Trey Burton

There's a trend developing in this year's Bears mock drafts

There's a trend developing in this year's Bears mock drafts

The Bears' offseason needs have been pretty well documented. Most of the focus is on quarterback and whether GM Ryan Pace will add legitimate competition for Mitch Trubisky, and a spotlight has been placed on the offensive line, where a guard and tackle rank high on Bears fans' wish lists.

But it's Chicago's need at tight end that is dominating the 2020 NFL mock draft circuit right now. The Athletic's Dane Brugler published his new two-round mock draft this week and has the Bears diving into the tight-end pool at pick No. 43.

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In this mock, Brugler sends the Bears Cole Kmet, the impressive pass-catching tight end from Notre Dame. Kmet is the first tight end off the board in Brugler's projection, which also continues a trending theme that the Bears will have their pick of the tight end litter in 2020. In a recent mock draft by The Draft Network, Chicago snagged Washington's Hunter Bryant at No. 43; he was the first tight end off the board in that mock, too.

As for the 50th pick, Brugler has the Bears bulking up the defensive line with Alabama's Raekwon Davis. It's the first mock draft that has Chicago using one of their first two selections on a defensive lineman. The Bears could certainly do a lot worse than Davis (6-7, 312), who would offer the defense another powerful front-line defender. The thought of Eddie Goldman, Akiem Hicks, Bilial Nichols and Davis is, well, scary.

The biggest takeaway from the early mock-draft season is the near-consensus opinion that the Bears will be one of the first, if not the first, teams to pick a tight end. Brugler's mock was no exception, and it should have Bears fans excited.

Whether it's Bryant, Kmet, Brycen Hopkins (Purdue), Jared Pinkney (Vanderbilt) or any of the other Day-2 tight ends in this class, it appears like Chicago will have a legitimate opportunity to upgrade the position and at least challenge Trey Burton to become the receiver Pace decided to pay $8 million per season to be. 

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Ryan Pace provides injury updates on Roquan Smith, Anthony Miller and Trey Burton

Ryan Pace provides injury updates on Roquan Smith, Anthony Miller and Trey Burton

The Bears were hit hard by injuries in 2019. The list of players who missed time was like a who's who of Bears starters: Kyle Long, Akiem Hicks, Mitch Trubisky, Roquan Smith, Danny Trevathan and Trey Burton, among others.

Wide receiver Anthony Miller didn't miss any time during the regular season, but his year ended with a left shoulder injury on a kickoff return in the season finale against the Vikings.

Bears general manager Ryan Pace met with reporters Tuesday at Halas Hall and offered an update on three of Chicago's walking wounded.

Pace said Miller will likey go under the knife to repair that left shoulder, which is the same one he had worked on after his rookie season. He injured the shoulder on a kick return Sunday in Minnesota.

"We don't have any long-term concerns," Pace said of Miller's injury. "He needs to continue maturing on the field. His talent is there. I love his energy."

As expected, Smith had surgery on his torn pec and is targeting a training-camp return. Burton, meanwhile, had surgery to repair a torn labrum in his hip and, like Smith, is expected to be healthy for camp later this summer.

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J.P. Holtz provides spark Bears have been missing at tight end

J.P. Holtz provides spark Bears have been missing at tight end

Trey Burton's nagging injuries and Adam Shaheen's lack of development created a tight end crisis for the Bears through the first half of the 2019 season, but with Burton on injured reserve and Shaheen seemingly no longer in the team's plans, someone had to rise from the ashes and take over the starting job.

Enter J.P. Holtz, the 26-year-old unknown commodity whose under-the-radar signing with the Bears was hardly noticed by the fanbase. GM Ryan Pace claimed Holtz off waivers on Sept. 11 after a brief stint with the Washington Redskins, where he spent 2018 and the start of 2019 bouncing between the practice squad and active roster.

Holtz initially entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent out of Pittsburgh. He signed with the Browns in May 2016 and spent the end of that season on Cleveland's practice squad. 

Needless to say, Holtz's journey to the Bears' starting lineup has been anything but traditional. But in Week 14's game against the Dallas Cowboys, he provided the Bears' offense with its first legitimately productive game at tight end. Holtz finished Thursday's game with three catches for 56 yards and had the longest catch of any Bears receiver (30 yards). He was the highest-graded player on Chicago's offense, per Pro Football Focus. His 79.2 grade was better than Burton's top mark in 2019 (67.6) and would've qualified as Burton's third-best game of 2018, too. 

Holtz out-snapped fellow tight end Jesper Horsted, 37-31, and appears to have taken a slight lead over Horsted for reps moving forward. That said, both players have surprisingly looked like better fits for what Matt Nagy wants to do in his offense than either Burton or Shaheen. Horsted had four catches for 36 yards on Thursday.

Holtz and Horsted combined for seven catches and 92 yards. That's more yards in one game than Burton managed in the eight games he played, total.

It would be unfair to expect similar production from Holtz from here on out considering he was never a pass-catcher at any point in his career. In college, Holtz never topped more than 24 catches in a season and recorded a career-high 350 yards his senior year. But we've seen players' roles change once they get to the NFL before. Take 49ers superstar George Kittle, for example. His career-high in receiving yards at Iowa was just 314. We know what kind of weapon he's turned into as a pro.

No, Holtz isn't the next Kittle. But he doesn't have to be. He just has to be the guy we saw Thursday night who made plays for an offense desperate for a playmaking tight end.

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