Seven rounds, 262 picks — Cal football only needs one to consider the 2022 NFL draft a success. However, out of 324 prospects who attended this year’s NFL Scouting Combine, zero repped the blue and gold. With a night full of anticipation, jubilation and heartbreak just around the corner, here are three Bears with the best shot at making it big.
1. Cameron Goode (Outside Linebacker)
Goode has been the Bears’ best player for the last two years hands down. At the end of his sixth year with Cal football, Goode was named to the All-Pac-12 second team and received invitations to multiple senior draft events. It’s easy to see why. The 6’4” outside linebacker has led the Bears in sacks for the past three years while accumulating 123 tackles and 19.5 sacks in that time frame. Goode’s ability to drop back in coverage should also earn him attention from NFL scouts — he finished second among outside linebackers in passes defended in 2021 and has recorded two pick sixes during his collegiate career. Concerns have been raised about Goode’s injury history, but after consistent health and quality performances over the last three years, those points seem moot. Goode will, at the very least, sign with an NFL team as an undrafted free agent. The Bears’ standout defender has had several workouts with NFL teams, however, and it would not be a surprise to see Goode drafted on day three of the NFL Draft.
2. Elijah Hicks (Safety)
It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Hicks had the best individual performance of any Bear this past season. And although he hasn’t officially announced his declaration to the 2022 NFL draft, his intentions to pursue a professional career in football are clear. Hicks has played at an elite level ever since his time with St. John Bosco High School. A starter for Cal in over 85% of games played, the cornerback-turned safety balances his formidable strength with a respectable amount of speed. With 14 pass breakups and six forced fumbles to show, Hicks disrupts passing lanes and shakes opposing offenses through blistering closing bursts. The 5’11”, 200-pound safety was also the lone Bear to have made it to the First-Team All-Pac-12 last year. Though he can certainly improve on the consistency of his tackles and footwork, Hicks’ biggest obstacle is his recovery from a broken foot. Because of this, he didn’t get a chance to perform on Cal’s pro day — whether or not that’s a determining factor by NFL scouts in drafting him remains to be seen.
3. Kuony Deng (Outside Linebacker)
One year ago, Deng seemed like a surefire NFL draft pick. In his first two seasons at Cal, Deng put up 154 tackles while playing inside linebacker. He was the core of the Bears’ defense and he earned an All-Pac-12 honorable mention in 2019 as the blue and gold won the Redbox Bowl. Deng’s size and speed are impressive, and his positional versatility make him all the more valuable. Questions have since emerged about Deng’s pass coverage and injury history — he missed all but two games in 2021 — but too little is said of his leadership and maturity. After just two years at Cal, Deng’s emergence as a leader and teammate earned him team captaincy. Off the field, he has been politically and socially active, volunteering and organizing in Berkeley and Oakland. A rangy, raw, 6’6” Deng is full of potential, and he’s guaranteed to make an impact culturally and athletically — even if he has to sign as an undrafted free agent.
Honorable mention: Chase Garbers (Quarterback)
Garbers is undoubtedly the Pac-12’s top quarterback prospect in this year’s NFL draft. Granted, he is also the only one from the conference that has officially declared. To Garbers’ credit, however, his chances of one day making an NFL team aren’t slim to none. Over the course of four years with the blue and gold, the former four-star recruit built a lasting legacy for himself after throwing for 6580 yards, including 50 touchdown passes. Against Colorado in October, Garbers etched his name in Cal’s record books by surpassing Joe Kapp for the most career rushing yards (1174) of any quarterback in program history. His dual-threat ability is a legitimate skill, as is his proficiency in throwing balls down any given length of the field. Where he often struggles is under pressure. When the pocket collapses, Garbers’ decision making is questionable — oftentimes, he forces throws in tight windows or gives up on play calls prematurely to scramble forward a couple of yards. Sure, those runs are what gave him such impressive rushing statistics in the first place. But if he’s able to keep his poise longer while under duress, Garbers has the potential to impress. Otherwise, his potential NFL career will be short lived.