First in a periodic series on NFC North draft quirks and foibles.
Every draft class has its intrigue and spawns its share of daydreaming. The Chicago Bears' 2013 version might go something like this: What if wide receiver Marquess Wilson has his head on anywhere close to straight?
Wilson was the Bears' seventh-round pick, chosen 18 selections from the end of the draft at No. 236 overall. Nevertheless, he should be well-known to college football fans, having averaged 17.0 yards on 189 receptions in three years at Washington State, and our friends at Scouts Inc. rated his talent alone as worthy of a second- or third-round pick.
So how did a 6-foot-3 receiver with that kind of production and 4.5 speed nearly go undrafted? Wilson was suspended and then walked out on the team after nine games last season, criticizing coach Mike Leach's staff for preferring "to belittle, intimidate and humiliate us." Wilson later recanted that statement but was barred from Washington State's pro day and ultimately left NFL teams to evaluate whether he is mature enough to be a professional.
The Bears put "a tremendous amount of work" into the decision, general manager Phil Emery said. Area scout Francis Saint-Paul made several trips to gather information, including one to have breakfast with Wilson. Emery also pointed out that Wilson is still 20 and won't turn 21 until September.
"We definitely did our due diligence and we felt at that point in the draft that a person of this kind of talent deserves a second chance," Emery said. "His biggest sin is he walked out. He made a young decision. Again, he's just 20. ... We felt very comfortable that this was a good person who made an immature decision. He's owned up to that decision. He's ready to roll."
Wilson told Chicago-area reporters that "I feel like I could have handled [the departure] a little better" but that he is "moving forward."
There are certainly depth chart openings among a Bears receiving corps that, for now at least, no longer includes Devin Hester. Second-year player Alshon Jeffery is the leading candidate to start alongside Brandon Marshall, with Earl Bennett presumably working as the No. 3 receiver, but beyond that the competition is wide open.
Wilson described himself as "a guy that likes to go get the ball," and Scouts Inc. agreed. From their Insider scouting report: "Appears to have big hands and ball rarely gets to frame. Times jumps well and high points the ball better than most. Above average body control opening up and adjusting to throws outside strike zone. Tracks deep ball well and fields over the shoulder throws naturally. … Possesses the size, body control and leaping ability to win one-on-one downfield battles though needs to be more consistent in this area."
There is almost always a good reason why a talented player is available in the seventh round of a draft, and Wilson is no exception. But if you're the type that likes identifying and tracking draft sleepers, you won't find a more interesting one than him.