The Chicago Bears entered the 2021 NFL Draft with a number of questions. With no long-term solution at quarterback and no franchise-caliber left tackle, combined with limited resources, many saw it being difficult for the Bears to come away with any sort of significant haul.
Instead, general manager Ryan Pace managed to find the Bears’ future franchise quarterback in Justin Fields and left tackle in Teven Jenkins. Chicago added depth at key positions like wide receiver, offensive tackle, defensive line, and cornerback.
With still over a week until the Bears return to Halas Hall for OTA’s, there is plenty to talk about. The Bears rookie class has many excited because it could finally turn around the Bears franchise.
As we’ve mentioned previously here at Fireside Bears, Chicago’s 2021 rookie class will be dictated by how the Fields pick pans out. But there are plenty of reasons to be excited about Chicago’s rookie class. There are also a number of questions before the newest additions to the Bears franchise officially meet their new teammates next week.
1) How quickly will Fields develop chemistry with his playmakers?
Bears fans are already picturing Fields hitting wide receivers Allen Robinson and Darnell Mooney in stride. Just look at comments fans have made on social media. One aspect of Fields’ game in college was that he was always on the same page with his wide receivers.
The same will need to happen in the NFL but how quickly is the question. Robinson and Mooney proved last season that they could become one of the NFL’s best WR duos after combining for 163 receptions, 1881 receiving yards, and 10 touchdowns.
When Fields gets his opportunity to take first-team reps, his connection with both wide receivers will be under the microscope. How quickly Fields proves he can connect with Robinson and Mooney could determine when the Bears decide to really begin the Fields era, officially giving the 11th overall pick the keys to the franchise.
2) What’s the plan for Jenkins’ development at LT?
General manager Ryan Pace sounded noncommital to where Jenkins would play during his post-draft press conference. Just 48 hours later, the Bears would release longtime starting LT Charles Leno Jr., who had been with the franchise since 2014.
The release of Leno Jr. now means that Jenkins will end up playing left tackle for the Bears, making him a cornerstone on the offensive line.
“We feel his best fit is either tackle spot for us. Really just describing the player for you guys, powerful tackle, he can bend, he can play with leverage, he consistently moves guys out in the run game,” Pace said via the Bears official Youtube channel.
Jenkins experience cannot be denied either. After having played both left and right tackle, along with left and right guard while at Oklahoma State, Jenkins has what it takes to be a day one starter, which means that OL coach Juan Castillo will like the nastiness that Jenkins brings on every play.
“We had first-round grades on him,” Pace said. “That’s why in the second round, especially that position, that player, we wanted to make sure we got him.”
Chicago knows that Jenkins will have an impact in both the running and passing game but the faster he develops, the quicker Chicago’s offense should see success as an entire unit.
3) How does CB Thomas Graham Jr. make the DB room expendable?
Uncertainty should be the word used to describe the Bears DB room heading into 2021. Besides safeties Eddie Jackson and Tashaun Gipson, many of the Bears defensive backs are unproven. One name to keep an eye on as a potential cornerback and safety is sixth-round pick Thomas Graham Jr.
A smart and instinctive player with a nose for the football, Graham Jr. had eight interceptions and 32 pass breakups as a three-year starter for the Oregon Ducks. A competitive tackler as well, Graham Jr. gets after ball carriers, never losing sight, even showcasing his physicality.
â€œWeâ€™re excited about developing some of these guys right now,â€Â said defensive coordinator Sean Desai on the Bears official Youtube page. â€œWe like the volume and depth we got there. We got to play football.â€
While his role has yet to be determined, the Bears should experiment with Graham Jr. at both CB and safety, before determining what his best fit his. There is also a possibility that he starts for the team in 2022, making 2021 a developmental year for a player with a tremendous amount of upside.
4) Can Khyiris Tonga be another hidden gem?
The Bears lost two key pieces on the defensive line this offseason: Brent Urban and Roy Robertson-Harris. Enter Khyiris Tonga, the fourth defensive lineman that Ryan Pace has drafted since 2015. Throughout his career at BYU, Tonga was a force as a run stuffer but also consistently took on double teams.
At 6-foot-4, 322 pounds, Tonga has proven he can get to the football with ease, using his size and power. His ability to take on double teams means that the Bears linebackers should flourish, which will also open up opportunities for Eddie Goldman, Akiem Hicks, and Bilal Nichols.
“Just being able to be quick, using my hands more, not trying to power everything with pads,” said Tonga. “Without pads, showing speed, elusiveness, being able to be quick on my feet. Any reps I can possibly take, it’s going to be positive for me. I’m just trying to take as much as I can.”
Tonga will start off as a rotational player in year one but there is no denying the possibility that he becomes a starter at some point in the future.
5) What will the Bears do with Khalil Herbert?
In the NFL, any spark on offense is a good spark, and sparking offenses is what Herbert did during his lone season at Virginia Tech. At a first glance, with what is expected to be a crowded backfield, there doesn’t appear to be a role for Herbert, unless he’s the primary return man on special teams, where he averaged 26.9 yards per return in 2020.
â€œThey really want me to come in here and learn as much as I can,â€Â Herbert said via the Bears official Youtube page. â€œEstablish a role on special teams, theyâ€™re really big on that. Getting in my playbook, learning as much as I can to help contribute to the team in some way or formâ€.
Right now, Chicago doesn’t have a set role for Herbert but he has shown that he’s a hard runner who has a knack for explosive plays. Despite having minimal impact in the passing game, Herbert’s big-play ability is hard to ignore, especially in an offense that lacked big plays all throughout 2020.