Every year, approximately 255 players are selected in the NFL Draft. I say approximately because the number can change a little depending on if a club used one of its picks in the supplemental draft that is held every summer.
Also every year, there are about 35 players drafted who were not invited to the Combine. Each year, the Combine invites about 335 players to take part in the annual event in Indianapolis. By doing the math, that means that there automatically will be about 80 players who went to Indy who don’t get drafted. When we add in the average of 35 players who get drafted that were not Combine invitees, that means around 115 Combine invitees — or roughly more than one-third of the group — get disappointed on Draft weekend.
This year, the Chicago Bears only had five draft picks because of the trades made last year to acquire Khalil Mack and Anthony Miller. With their first pick coming in the third round, they weren’t getting one of the premier players in the Draft. What was interesting is that their final three selections, meaning their sixth-round pick and their two seventh-rounders, were all non-Combine guys. That number is the highest in the league this year.
The three players the Bears selected who were non-Combine participants were CB Duke Shelley from Kansas State, RB Kerrith Whyte from Florida Atlantic and CB Stephen Denmark from Valdosta State.
Why did the Bears draft these players? They each were productive in college and have excellent athletic traits that translate well to the NFL.
Shelley ran 4.48 and had eight career interceptions. The negative issue was that at only a a little under 5-foot-9 (0585), he is more than an inch shorter than the 5’10” minimum height many clubs have when drafting a corner. In the case of Kerrith Whyte, he was a backup at Florida Atlantic who didn’t have top production until the 2018 season. At his Pro Day, he ran 4.38, and it's that speed paired with his 2018 production that earned him a Combine invitation.
Seventh-round pick Stephen Denmark is a different story. He played at Division II Valdosta State and didn’t start at corner until 2018 after beginning his career at wide receiver. So there wasn’t much hype on him going into the season. Situations like that don’t help with getting a prospect invited to Indy.
Denmark played well in the fall but still not good enough to get invited to Indy. At the Valdosta Pro Day, he was outstanding, running 4.48 and posting a vertical jump of 43.5”. That caught that attention of clubs, and several went there to work Denmark out and/or brought him in for a visit.
That was the case with the Bears. In fact, with all three players, the Bears scouts did an exceptional job in the fall, giving these players the grades that made them easily draftable for the team. All three made visits to Halas Hall before the Draft to meet with the Bears coaches and staff, as well as get a medical. A club never wants to draft a player without a medical being done first. By not getting a medical, a club would be risking drafting a player who is unable to pass a medical.
When I was overseeing the Bears College Scouting Department, we always used about 10-12 of the allotted 30 visits for non-Combine players to get a medical if they were thought of as potential draft picks, as well as recruit them as undrafted free agents.
The Bears personnel department under Ryan Pace does the same thing, and that is always proactive thinking when it comes to the Draft and undrafted free agency.
Still, a lot of credit goes to the college scouts who were the ones who put grades on these players that warranted them being drafted. They recognized the traits as being draftable traits and saw the upside with each of the prospects. In scouting meetings, these are the guys who basically “jumped on the table” to make sure the decision makers knew how talented these players were. Without the work of those scouts, these players are not Chicago Bears today.
Could the scouts have made mistakes? Sure, but after watching tape, I can assure you that all three of these players have the talent to make the club. Only one (Denmark) may need a year on the practice squad, but that is because he has only played one season on defense. When you figure in the upside and what he can be in a couple of years, it was a no-brainer to draft him.
Clubs don’t always draft a player for today — they have to look at what the player can be in a year or two. That is all part of the fun of being in personnel. Hats off to the Bears scouts, they did an outstanding job.