CSNChicago.com Bears Insider John "Moon" Mullin goes position-by-position as the Bears approach the 2015 Draft, taking a look at what the Bears have, what they might need and what draft day could have in store.
Bears pre-draft situation
Few Bears position areas are as open to question. The tumult surrounding Martellus Bennett came to an end with the Bears dealing the tight end to the New England Patriots for a fourth-round draft choice. But while the deal concluded a choppy Chicago stint for Bennett, it didn’t resolve the Bears’ situation at tight end, one that appeared settled when the Bears signed Bennett for $20 million over four years in 2013. Bennett caught 90 passes in 2014, held out during the 2015 offseason, came back to finish behind only Alshon Jeffery with 53 receptions despite playing just 11 games, finishing the season on IR.
The Bears did re-sign Zach Miller, whose ascension emergence through the 2015 season appeared to be one source of irritation for Bennett because of the shift of focus away from Bennett. Miller finished with a career-best 34 catches, but continued his dubious record of never playing a full 16-game season as he missed the finale with a toe injury.
The loss of Bennett to the offense cannot be overstated. He was a strong in-line blocker as well as a 6-foot-6 target. The Bears have Miller, Rob Housler and Khari Lee, each with individual strengths, but none possessed of the complete skill set that Bennett brought to the position.
Bears draft priority: High
Whether the 2016 draft can provide a straight-up replacement for Bennett is a concern. The Bears made a run at New Orleans tight end Josh Hill but were thwarted when the Saints matched their offer sheet.
“It’s ‘OK,’” said GM Ryan Pace, with the Saints when they landed Hill as a 2013 undrafted free agent, used a 2010 third-rounder on Jimmy Graham and invested a 2002 sixth-rounder on John Gilmore, who spent six years with the Bears. The problem is partly the nature of the college game.
“The tight end, the way offenses are now in college, the tight end is becoming harder to evaluate,” Pace said. “A lot of the time those guys are spread out so you don’t get to see them in-line and blocking as much. So I’d say it’s ‘OK.’”
Not the kind of assessment that says the Bears, or anyone else, will find definitive answers at the position this draft. It will not be the first time.
No tight ends were chosen in the 2015 first round. One (Eric Ebron, 10th) went in the 2014 round and one (Tyler Eifert ,21st) the year before. None are expected to go that early this draft.
Keep an eye on ...
Jerell Adams, South Carolina: Played four years at Alshon Jeffery’s alma mater, 1 TD every 9.4 rec. “Jerell Adams is the most underrated tight end in this class,” said ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay.
Hunter Henry, Arkansas: Consistent producer in 3 college seasons (116 rec.) with size (6-4, 255). May be best available from a poor crop.
Austin Hooper, Stanford: Zach Ertz and Coby Fleener establish that Cardinal TE’s can work at the next level. Hooper may be a steal in the mid rounds.
Dan Vitale, Northwestern: Listed as a fullback but has been productive as a receiver, in the Ryan Wetnight mold. Excellent strength if not size (6-0, 240).