Yesterday afternoon, NFL representatives from 31 teams were on hand at Northwestern's pro day, including three Chicago Bears scouts. The big name at the event was Eastern Illinois QB Jimmy Garappolo, who has risen up draft boards of late and is even being talked about as a potential first-round pick. Both the Houston Texans and San Francisco 49ers put Garappolo through workouts.
The Bears, who two months ago signed Jay Cutler to a seven-year contract, aren't in the market for a high-round quarterback. Six other register players worked out on the NU campus, including Eastern Illinois WR Erik Lora (5-10, 203), who caught 136 passes from Garoppolo last year, which set an FCS record. Lora posted 40 times of 4.49 and 4.53, a 36-inch vertical jump, a 9-11 broad jump, a 4.18 short shuttle and 6.76 3-cone. Lora is a sure-handed wideout who will likely be a priority free agent.
Also working out was Northwester receiver Rashad Lawrence (6-1, 196) who was reportedly extremely impressive during pass-catching drills. He posted a 4.50 40, 39-inch vertical, 10-7 broad jump, 4.07 short shuttle and 6.83 3-cone. Lawrence's workout may have propelled him out of the undrafted-free-agent ranks and into the late-round conversation.
Another impressive player was Illinois State DE Colton Underwood (6-2, 256), an AP Third-Team All American. Underwood was a two-time finalist for the Buck Buchanan award, given annually to the nation's best defensive player in the FCS. He played with his hand in the dirt at ISU but showed good movement as a potential outside linebacker at the next level. He's a tweener, so Underwood is likely a priority free agent, one whom the Bears may offer an invite to rookie minicamp.
Liberty held its pro day yesterday and the big name was cornerback Walt Aikens. Working out in front of 26 NFL teams, Aikens posted a 4.45 40 time, 4.19 short shuttle and 9-10 broad jump. He was a three-time All-Big South honoree, who had seven interceptions and six forced fumbles in three years as a starter.
The Bears saw Aikens at the Senior Bowl and were in attendance yesterday. Yet I'm told the team is putting him through a private workout today. This is interesting because private workouts, of which each team has a limited number, are typically reserved for late-round players with whom the team is unfamiliar. In other words, teams bring in borderline draft picks, many of whom are from small schools with little game film, to get a better idea of the player. With Aikens, the Bears have already been front and center twice, so a third workout shows some serious interest. He's considered sixth- or seventh-round talent.
For Auburn, the big name is Dee Ford, one of the most explosive edge rushers in the draft. At the Senior Bowl he was absolutely dominant all week, repeatedly burning some of the best offensive tackles in the country with his borderline-unstoppable speed rush. Ford weighed in at 244, seven pounds lighter than his combine weight, so he's a pure 3-4 OLB. He'll likely be taken in the first round but not by the Bears.
Other notables at the Tigers' pro day include offensive lineman Greg Robinson (a potential Top 10 pick) and RB Tre Mason (arguably the top back in draft). Robinson will be long gone before the Bears pick at 14, yet Mason is an interesting prospect. After rushing for 1,816 yards in 2013 – which broke Bo Jackson's school record – Mason was a Heisman Trophy Finalist. He's a one-cut runner who will fit well in a zone-blocking scheme.
Mason is a potential second-round pick. While it's unlikely the Bears will spend a high pick on a running back, it's not entirely out of the question. Michael Bush is a $3.5 million albatross who has done almost nothing since being signed to a four-year, $14-million deal two years ago. If Matt Forte were to go down, Chicago's offense would be in tough shape with the plodding, stiff-handed Bush. A guy like Mason, while expensive, would give the team insurance at arguably the most important position in Marc Trestman's offense.
Also working out for the Tigers was CB Chris Davis, a mid-round pick. He showed good athleticism with a 4.51 40, a 40.5-inch vertical and a 10-4 broad jump. The Bears need depth at corner and Davis (5-10, 202) could be a viable option in the fourth round.
At Purdue's pro day, CB Ricardo Allen, another mid-round prospect, improved his poor combined 40 time (4.61) into the 4.48 range. Yet many eyes were on DE Bruce Gaston. After a solid junior season, Gaston struggled last year to adjust to Purdue's new 3-4 system and his production fell off the charts. As a result, he was not invited to the combine.
At his pro day, Gaston (6-2, 316) was outstanding, posting a 4.98 40, 34 bench-press reps, 34.5-inch vertical, 9-1 broad jump and 4.55 short shuttle. Athletically, he's gifted, so the Bears may be willing to give Gaston a look as an undrafted free agent.
Purdue OT Kevin Pamphile (6-4, 311) is a bit of a tweener but he reportedly looked very good during his workout and could land in the final round of this year's draft.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is entering his fourth season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.