Hoge’s 10 Bears Things: 10 NFL Draft Prospects To Watch During Bowl Season

Alabama wide receiver Calvin Ridley (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)

LAKE FOREST, Ill. — Locked in a five-game losing streak with negativity permeating every corner of Halas Hall, there’s really only one cure for your Bears sadness:

NFL Draft talk.

Pretty much the only silver lining to this dismal season is the prospect of another high draft pick, one that could be general manager Ryan Pace’s fourth pick in the Top 9 in as many years. Of course, even that comes with a negative caveat. If it seems as if the Bears’ schedule has been oddly tough for a last-place team, it’s because it is. The Bears currently have the toughest strength of schedule in the NFL (.590), which will hurt them in draft tiebreakers.

And since this comes up over-and-over again every year, please print this out, underline it and post it on your refrigerator (heck, get it tattooed to your arm, if necessary): In the event of a tie, the team with the easier strength of schedule receives the higher draft pick.

So right now the Bears are tied with the Colts and Broncos with a 3-9 record. The Broncos (.514) have the easiest SOS of the three so they would currently pick at No. 4, while the Colts (.521) would be at No. 5.

That means the Bears currently hold the No. 6 overall pick in the NFL Draft. With that in mind, let’s use this week’s 10 Bears Things to look at 10 possible first round picks to keep an eye on during bowl season and beyond.

(Note: These are not in any particular order. It’s too early for that. They are numbered simply because that’s what we do here in 10 Bears Things. Also, I typically don’t start my deep dive into prospects until January, so this list primarily consists of players who have stood out to me this fall when watching their games on TV.)

1. S Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama

Safety might not be at the top of the Bears’ wish list, but Fitzpatrick is a Swiss Army Knife prospect in the secondary who used to play cornerback at Alabama. He’s the type of guy you draft and figure out where he plays later because you just know he’ll be an instant upgrade somewhere in your secondary. And while I understand why fans have been excited about Eddie Jackson and Adrian Amos, I would just be careful, especially with Amos. He’ll be entering his fourth season next year and hasn’t consistently been a game-changer on the back end. His improvement is encouraging, but is he a perennial Pro Bowler? Will Jackson be one? Because there’s a good chance Fitzpatrick will be. Keep an eye on him during the College Football Playoff.

Sugar Bowl: No. 4 Alabama vs No. 1 Clemson, Mon. Jan. 1 (7:45 p.m. CT, ESPN)

2. CB Josh Jackson, Iowa

Perhaps a better fit in terms of “need,” Jackson is essentially a wide receiver playing cornerback. Just watch Iowa’s game against Wisconsin when Jackson scored all 14 of Iowa’s points, hooking up with Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook for two catches and 95 yards on two pick-sixes. Jackson is big, long, runs routes for the receivers and plucks the ball out of the air with ease. Just ask J.T. Barrett:

Pinstripe Bowl: Iowa vs Boston College, Wed. Dec. 27 (4:15 p.m. CT, ESPN)

3. WR Calvin Ridley, Alabama

We go back to Triple-A Tuscaloosa for our next prospect, a quick, smooth route route runner in the mold of Odell Beckham Jr. Ridley is not huge (6-1, 190), but he is impossible to stick to and plays much bigger than his actual size. He would immediately command the most attention from opposing defenses, which would greatly benefit Cameron Meredith as a No. 2 option next season.

Sugar Bowl: No. 4 Alabama vs No. 1 Clemson, Mon. Jan. 1 (7:45 p.m. CT, ESPN)

4. Edge rusher Bradley Chubb, North Carolina State

Pass rusher should be right at the top of the Bears’ wish list this year and they are going to have to address it in both the draft and free agency. Chubb, who won the Bronko Nagurski Award as the nation’s top defensive player, could be the best of the bunch in the draft, possessing the ability to play in both a 4-3 or 3-4. He’s more of a power rusher than Leonard Floyd, but can still play standing up and drop back into coverage. North Carolina State plays Arizona State in the Sun Bowl on Dec. 29, the same game that featured Mitch Trubisky and Solomon Thomas last year. You might want to set your DVR.

Sun Bowl: No. 24 North Carolina State vs Arizona State, Fri. Dec. 29 (2 p.m. CT, CBS)

5. Edge rusher Harold Landry, Boston College

A little undersized, I’m interested to watch Landry closer to see how he might hold up at the next level. There’s no question he’s an explosive pass rusher though, and he could have declared for the NFL Draft last year. The Pinstripe Bowl will feature both Landry and Iowa’s Josh Jackson, so it’s a game worth watching. Landry will also be at the Senior Bowl.

Pinstripe Bowl: Boston College vs Iowa, Wed. Dec. 27 (4:15 p.m. CT, ESPN)

6. OT Connor Williams, Texas

The Bears have to find more consistency on their offensive line and help Trubisky as much as possible. That starts at the tackle position. Williams was slowed by a knee injury in 2017 and that will have to be inspected closely, but he sure looks like an NFL left tackle. The easy thought would be to draft Williams and move Charles Leno Jr. to right tackle, but keep in mind that Leno struggled on the right side before settling in on the left side. It might not be a simple switch.

Texas Bowl: Texas vs Missouri, Wed. Dec. 27 (8 p.m. CT, ESPN)

7. OG Quentin Nelson, Notre Dame

Another option on the offensive line would be to draft Nelson, who might be the most NFL-ready offensive lineman in the draft this year. Josh Sitton still looks like he can play, but he will be 32 and could earn up to $8 million in the final year of his contract next season. Kyle Long’s injury list is well documented too, while center seems to be the best position for Cody Whitehair going forward. Nelson should be considered to create a young, strong core in the interior of the offensive line.

Citrus Bowl: No. 14 Notre Dame vs No. 17 LSU, Mon. Jan. 1 (Noon CT, ABC)

8. WR Courtland Sutton, SMU

At 6-4, 215, Sutton is more of a go-up-and-get-it guy and doesn’t possess top-end speed, but Trubisky could certainly use a big target to throw the ball up to in tough situations. Sutton will be at the Senior Bowl and the eye test there will be key in determining how high he can climb in this draft.

Frisco Bowl: SMU vs Louisiana Tech, Wed. Dec. 20 (7 p.m. CT, ESPN)

9. RB Saquon Barkley, Penn State

Running back is certainly not a top need for the Bears, especially given Pace’s knack for finding good backs in the middle rounds. But we’ve also seen how Ezekiel Elliott and Leonard Fournette are on a different level and the Bears need all the elite offensive weapons they can get. Barkley would be a much more effective as pass-catcher than Howard and would give opposing defenses a lot to think about when on the field with Tarik Cohen at the same time.

Fiesta Bowl: No. 9 Penn State vs No. 11 Washington, Sat. Dec 30 (3 p.m. CT, ESPN)

10. WR Marcell Ateman, Oklahoma State

Ateman has formed quite the draftable duo with fellow senior wideout James Washington and it certainly doesn’t hurt that they have Mason Rudolph throwing the ball their way. Ateman (6-4, 220) is the much bigger target of the two and I’m interested to see how he tests during draft season. Every time I watched Oklahoma State this year, Ateman stood out. The Senior Bowl should help him.

Camping World Bowl: No. 19 Oklahoma State vs No. 22 Virginia Tech, Thurs. Dec. 28 (4:15 p.m. CT, ESPN)

(Editor’s note: This list originally included Florida State safety Derwin James, but he has announced he will skip the Seminoles’ bowl game to prepare for the NFL Draft.)

Adam Hoge covers the Chicago Bears for WGN Radio and WGNRadio.com. He also co-hosts The Beat, weekends on 720 WGN. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamHoge.