Bears

Bears Season in Review: Kyle Fuller

Bears Season in Review: Kyle Fuller

The strength of the Bears defense is often considered in the front-seven, with players like Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman and Roquan Smith leading the way. But the secondary shouldn't be overlooked, and cornerback Kyle Fuller is a big reason why.

Fuller, 27, has been one of the Bears' biggest first-round hits in recent years after being selected 14th overall in the 2014 NFL Draft. He's started 78 of the 80 games he's played, including all 16 last season.

Fuller finished 2019 with a career-high 82 tackles and added three interceptions to his growing resume of picks, which now sits at 18. He began the year ranked No. 95 on the NFL Top 100 and was added to the 2019 Pro Bowl as a replacement for Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey.

Fuller is rarely mentioned when the NFL's top cornerbacks are discussed, but he's proven over the last two seasons that he truly is one of the league's best. He led the NFL in interceptions in 2018 (7) and continued his consistent play in 2019 despite the Bears falling short of expectations. That failure certainly wasn't his fault. Fuller ranked near the top of Bears defenders last season in run defense and tackling grades from Pro Football Focus, two traits that are hard to find in today's cornerbacks.

The Bears are expected to undergo changes in the secondary this offseason, with veteran cornerback Prince Amukamara a likely salary-cap casualty. As a result, more pressure will be on Fuller to continue his top-tier play as a coverage corner in 2020. He's up to the task.

Chicago is fortunate to have a player of Fuller's caliber at one of the most important positions in football. He'll continue to be a cornerstone piece of a potentially championship-caliber defense.

Chicago Bears planning a run at free-agent tight end Austin Hooper

Chicago Bears planning a run at free-agent tight end Austin Hooper

The 2020 NFL Combine is revving up off the field as much as it is on the field. Quarterbacks, wide receivers and tight ends kicked off the workouts at Lucas Oil Stadium, but it's what's going on inside the bars and restaurants in Indianapolis that should have Bears fans interested.

According to Jason Leister of the Chicago Sun-Times, the Bears are preparing to make a run at prized free-agent tight end, Austin Hooper. The Falcons playmaker is the top free-agent tight end on the market this year and according to Atlanta's general manager Thomas Dimitroff, he'll be given the opportunity to find out what his market value is.

That number is likely to come close to $10 million per season, which seems like an impossible price to pay for a Bears team that's already up against the salary cap. But with a new CBA on the horizon, everything we thought we know about the salary cap could soon change.

Hooper would instantly provide the Bears with the kind of second-level threat the passing game's been lacking since, well, forever. Or, since Martellus Bennett left town in 2016.

Ryan Pace has to be careful, however. He's swung and missed on two free-agent tight ends since becoming the Bears GM. First, it was Dion Sims in 2017. Then came Trey Burton in 2018. 

Sims lasted just two seasons in Chicago. He totaled 17 catches as a Bear. Burton, who's battled injuries over his first two years in Chicago, had just 14 catches in 2019.

Pace doesn't really have a choice but to pay up at this point. If he hits on Hooper, the misses on Sims and Burton will be quickly forgotten.

These 3 tight ends improved their stock at the 2020 NFL Combine

These 3 tight ends improved their stock at the 2020 NFL Combine

Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Pace said earlier this week that he is going to explore every avenue when it comes to upgrading the team's tight end group. The 2020 NFL Draft will be a great place to look for the pass-catcher Matt Nagy's offense needs at the position, and three prospects elevated their draft stock at the 2020 NFL Combine.

Stephen Sullivan, LSU

Sullivan, the wide receiver-turned-tight end, was one of the most impressive players at the 2020 Senior Bowl, and he continued his rise up the draft board with a strong showing in Indianapolis.

Sullivan, who weighed in at 6-5, 248 pounds, ran a 4.66 40-yard dash, which tied for second-fastest among all tight ends. His 36.5-inch vertical jump is an elite number, too.

He was smooth in the on-field drills and showcased his effortless catching style. 

Sullivan won't be an early-round prospect. He's probably going to slip into Day 3. And if he does, the Bears have to give him a long, hard look. He has a chance to be the biggest sleeper in the draft (regardless of position) who can become an impact playmaker in the NFL.

Brycen Hopkins, Purdue

Hopkins, like Sullivan, ran a 4.66 and looked every bit the part of a move tight end. He was smooth on downfield routes and caught the ball cleanly (for the most part). One of the concerns surrounding Hopkins is his tendency to double-catch. He did a nice job quieting that worry just a bit.

Albert Okwuegbunam, Missouri

Albert 'O' was the big winner with his blazing 4.49 40-time, which ranks among the 10-best 40-times for a tight end since 1999, per the Mock Draftable database.

'O' is coming off a very disappointing season when he totaled just 26 catches for 306 yards and six touchdowns. But he lost his quarterback from 2018 -- Drew Lock -- and never got into an offensive rhythm in 2019.

It wasn't a perfect day for him, however. He loafed the gauntlet drill and continued the narrative around his game that suggests he doesn't give 100% effort on every down. But it's impossible to ignore his speed at 6-5, 258 pounds.