CSNChicago.com Bears Insider John "Moon" Mullin goes position-by-position as the Bears approach the 2017 Draft, taking a look at what the Bears have, what they might need and what draft day could have in store. Fourth in a series.
Bears pre-draft situation
The tight end position underwent major upheaval early last offseason with the trade of Martellus Bennett to the New England Patriots. The Bears still had Zach Miller in place as the starter, for 10 games, before Miller went on IR with a broken foot. The Bears made an unsuccessful play for Josh Hill from New Orleans but the Saints matched the Bears' offer sheet. The position ultimately was fortified with Logan Paulsen signed away from Washington, Daniel Brown picked up after his release by Baltimore, and Ben Braunecker arriving as an undrafted free agent.
Brown was a solid addition, with 16 catches over the final six games; he was re-signed early last month. Braunecker contributing on special teams. Paulsen contributed more penalties (6) than receptions (3) and more yards lost to flags (50) than gained on his catches (15). Paulsen now plays with Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley for the San Francisco 49ers.
The biggest step at the position this offseason came in the form of signing former Miami Dolphins tight end Dion Sims to a three-year contract. Sims adds a physical presence (6-5, 262 pounds) to the position but also caught 26 passes, four for TD’s, and started 22 games over his four Miami tenure. "A guy who can block, a guy who has good-enough hands to be a threat in the passing game," said coach John Fox.
Projected pre-draft starters
TE: Zach Miller
TE: Dion Sims
Reserves: Ben Braunecker, Daniel Brown, Zach Miller, Dion Sims, Daniel Brown, MyCole Pruitt, Justin Perillo
Bears draft priority: Moderate
The Bears had designs on Arkansas tight end Hunter Henry early in the 2016 second round but saw the San Diego Chargers snap him up four picks into Day 2 as the Bears waited eight picks later in the round. The Bears then traded down twice and came away with offensive lineman Cody Whitehair, another of their prime targets.
The position has some strength with the triumvirate of Brown, Miller and Sims in particular. The draft class has quality, and the Bears set up private meetings with Evan Engram from Mississippi and Alabama’s O.J. Howard.
But with other needs rated above tight end, and the position already having been addressed via free agency, a move before late on Day 2 (Round 4) would be a mild surprise.
Keep an eye on ...
Jake Butt, Michigan: Consistent, four-year contributor who tore ACL in Orange Bowl and needed surgery Jan. 10. May be worth a late-round flyer.
Evan Engram, Mississippi: Undersized for an in-line blocker (235 pounds) but held in high enough regard to be brought in for a Halas Hall visit. With Brown and Miller, Bears have pass catchers but Engram was first team All-SEC, ahead of Howard.
O.J. Howard, Alabama: The marquee name at the position in this draft, and with a distinct chance to be the first tight end taken in Round 1 since Eric Ebron by Detroit at No. 10 in 2014. "[Howard’s] got it all," said ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. via conference call. "He’s a matchup nightmare. He’s certainly one of the top five, six, seven players in this draft."
David Njoku, Miami: 'Canes have history of turning out etop-shelf TE’s — Bubba Franks, Jimmy Graham, Greg Olsen, Jeremy Shockey, Kellen Winslow II. Njoku is a speed TE, who can be a matchup problem in right offense.