The missing piece, at least one of them, of the Bears’ offense is at the tight end position. In order for Matt Nagy’s system to function properly, a tight end that is a legitimate threat in the passing game and one that can gain the quarterback’s trust is required. With some of the most successful teams in recent memory having a viable receiving threat at the tight end position, the Bears seem to be realizing this. They are not going to be content just adding Jimmy Graham to the already overcrowded tight end cupboard.
With seven tight ends already under contract, Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy are going to treat the tight end search similar to their search for a kicker last season — with volume and more volume. Why not add a rookie to the mix? At this point, it seems pretty likely that a new player joins the tight end room in Chicago. But what players would fit? Let’s explore the options and see what the best fit would be for the Chicago Bears.
I recently highlighted the top tight ends available in the 2020 NFL Draft, many of whom will show up on this list.
Option 1: Early (Before the Fifth Round) Draft Pick
As it stands now, Chicago has two second-round draft picks. If they decide to pull the trigger on a tight end with one of those picks, then there are a few options.
Cole Kmet, Notre Dame
Many people believe Kmet is the top tight end in the draft, and he could realistically be available in the second round. He seems to fit the mold of what teams look for in a modern-day tight end. He possesses good receiving skills, he tested well at the combine, and he’s not completely awful at blocking. He could play the “Y” or the “U” tight end in the Bears’ offense. Kmet would be a fit and most likely an upgrade over the tight ends currently on the roster.
Adam Trautman, Dayton
Trautman is a big, strong, athletic tight end who bullies defenses with regularity. The problem? He comes to the NFL out of Dayton, which is not a Division I program. Does that sound like a tight end drafted by the Chicago Bears a few years ago? *Cough cough* Adam Shaheen. The fit is there for Trautman and Chicago, but can they use another early pick on a small-school tight end prospect? Trautman’s upside is intriguing, but being wrong on another Shaheen-like pick could be the final nail in Ryan Pace’s coffin. There is too much risk here for the Bears to pull the trigger.
Brycen Hopkins, Purdue
Many people say that Brycen Hopkins is a fit for the Bears offense, but I do not see it. Hopkins moves very well and is a fluid athlete on the field. However, injury problems have surrounded him. It is easy to look at Hopkins’ stats and overvalue him. He had a very limited route tree and oftentimes succeeded based on scheme, not skill. You cannot fault a player for the type of scheme former coaches employed, but I would have liked to see Hopkins get open more because of his physical ability than the scheme he played in. Brycen Hopkins would slide right into Trey Burton’s old role for the Bears and have the same locker and training table. Do the Bears want a Trey Burton clone with a less expensive suit on? I question the fit and the value, but some mocks have Brycen Hopkins going in the second round.
Harrison Bryant, Florida International
Bryant’s versatility will help him fit in most schemes. He is a natural pass-catcher and runs good routes from anywhere on the field. He plays with an intensity and determination that would help him survive the “Hunger Games” that all the Bears’ tight ends will face. He is a willing blocker as well. Bryant is probably the best fit for the Bears if they decide to spend an earlier round pick on the position.
Option 2: Later Round Pick (Fifth Round or Lower) or Undrafted Free Agent
Colby Parkinson, Stanford
The Bears could essentially sign Jimmy Graham twice this offseason if Parkinson is the choice. He is allergic to blocking, but throw the ball in his direction and the 6-foot-7 tight end will probably come down with it. With Colby Parkinson, there are flaws in his game that need to be accepted and improvements that need to be made in order for an offense to be able to utilize him properly. The Bears need playmakers and pass-catchers with ball skills near the end zone, so Parkinson could fit in that way. However, having just committed two years to a player with a similar skillset in Graham might make drafting Parkinson illogical.
Jared Pinkney, Vanderbilt
Pinkney is more of the “traditional” tight end. He looks the part with his body size and structure. He is strong enough to block NFL players if his effort holds up. Pinkney flashes and delivers some “wow” plays in the passing game. His combine performance, mainly his 4.96 40-yard dash time, will likely drop him down some draft boards. If he figures some things out, he has the potential to be a useful player for an offense both as a blocker and as a pass-catcher. The Vanderbilt product has a lot of work to do in order to stick on an NFL roster. If Chicago is looking for a bigger-bodied tight end who can block and maybe catch the ball, then this could be a fit. I do not see Nagy wanting more of a blocking tight end, especially using a valuable and scarce resource like a draft pick on one. He is a player the team could bring on as an undrafted free agent if he is not selected in the draft.
Option 3: Not in the Draft
This is not a likely scenario for the Bears. With Rob Gronkowski coming out of retirement to join Tom Brady in Tampa Bay, O.J. Howard might now be even easier to acquire. Do the Bears want a former first-round pick who has not lived up to expectations? Their offseason would indicate yes. O.J. Howard would give the Bears’ offense another weapon and an athletic playmaker. The cost might not be worth it, as the Bears could just use the picks it would probably require to obtain a tight end with similar flaws for more cost control. However, teams tend to give talent more chances and O.J. Howard might just need a change of scenery to finally tap into that potential. This could come to fruition in Chicago, right? Stranger things have happened.