3 Small School Prospects Bears Should Target in 2024 Draft

In the witching hours the week before the NFL Draft, what players from smaller programs could emerge as draft-day steals for Chicago?
Nov 19, 2022; Auburn, Alabama, USA; Western Kentucky Hilltoppers wide receiver Malachi Corley (11)
Nov 19, 2022; Auburn, Alabama, USA; Western Kentucky Hilltoppers wide receiver Malachi Corley (11) / John Reed-USA TODAY Sports
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2. Malachi Corley, WR, Western Kentucky

Many high school football players with athletic promise – but undefined positional strengths – will be recruited just as “athletes.” There are few more apt examples of why than Malachi Corley.

Recruited as a cornerback before playing running back for two years, the true senior found his apex as a Hilltopper at receiver, where he put up 180 receptions, 2,267 yards, and 22 touchdowns over his final two years in college.

His background as a running back comes to bear in the open field. Per PFF, in 2023 Corley led the country in yards gained off screens (330). Get him the ball with a chance to make a move, and you get someone with great straight-line speed and a willingness to fight through contact in a way many receivers won’t.

At 5’ 11”, 210 pounds, it doesn’t feel good to meet him in the open field, either. If you have the time, bless yourself by watching his first TD against Louisiana Tech: a baptism of a safety on the sideline before turning on the afterburners on a 60-yard score.

Corley lacks as a technician. Despite putting up strong numbers – albeit in Conference USA – his athletic advantage wanes when he takes far too many steps to get out of breaks and can’t reliably run a diverse route tree.

With his strength and strong hands (only 6 drops, more impressive considering his inexperience) Corley would be a great add next to a pure route runner like Keenan Allen. With DJ Moore on the opposite sideline, Corley might fit perfectly as a sturdy slot receiver.

If new Bears offensive coordinator Shane Waldron was willing to start huffing from the Shanahan pipe, there’s a world where he could mix into the backfield rotation. Normalize 22 personnel!

Even as a rookie, with two star receivers drawing attention on the outside the former running back may have plenty of room to operate. A common comp for the 22-year-old has been Deebo Samuel; as long as he lands somewhere positive on the Robert Turpin-Deebo matrix of receivers who rely on yards after the catch, he's worth a Day Two pick. If Chicago needs to move assets to fill out this offense even further around projected QB1 Caleb Williams, here’s a prime candidate.