2021 NFL Draft shootaround: How far will Bears go in pros?

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With the 2021 NFL draft right around the corner, our football beat writers preview how the newest class of Bears could fare at the next level.

When will Camryn Bynum get drafted? What teams would he fit best on?

Jesse Stewart: Everything about Bynum screams “late-round steal” to me. The last few weeks have seen a lot of newer names in the cornerback conversation start to pick up steam, but Bynum is a guy who has been consistently excellent for years in a secondary that’s been producing a ton of NFL talent lately. NFL scouts love coming back to the well when they find a school with talent. Draft media is brutal, though, so Bynum looks like he might slip to being a day three pick — somewhere around the fifth round. I could easily see him going to a team like the Eagles or the Seahawks. The Cowboys could also be an interesting team to look out for if they look to go cornerback again.

Shailin Singh: My gut is telling me that Bynum will be snatched up right around round four or five, which may not turn out to be the worst for him. His favorite NFL player to watch film on is Richard Sherman, who went on to shut down an entire side of the field during his years in Seattle after being taken in the fifth round from Stanford. Bynum has all of the intangibles that scouts crave, and his game film is leaps and bounds ahead of some of the other prospects in this draft. Essentially, the only universal knock on him has been his athleticism, but his 4.49 40-yard dash should be enough to keep him from sliding too far back. I’d love to see Bynum go to a team that heavily utilizes a zone defense, which would allow him to really capitalize on his football IQ and instincts.

Do you think Jake Curhan and/or Zeandae Johnson get drafted?

JS: Both are talented enough to sneak in at the very back end of the draft, but I’m not sure that is the best-case scenario for them. It might be more advantageous to actually go undrafted and pick a better landing spot for a camp tryout than be a team’s last pick in the draft. Having only played right tackle at Cal, Curhan had a big learning curve at the Senior Bowl sliding inside to the guard position. His size and strength on the interior of the offensive line is super intriguing. It’ll just be a matter of seeing how much his instincts as an offensive tackle translate to him playing guard at the next level. Johnson is another player who’s been a little overlooked as a prospect, but I could see him being a rotational defensive end for a while in the league given the right fit. He has both the strength and athleticism to be in 3-man or 4-man defensive fronts, and given how valuable he was to the Bears this season, there is no reason to believe he cannot continue to have that level of success in the future.

SS: I’ll start with Curhan — for scouts, it is always tough to evaluate offensive linemen, and it’s even harder for me to do so myself. On paper, Curhan has many of the ideal characteristics that NFL teams look for, as he was one of the most consistent tackles not just on Cal’s roster, but in the Pac-12. He started 40 out of 42 possible games for the Bears, and offensive line health is something that tends to plague NFL teams’ hopes throughout the wear-and-tear of a season. He could sneak in as a late sixth- or seventh-round pick, especially if scouts were impressed by his potential to play inside at guard, which he did during the Senior Bowl.

As for Johnson, his collegiate production does not pop off the stat sheet, but like Curhan, he was one of Cal’s most reliable players. While I do not believe he will get drafted, he could potentially earn a shot via a training camp invite. Johnson’s Pro Day numbers were quite impressive, posting 22 reps on the bench press and running a 4.82 40-yard dash.

Traveon Beck and Jordan Duncan, both of whom went undrafted in 2020, participated in Cal’s Pro Day. Do you think either of them have a shot at making a roster?

JS: Beck absolutely should get a chance to make a roster, but at just 5’9’’ and 165 lbs, he lacks the size that the NFL is looking for in its slot corners. That being said, guys like Budda Baker and Lamarcus Joyner have experienced success at the next level, so hopefully Beck gets a shot in an NFL defensive backfield. With four career interceptions and a heap of deflected passes, Beck was one of the best slot corners in all of college football when he played. Fingers crossed that he gets a second shot.

SS: In my opinion, Beck would have been on an NFL roster by now had it not been for the COVID-19 pandemic. Cal’s Pro Day was canceled last season and the NFL barred teams from hosting in-person workouts, which basically eliminated any chance Beck had to prove himself in front of scouts. He was one of the stickiest slot cornerbacks in the nation in 2018, and he should earn himself a camp invite this season based on his college film alone. As for Duncan, he did well in his role as a clutch possession receiver at Cal, but I do not believe he will make an NFL roster purely due to his lack of speed and athleticism.

One hot take for the 2021 NFL draft:

JS: Justin Fields is the best quarterback in this draft class and it might not even be a discussion. Height, weight, arm talent, speed — whatever it is you want in your quarterback — he’s got it all. Yes, he makes his reads, too. Lock in Fields having an MVP season by the time he’s 26.

SS: On the offensive side of the ball, this draft seems to be littered with potential franchise players from receiver to tight end to offensive tackle. Still, a team’s primary franchise player is, and always will be, its quarterback. And boy, does this draft have some talented signal-callers.

So talented that I will go as far as to say the 2021 NFL Draft will generate at least three All-Pro quarterbacks by the time their careers are all said and done. Trevor Lawrence, Fields, and Zach Wilson all have phenomenal throwing ability while still being able to move around the pocket and deliver accurate passes on the run. Then, you throw 20-year-old Trey Lance into the mix, who has absurd athleticism and threw just one interception during his short but productive college career. Oh, and there’s 2020 Heisman contender Mac Jones, who has been seemingly overlooked because of how deep this draft is at quarterback. Even beyond those five, there are plenty of sleepers like former Stanford QB Davis Mills to get starting opportunities down the line in their careers.

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