Leading up to the draft, we’re examining the Bears “other” positions of need, not the obvious ones like defensive tackle, safety and cornerback. Today, Kevin Fishbain analyzes how the Bears may address tight end in the upcoming draft. Be sure to check out our stories on the linebacker, wide receiver and offensive tackle spots.
Martellus Bennett saved the day.
The Bears’ tight end spot had been a problem since Greg Olsen left, and he had put up numbers not seen since Mike Ditka. Last year’s big signing, the “Black Unicorn” had 759 receiving yards and five touchdowns. The Bears don’t need a No. 1 tight end, nor will they for a few years.
However, the situation behind Bennett puts tight end as one of the top needs on offense heading into the draft. Right now, the Bears have Dante Rosario, Matthew Mulligan, Fendi Onobun and Zach Miller.
Rosario was the No. 2 last season, but played in only 17.2 percent of snaps with the Bears choosing Eben Britton as an extra blocker on most downs. Mulligan is a block-first tight end who has missed only one game over the past three seasons with the Patriots, Rams and Jets. Onobun was last year’s preseason eye-catcher, unfortunately, he had trouble catching the ball, but spent all season on the practice squad showing the team’s hope that he can blossom. Miller has not appeared in an NFL game since 2011.
Just like last summer, the competition to be Bennett’s No. 2 will be a big part of training camp. Which rookie(s) will join the mix?
Let’s start by looking at the possibility of Phil Emery shocking everyone at 14 by taking Eric Ebron, which is actually something a few readers have suggested. The top tight end in the draft, Ebron is a heck of an athlete and pass catcher. He won’t make waves with his blocking, but is the seam threat many teams want in a position that is becoming more important each year.
The next-best tight ends, Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Jace Amaro, are also known for their pass-catching abilities, and could be late first-to-second-round picks.
Why shouldn’t the Bears spend an early pick on one of these three players? Usually, when drafting a player that high, a team expects him to play right away, or at least contribute and be groomed to start shortly. Bennett is only 27 and under contract through 2016. This draft is about defense, and drafting a seam-threat tight end who can play the slot is a luxury the Bears can’t afford, right?
Well, what if Marc Trestman and Emery view Ebron, Seferian-Jenkins or Amaro as a potential No. 3 wideout? Remember, Earl Bennett is gone and Marquess Wilson is, right now, the slot receiver. The Bears used the 3-WR formation more than any team used its most common lineup. It’s important for the offense, and without a proven wide receiver option for the slot, maybe one of those top tight ends could step in right away, similar to what the Patriots did with Aaron Hernandez.
It’s a long shot, but something to consider if the Bears want to go that route on offense and get enamored with one of the top tight ends, pushing it ahead of safety or cornerback.
A more realistic scenario is that the Bears add yet another block-first tight end to the competition with a mid-to-late-round pick. Johnsburg’s C.J. Fiedorowicz fits the mold. He has the size to be a good red-zone option and excelled in run blocking at the Senior Bowl. Another player that caught my eye in Mobile was Crockett Gillmore of Colorado State. The 6-6, 260-pounder has good hands and can also move defenders in the run game.
A wild card to consider in the late rounds is former Oregon tight end Coly Lyerla, who left the Ducks and pleaded guilty to cocaine possession. The late-round prospect has the support of Kyle Long and Emery hasn’t shied away from taking chances on players with a checkered past.