Sizing up Senior Bowl intrigue for Bears

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Nearly 30 percent of Ryan Pace’s draft picks thus far as Bears general manager were spent on prospects who attended Mobile for Senior Bowl week.

Among those eight selections, all of them made by Pace on Day 3 (Rounds 4-7): Adrian Amos, whose terrific mileage as a 61-game starter before departing as a free agent to Green Bay should help return the first compensatory pick in more than a decade to Chicago; Nick Kwiatkoski, one of the Bears’ best special-teamers prior to becoming one of their more consistent defenders last season, when he was so solid in relief of Danny Trevathan that the team ultimately might prioritize re-signing him over one of its more universally respected players; and Bilal Nichols, the versatile D-lineman who quickly earned a starting role on one of the NFL’s top units.

Last year marked the first time in five drafts that Pace didn’t pluck a Senior Bowl attendee, but with a couple extra picks, not to mention seemingly at least a few new needs, his Bears are likely to welcome at least one prospect who’ll be participating in practices beginning Tuesday in Mobile to the club this year.

There are two potential first-rounders set to compete at the Senior Bowl this year in Oregon’s Justin Herbert and Utah State’s Jordan Love, neither arriving in Mobile with the fanfare of Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts. Of course, the Bears aren’t currently slated to pick until nearly midway through Round 2, where they’re armed with the 43rd and 50th selections.

Could the rocket-armed Love still be on the board? It’s certainly possible. Less likely but also plausible, Pace could be drooling over Herbert as we speak, readying to mortgage the future and right his previous wrong in trading up for Trubisky.

Hurts, the Heisman runner-up — and an elite running threat — should still be around in Round 2, but would that be too rich for a prospect with impeccable tangibles but a long way to go in becoming an NFL passer? The Bears can begin in Mobile getting a clearer indication of just how steep Hurts’ NFL learning curve might be.

Irrespective of those three, it probably behooves the Bears to get even more familiar with Anthony Gordon, Mike Leach’s Air-Raid disciple, who showed NFL arm talent, efficiency, and big-play prowess in his lone starting season at Washington State. Yes, we realize the words “lone starting season” will be a nonstarter for many considering Trubisky’s tribulations. And we may be reaching here, but it’s at least a weird coincidence that new QB coach John DeFilippo comes aboard after working wonders in Jacksonville with the guy who was in front of Gordon in 2017-18, Gardner Minshew.

It might not be a great draft for tight ends — arguably the Bears’ biggest offseason need — but it appears that two of the better 2020 prospects will be in Mobile: Mackey Award winner Harrison Bryant of FAU and Purdue’s Brycen Hopkins.

Listed at 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds, Bryant is a formidable receiver and blocker, leading the nation at his position in explosive catches (25) among his 65-1,004-7 receiving, as well as grading out well in pass pro and the run game, per PFF. The latter is especially important to the Bears, who have at least a few talented pass-catching alternatives already on the roster. Also notable: The Bears scouted FAU hard last year, working out privately Devin Singletary and eventual seventh-round selection, RB mate Kerrith Whyte. Although they clearly erred by neglecting the position a year ago, perhaps they were eyeing Bryant with 2020 in mind?

Hopkins, another likely Day 2 pick, has a similar size to Bryant but not the same blocking chops and will probably be utilized more early on in the NFL as a receiving weapon. Vanderbilt’s Jared Pinkney looks like a slightly bigger version of Trey Burton, a jumbo wideout with a lot of room for growth as a blocker. Cincinnati’s Josiah Deguara contributed as a blocker to the nation’s 25th-ranked rushing attack and was a more prolific receiver than fellow ex-Bearcat Travis Kelce, who’s fared decently in the NFL, we’d say.

With terrific OT depth this year, would it behoove the Bears to pluck one and consider sliding him inside to begin his career at right guard? Charles Leno and Bobby Massie likely aren’t going anywhere in 2020, but the RG battle figures to be wide open.

If so, Houston’s Josh Jones bears watching. A three-year starting left tackle and team captain for the Cougars, he could be a Round 2 target capable of following in Cody Whitehair’s footsteps as an interior convert. We’ll also be watching potentially in this draft range athletic Auburn OT Prince Tega Wanogho, another collegiate left tackle with agility but some flex potential with the requisite weight-room work.

Lloyd Cushenberry, of NCAA champion LSU, is one of the top interior blockers available this year. The center of Heisman winner Joe Burrow was the standout performer on the Tiger front.

Temple’s Matt Hennessy is another college center, but he’s smart and sound coming off an impressive career at the pivot and is listed only as an offensive lineman by the Senior Bowl, meaning he’ll likely get chances to showcase his versatility.

The most accomplished collegiate guard in Mobile will be Clemson’s John Simpson, an Outland Trophy semifinalist with vast big-game starting experience.

Defensively, the Bears likely covet at least one starter to replace impending free agent Ha Ha Clinton-Dix at strong safety, and possibly a plug-and-play edge rusher, depending on the contract fate of Leonard Floyd, whose $13.2 million price tag for 2020 could be shed prior to the new league year.

Florida’s Jabari Zuniga and Tennessee’s Darrell Taylor have big-time edge rush potential coming from big programs, while Pace’s small-school-and-traits affinity is likely to attract him to Kyle Dugger of the Lenoir-Rhyne Bears, where he was a man among boys, making plays in all three phases.

Like tight end, safety options appear to be a bit limited in this draft. But after paying Eddie Jackson, the Bears should be looking for an affordable running mate that fits a bit better playing near the line of scrimmage than Clinton-Dix, who’ll have some outside interest on the open market.

— Arthur Arkush

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