Every year, reps from all 32 NFL teams gather in Indianapolis for the NFL Scouting Combine to get a firsthand look at the cream-of-the-crop talent coming out of college heading to the NFL Draft. The combine consists of several interviews, meetings, and a very tight schedule for those athletes involved. This year, like any other, there were plenty of players who vastly improved their draft stock through their series of workouts on the field and meetings with teams. Teams certainly have been burned in the past for falling in love with the workout warriors who have performed well in the past, but the combine provides a valuable basis of information overall.
Upon analyzing performances from the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine, I came up with a list of five players who not only performed lights out during their collegiate career but also touted outstanding performances at the annual showcase. To keep it Chicago-centric, I limited the list to players who should be available for the Bears when both of their second-round picks come around.
Jalen Hurts, QB, 6-foot-1, 222 lbs - Oklahoma/Alabama
Hurts came into the 2019 season with question marks looming around how he would produce outside of Nick Saban's system and what his true stock was as a pro quarterback. Hurts did exactly what he's done his entire college career and silenced the doubters as he led the Sooners to a College Football Playoff berth behind a 3,800-yard performance with 32 touchdowns and only eight interceptions. He also ran for 1,300 yards and posted 20 touchdowns on the ground. Hurts is an absolute winner at every level he has played at.
At the combine, Hurts threw the ball nicely during quarterback drills and topped it off with a 4.59-second 40-yard dash, which was good for second among quarterbacks behind Hawaii's Cole McDonald. I would like to see the Bears take a flier on McDonald if they are not able to select Hurts at 43 or 50. Hurts did manage to finish second in the broad jump with a 10-foot-5 leap and posted a 35-inch vertical jump, which was good for fourth. The Oklahoma product has an innate ability to extend plays and create something out of nothing. I have beat the Jalen Hurts drum all offseason as well as on Bears On Tap. Let's not make it harder than it needs to be: this guy is a known winner, he's proved it on tape, and now he has proved it in shorts and a t-shirt in front of all of the scouts. The Bears have to take him if he is available at either pick.
Chase Claypool, WR, 6-foot-4, 238 lbs - Notre Dame
Claypool came into the weekend with much to prove, and he did just that. The one question mark surrounding Claypool was with regard to his speed to take the top off the defense. Claypool impressed in that category, finishing with a 4.42-second 40-yard dash, which was good for the seventh-best time in a star-studded receiver class. When it was time for Claypool to hit the bench, he finished with 19 reps, which was good for fifth among the group.
Anyone who watched Notre Dame football over the last few seasons knows Claypool will go up and get the ball in traffic. This leads perfectly into my next point — the former Irish receiver can jump out of the gym, as he recorded a 40.5-inch vertical jump, which was good for fourth in the group. At 6-foot-4, Claypool is taller than a vast majority of corners in the league. He presents a matchup problem in more ways than one, and he saw his draft stock vastly improve from the moment he played his last snap for the Irish until now.
He did, however, finish his collegiate career with 150 receptions, 2,159 yards, and 19 touchdowns, 13 of which came in the 2019 season. Claypool will likely be available at 43 or 50 should the Bears feel the need to grab a receiver in this loaded class. As someone who has consistently watched Claypool in action consistently over the last few seasons and saw him in-person a few times, I fully endorse the Bears selecting him if he is available. Claypool will be a future star in the league. One final note on Claypool: he possesses the ability to block and truly outwork opposing defensive backs, who nine times out of ten already have that size disadvantage working against them.
Antoine Winfield Jr., Safety, 5-foot-9, 203 lbs - Minnesota
When watching the tape on Winfield Jr., it's jaw-dropping how fast he hits the hole like he's shot out of a cannon to meet the ball carrier. He possesses elite ball skills, great range, physicality, the ability to hit hard, and a fearlessness when it comes to getting down in the box and banging with the best of them. Winfield Jr. followed up his stellar college career with a 4.45-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine, which was good for third among participating safeties. He recorded a 36-inch vertical, which was good for seventh, and a tenth-ranked broad jump of 10-foot-6.
Before panicking, remember that Winfield Jr. has elite speed for a safety and often looks to be the most talented player on the field. Just imagine having a guy like Winfield Jr., who has a similar skillset to Eddie Jackson, playing alongside him and especially in the box. This setup would Jackson to roam that "centerfield" position he excels the most at.
Winfield Jr. finished his collegiate career with over 100 tackles, nine interceptions, and two defensive touchdowns. He is also the son of former NFL defensive back Antoine Winfield, who spent time with the Minnesota Vikings and Buffalo Bills, made three Pro Bowls, and also won the Jim Thorpe Award, which is annually bestowed upon the best collegiate defensive back. For Winfield Jr., it seems the apple did not fall far from the tree. If he falls to the Bears at 43 or 50, go ahead and scoop this guy up, Mr. Pace.
Damien Lewis, OL, 6-foot-2, 327 lbs - LSU
No NFL Draft piece would be complete without mentioning the Big Guys up front. Like most other drafts, the offensive and defensive line positions run deep again this year. Damien Lewis is the guy I believe makes the most sense for the Bears to select in the second round with either of their picks should he be available. Upon reviewing tape on Lewis, I noticed he is extremely physical at the point of attack, can get to the second level in a hurry, and is an absolute problem when he is "pulling."
At 327 lbs, he would present quite the handful for any blitzing linebacker. Lewis certainly didn't wow the scouts with his 5.24-second 40-yard dash, but I challenge you to watch his game tape and tell me he looks slow out there. Additionally, I also challenge you to go outside and run a 40-yard dash faster than Lewis. I believe he has the footwork, hands, and ability to get to the second level in a hurry. There is no downside to bringing Lewis in, as the guard position was lacking for the Bears in 2019. Lewis did manage to throw up 27 bench press reps, which exemplifies the strength he truly possesses. Don't forget that he was part of the top offense in all of college football, protecting his Heisman-winning quarterback Joe Burrow week in and week out.
Cole Kmet, TE, 6-foot-6 262 lbs - Notre Dame
I saved the best for last because the moment I saw Kmet catch that first-half touchdown against Georgia last year, I knew he was the answer for the Bears' most nonexistent position of the 2019 season. The Lake Barrington native managed nine catches and 108 yards in that aforementioned game as the Irish fell short that evening. For Kmet, however, it marked the beginning of his 2020 NFL Draft campaign, as he was able to parlay that performance into a season in which he posted 43 catches, 600-plus yards, and six touchdowns. Kmet did miss the first two games of the season, but when you cut the tape on him, the first thing you'll notice is that he is a man amongst boys. Few tight ends coming in at his size can move as he does and once he gets going, he's hard to bring down.
Kmet was Ian Book's safety blanket in 2019 and I would fully expect him to assume that role for Mitchell Trubisky, as the tight end position proved to be a major problem area for last year's Bears. Trubisky tends to perform better with a tight end that contributes, and that's exactly what Kmet will bring to the table.
He finished the combine fourth-best in the 40-yard dash at 4.7 seconds flat, first in the vertical jump with a 37-inch leap, and second in the broad jump at 10-foot-5. I stated that Kmet was the answer to the Bears' tight end problem all season long on Irish on Tap and Bears On Tap. Draft experts, as you would love to say, "check the tape" -- but I was first and I will never miss on a slam-dunk pick coming from my favorite college team that immediately fits a need for my favorite pro team.
While the combine and draft process is all smoke and mirrors, I do feel this that each of these players could address dire needs for the Chicago Bears in 2020 and beyond. Stay tuned to our NFL Draft coverage here at On Tap Sports Net, as I will be highlighting UDFA and late-round sleepers next time around.