It happens every year in Bourbonnais. An unexpected hero rises from the bottom-half of the 90-man training-camp roster to become a fan favorite and preseason headliner.
Last year, it was undrafted free agent Tanner Gentry (WR). The year before, it was seventh-round pick Daniel Braverman (WR). It’s possible another receiver wears the crown in 2018, but he’ll have some stiff competition.
Here are five candidates to be this year’s training camp star:
Ryan Nall (RB)
Nall was the Bears’ most well-known undrafted free agent signing and despite beginning training camp behind several established veterans on the depth chart, he’s going to make the most of his reps in practice and is a good bet to lead the team in rushing yards during the preseason. Nall’s best chance of making the final roster is with standout special teams play, but there will be a segment of Bears fans calling for the former Oregon State standout to factor in the running game by the end of August.
Kylie Fitts (OLB)
A sixth-round pick with pass-rushing upside? Sounds like a perfect nominee to get Bears fans excited. And maybe a little too excited at that. Fitts is being pushed into a role that he may not be ready for: the backup plan to Aaron Lynch if the free-agent signee doesn’t pan out as a healthy complement to Leonard Floyd at outside linebacker. Fitts has had his own issues with injuries during his time at Utah, but he’s entering the ideal situation in Chicago where the depth chart is wide open for an unexpected sack artist to emerge.
Matt Fleming (WR)
Fleming, a small-school undrafted receiver (Benedictine University) with a track star background, will make his case to be Chicago’s training camp darling if he can get behind coverage and make big plays in the first handful of practices. At 6’0 and 180 pounds, Fleming has a similar physical makeup of former Bears receiver Bernard Berrian and offers the same straight-line speed that Berrian brought to Chicago from 2004-2007. Bears fans love big plays in the passing game and will rally behind Fleming if he brings that dimension to practice day in and day out.
Adam Shaheen (TE)
Trey Burton has hogged all the tight end attention this offseason but it’s Shaheen who has a good chance at being the talk of the town in early August. He had 124 yards and two touchdowns in three of his final five games played last year and started flashing the kind of mismatch upside that made him the Bears’ second-round pick in 2017. His role may not change all that much even with Burton on the roster, but his production will be capped. Still, expect the Shaheen faithful to make themselves heard if he makes plays in the red zone this preseason.
Chase Daniel (QB)
Everyone loves the backup quarterback, and while Bears fans are firmly in Mitch Trubisky’s corner, Daniel has a chance to outplay the franchise passer this summer because of his familiarity with coach Matt Nagy’s offense. Daily reports of his accuracy and efficiency will start an unnecessary conversation among fans who are still sour over Pace trading up for No. 10.