2017 NFL Draft: Motel Six Cactus Bowl
College football bowl season is officially underway. If you are like most NFL fans, you know some of the top NFL draft prospects but that is about it. Since the Bears season has been over for awhile, I’ve been looking forward to the draft for a few months now and have gotten an early start on my scouting for the 2017 NFL draft.
Like last season, I will be breaking down the potential NFL players in most bowl games to give you an idea who to watch. I’ve tried to list at least one player on each team who has a shot at hearing their name called in the draft or at least getting a training camp invite.
If relevant, I’ll discuss how the player may fit in the Bears future plans. So if you end up watching the Motel Six Cactus Bowl, here are some players to keep an eye on.
Motel Six Cactus Bowl: Baylor vs Boise St
Tuesday, December 27, 10:15 p.m., ESPN
#55 C Kyle Fuller (6’4 | 310 | 5.29)
Three-year starter who has been a rock inside in a tumultuous season for Baylor. Fuller has ideal size and strength for the center position at the next level. He’s an excellent run blocker, who has done a great job of opening holes inside for Shock Linwood all season.
His pass blocking is solid, but not at the same level of his run blocking skills. Fuller did show improvement in 2016 and could be good enough right now to step in and play as a rookie. His versatility to play either center or guard will help his draft stock and could get him into the back end of day two.
The Bears are in good shape at center with promising rookie Cody Whitehiar and the return of Hrnoiss Grasu from injury. I’d be pretty surrpised if the Bears used a draft pick on another center, but if they think Fuller can succeed at guard it’s not out of the question.
Projection: 3rd-4th round
Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports
#28 S Orion Stewart (6’2 | 205 | 4.58)
Hard-hitting strong safety who led Baylor with 71 tackles this season. Stewart has always been a plus run defender, but improved his coverage skills significantly with five interceptions this year.
Stewart struggles at time in man coverage but excels as a zone safety, showing good awareness in space and an explosive closing ability when the play is in front of him. He’s been a reliable tackler, consistently taking the proper angle to the ball and wrapping up with good fundamentals.
Stewart is more of a strong safety than a free safety, but this season he’s flashed the ability to play both with should boost his draft stock. Especially for a team like the Bears who value safeties that can play both roles.
The Bears are definitely in the market for talent at the safety position and Stewart shows the traits necessary to make him a good fit for their scheme. Stewart is projected as an early day three pick and would be good value if the Bears can draft him in that range.
Projection: 4th-5th round
Erich Schlegel-USA TODAY Sports
#9 WR KD Cannon (5’11 | 180 | 4.38)
First team All-Big 12 selection who is one of the most dangerous deep threats in college football. Cannon has a catch of 50+ yards in five of eleven games this season. He’s a legit burner with rumored 40-times below 4.3 seconds.
Cannon’s yards per catch dropped from 17.4 to 13.5 this season, but Baylor has had plenty of quarterback issues that had a lot to do with the drop in production. He still put up 989 receiving yards and almost doubled his TD production from six to eleven.
It’s hard to tell how adept Cannon is at running the NFL route tree, since Baylor’s scheme doesn’t require much route variation. He has shown a talent for executing double-moves, which should play well as a deep threat at the next level.
The question is whether he can handle the intricacies of the receiver position in the NFL. Worst case, Cannon will provide a dangerous deep threat but the potential is there for a lot more. He’s shown natural hands with the ability to catch the ball away from his body. Besides his route running questions, he also isn’t much of a blocker and has the tendency to take plays off.
The Bears will be looking for receiver talent after a year that they had to start multiple practice squad type players. Cannon would give the Bears a deep threat that they just don’t have on the roster right now and should be on their day three radar.
He’s only a junior so may not declare this year, but with all the problems at Baylor this season I’d be shocked if he didn’t. Cannon is risky, but has massive upside for a projected day three pick.
Projection: 5th-6th round
#32 RB Shock Linwood (5’9 | 200 | 4.48)
*Decided to skip the bowl game to prepare for the NFL draft.
Projection: 7th round-UDFA
Brian Losness-USA TODAY Sports
#13 RB Jeremy McNichols (5’9 | 212 | 4.45)
The fifth leading rusher in CFB with 1,663 yards and overall touchdown leader with 27. McNichols has continued the Broncos tradition of a strong running game, following in the footsteps of Doug Martin and Jay Ajayi.
McNichols is a bit undersized, but runs with more power than expected from a back his size. His elite balance and hard-nosed running style make up for his small stature and his shifty moves on the second level give McNichols plenty of big-play potential.
While he lacks ideal size for an NFL workhorse, McNichols gains plenty of yards after contact. He has excellent hands as a receiver with 98 career catches for 1,065 yards and 11 receiving TDs.
McNichols running style reminds me a bit of Maurice Jones-Drew and he should excel in the zone-blocking scheme that the Bears use often. He would be a good fit as a 3rd down back but is tough enough to be an every-down back if needed.
He’s projected to be selected on day two, which probably puts him out of the Bears range with Jordan Howard established as the Bears primary back. HC John Fox does prefer a committee approach and McNichols has the perfect skill-set to complement Howard if the Bears are willing to use a day two pick for another running back.
Projection: 2nd-3rd round
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