ANN ARBOR, MI - AUGUST 30: Devin Funchess #1 of the Michigan Wolverines scores his second touchdown of the first half as Jordan Ford #12 of Appalachian State attempts to make the stop during the first half of the game at Michigan Stadium on August 30, 2014 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
The 2015 NFL draft is still eight months away or so, and we don’t even know where it will be held. Regardless of these minor details, we here at Grizzly Detail would like to start a new series this weekend, in which we profile players who could be on the radar for the Chicago Bears when they go to make their draft selections next year.
TE Devin Funchess, University of Michigan
Martellus Bennett will still be under contract for two more years with the Bears after the 2014 season, but like the Cincinnati Bengals did in drafting Tyler Eifert, the Bears could choose to go younger and more athletic with a highly-drafted tight end in the draft.
On Saturday against Appalachian State, Funchess snared seven receptions for 95 yards and three touchdowns as the Wolverines blitzed the Mountaineers by a score of 52-14. He has all the requisite athleticism to be a high first round pick a la Eric Ebron, who was drafted 10th overall by the Detroit Lions in 2014, but with a bumper crop of players at other positions, he could be a guy that the Bears could snare near the middle of the round.
LB Erik Kendricks, UCLA
Another position of need for the Bears has got to be the linebacker spot, as Jon Bostic continues to underwhelm and Lance Briggs and DJ Williams continue to age.
Kendricks had a fantastic game on Saturday for the Bruins against the University of Virginia, forcing a fumble and snaring an interception that he returned for a touchdown in UCLA’s season opening victory. One of the elements that Bears fans would most love about Kendricks is his nose for stopping run plays, something that largely eludes players like Bostic and Shea McClellin. His patient approach in the secondary and his blinding closing speed were on full display against Virginia, and he racked up tackles and big hits in the process.
His pass coverage abilities aren’t fully developed yet, but his aggressiveness does show up there as well. With Virginia trying to move the ball downfield, Kendricks sank low in coverage and jumped the receiver’s route on a pass attempt by Greyson Lambert, and in the blink of an eye he returned the pick 37 yards for a score.
That ability to read passes, diagnose runs, and most importantly of all, move aggressively to make plays, will surely make him a desirable commodity in the draft, and the Bears’ front seven would be lucky to have a playmaker like Kendricks.
S Jalen Mills, LSU
While a lot of the credit for LSU’s comeback 28-24 victory over the Wisconsin Badgers on Saturday will go to head coach Les Miles’ willingness to gamble, it was the play of Mills that really set the tone for the fourth quarter surge.
With 11 minutes to go in the game and his team trailing, Mills went out in pass coverage and made a perfect read on a pass by Tanner McEvoy. He grabbed an over-the-shoulder interception to get his team the ball back, and just three plays later the Tigers scored what would ultimately be the game-winning touchdown.
Mills wasn’t done yet, however. On Wisconsin’s next drive, the Tigers dialed up a delayed blitz on a 3rd-and-10 play, and when Mills got a free release around the edge, McEvoy was forced to unload a hasty pass. Ronald Martin ended up intercepting it, and yet another Badger drive stalled out.
That kind of speed and athleticism required for pass coverage and the pass rush are both great to see in a safety, and Mills’ performance set the tone for the rest of the LSU defense as they buckled down in the late stages of the game. Imagining a player like him next to Brock Vereen in the Bears’ secondary in coming years should be enough to put a grin on the face of even the most battle-hardened fan.