno likely departs for free agency this coming off-season. In Joseph, the Bears may have themselves a real diamond in the rough. He does need a lot of work in his technique which he will have plenty of time to do as he’s certainly going to be a developmental red shirted type who will likely do so on the practice squad. That is of course unless there is interest around the league and there’s a high chance he may not pass through waivers. In which case the Bears may have to play a roster spot short this season if he looks good and teams catch wind of this and have him profiled as someone they will watch for in the camp cuts.
Joseph has the desired physical profile for a left tackle with great height at 6′ 6″ and big strong hands and length. He ranked 5th in arm length at 35.75 inches of all the Tackle prospects in the 2017 draft with hands measuring in at 10 1/2″. He does need to get in the weight room and add positive weight. He is under sized currently weighing in at anywhere from 290-295. Ideally, you want your Left tackle at 310-320 to help anchor against an NFL Edge Rushers bull rush while maintaining quick nimble feet.
Joseph is an excellent athlete as his RAS (Relative Athletic Score) scores indicate. While his overall score is just below average for an offensive Tackle in the NFL almost all of that is about his weight. That, can and will be fixed after being in an NFL weight training and nutrition program. The key will be how much athleticism he can retain after packing on that positive weight. He also needs to work on his agility as he scored below average there as well. That can also be fixed with proper footwork technique and focusing on agility training. Joseph has the physical ability to improve there and is not a naturally stiff athlete which would put him at guard or perhaps Right Tackle in the NFL. Right Tackle may still be possible if the Bears do finally decide to put Kyle Long at Left Tackle.
Alex Scearce – Linebacker – Coastal Carolina
Originally I was going to leave Scearce off the list but when diving into the research I found his skill set intriguing. He’s a very athletic player who can excel in coverage and special teams so I feel he can find a niche as a linebacker/safety nickel down player while running gunner on special teams. In this league, if you can help out in coverage and run down returners as well as block for them you can find yourself on an NFL roster pretty quickly.
Scearce will likely never become a full time starter type or even a main back up to any position unless he can master safety. His size would likely limit him in the physical aspects of the game taking on tackles and guards in the run game or rushing the passer. He can be a very important part time situational player who can make a lot of impact by making big plays when he is in there forcing turnovers on third downs and in punt and kickoff coverage.
Joel Bouagnon – Running Back – Northern Illinois University
Lastly, Bouagnon is a well built powerful back who, as you can see from his Draft Breakdown video cut up against Ohio State, is a kid that moves a pile. Rarely in this game do you see him met at the line of scrimmage and his momentum stops or gets driven back. Sometimes two, three, four Buckeye defenders get their hands on him and he just runs right through their arm tackles. Keep in mind a good portion of these defenders at Ohio State are future NFL players he’s doing this to.
There are no explosive big plays on this tape but you can see what he can do as a short yardage and goal line back. With better second level blocking those 5-6 yard gains turn into 15-20 yards as he’s rarely stopped at or behind the line of scrimmage. The kid has good forward lean and shifts his upper body around to make his tackle radius small and arms and hands can’t get good grips on him while maintaining maximum leg drive. Also, sometimes known as getting skinny in the hole. He also makes some nice blocks in the passing game. He seemed to be spot on every blitz assignment. I saw him get beat only once physically where a defender juked him outside and slipped inside to get the pressure and force an incompletion. However, he did pick up the right assignment.
Now, I in no way expect him to make the 53 man roster but I do expect him to be picked up by the Bears after he’s waived and if he clears make it on the practice squad as a developmental player. I also would not be completely surprised if he did make the roster. If he comes in and kills it on special teams and Jeremy Langford and Kadeem Carey come in completely unprepared to meet the challenge he could take advanage. If you click on the link I added to an interview with Bouagnon you’ll see why this Bears regime will probably fall in love with this kid. Talk about toughness. he was both a football player and a hockey player growing up. The kid loves contact. Keep in mind he’s a local product not far from Halas Hall down in Winnebago county at NIU and you can bet Pace himself has heavily scouted this kid and likely spoke to Bouagnon and his coaches often and loves his character.
As I finish this piece and finish my edits and press publish I see there is a lot of names and a lot of praise that would seem like over the top optimism over a bunch of college players that went through an entire draft without being drafted. Well, I am not saying all these guys make it on the roster or even the practice squad. Just highlighting the ones I think have the highest chance to be future Bears. Also, keep in mind this was a historically deep and talented draft, so these are players who likely get drafted in most drafts. It’s not all that damning not getting drafted in this class. Training camp is just a little over a week away now so as you check every little bit of information on Bears prospects don’t fall asleep on these guys. Keep this article around as a little reference guide for yourselves. I am not predicting it, but I would not be at all surprised if each and every one of these names make the Bears roster or practice squad as the last cuts are made.