Although the Chicago Bears signed tight end Martellus Bennett on the first day of free agency, they might not be done at that position, with a pair of good players (Notre Dame's Tyler Eifert and Stanford's Zach Ertz) possibly being on the board when they pick on draft day.
ESPN's Todd McShay predicted the Bears would bring in another tight end in each of his last two mock drafts.
It isn't as crazy as it may seem.
In his mock draft posted on March 28 (subscription required), McShay wrote:
"The signing of OT Jermon Bushrod has shored up the offensive line, with J'Marcus Webb holding down the other tackle spot and Gabe Carimi sliding inside to guard. And while the Bears did bring in TE Martellus Bennett through free agency, he's not a consistent commodity. New head coach Marc Trestman knows how to create and exploit mismatches, and Eifert's versatility in the passing game would make a valuable weapon. With his ball skills and ability to stretch the middle of the field, Eifert could help take Chicago's offense to the next level."
McShay stuck with the pick in his most recent mock draft (subscription required), which came out on April 10.
Eifert and Ertz are similar prospects. Eifert is generally considered better and is ranked 15th and Ertz is 37th overall by Scouts Inc. (subscription required).
The Notre Dame product is a little bigger and perhaps a little faster, but both are good prospects. Eifert measured 6'6" and registered a vertical jump of 35.5 inches at the NFL Scouting Combine.
The combine is where Eifert separated himself from Ertz, as he ran the 40 about a tenth of a second faster and had a vertical jump that was five inches higher. Ertz had a much better showing at his pro day. Had he performed like that at the combine, he likely would be regarded as highly as Eifert.
Who the better player is is a debate for another time, but either could help the Bears.
I've already gone over why Bears fans are going to love Bennett and went into further detail about what he brings to their offense. Eifert or Ertz would bring many of the same things to the passing game and may be even a little better right away.
The advantage of having two athletic tight ends puts the defense in a tough spot, as Bill Polian put it in a Sports Illustrated story from 2006:
"When you flex out the athletic tight end, you put the defense in a bind: Does it come with a nickelback, who can be overpowered or blocked [on a run], or does it leave a linebacker on the field, which is really a disadvantage [in coverage]?"
The team most commonly associated with two tight end sets is New England, but I'm not sure the Bears would be able to do the things they do. Both Ertz and Eifert possess a different skill set than New England's Aaron Hernandez.
What Ertz and Eifert would give the Bears is a player who could make plays down the field. Although they're not necessarily the fastest, they have the ability to get down the field and are a handful for whoever is covering them with their size and jumping ability.
They would also be a nightmare in the red zone, especially if teams also have to deal with Bennett, Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall.
If the Bears drafted either tight end, it would leave opposing defenses in a tough spot.
If they left their base packages with three or four linebackers on the field, they'd risk matchup problems with the tight ends and Matt Forte out of the backfield. If they chose to play extra defensive backs, there would still be matchup issues with the tight ends, or the Bears could run the ball.
The general assumption is that if the Bears did take a tight end early, it would leave last year's fourth-round pick Evan Rodriguez fighting for a job.
That's not necessarily true.
While the NFL is thought of as a wide-open league, the team that finished first in both yardage and scoring, New England, had two tight ends on the field on passing downs more than they had a third receiver, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
The second highest scoring team, Denver, had two tight ends produce nearly as much as their third receiver. Counting the playoffs, Brandon Stokley caught 48 passes while tight ends Joel Dreessen caught 47 and Jacob Tamme finished with 55.
If the Bears were to copy a team, it could be San Francisco.
The 49ers had two tight ends—Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker—and fullback Bruce Miller play over 45 percent of their snaps, while Michael Crabtree was the only receiver to play as much, according to PFF (subscription required).
The 49ers typically used their tight ends and fullback in power formations, but—as you see above—they also spread the field and passed with all three players on the field.
Rodriguez has a skill set that is different than the other tight ends, much closer to New England's Hernandez. The Bears could have a jumbo package with all three players on the field with Forte in the backfield and Marshall split wide.
It certainly wouldn't be the Bears' base package, but it would be an option that teams would have to game-plan for. According to the Chicago Sun-Times' Adam L. Jahns, Rodriguez worked at fullback in minicamp, so this could be something the team is already preparing for.
With Devin Hester set to be strictly a special teams player, the Bears lack depth at receiver. Only Marshall, Jeffery and Earl Bennett have significant experience, meaning they'll have to find another way to move the ball.
That is a strength of Trestman's, according to general manager Phil Emery.
When Emery introduced Trestman, he shared a story from Montreal Alouettes general manager Jim Popp, saying the team lost their top running back and receivers so they played three tight ends and were still successful.
In that press conference, Emery also said "you want the best player that can transcend schemes, that will work out and be able to progress as a player regardless of the scheme."
If the Bears have Eifert graded as highly as many, he could fit the bill.
Or they could see Ertz as a better fit.
I know teaming Bennett and Rodriguez with either Ertz or Eifert sounds far-fetched, but so did using two tight ends as much as New England does before they did it. The read option wasn't supposed to work in the NFL, now coaches are going to clinics to figure out how to stop it.
Trestman has had success using multiple tight ends and fullbacks in the past.
In his first season as the offensive coordinator for the 49ers, tight ends Brent Jones and Ted Popson combined for 76 catches, while fullbacks William Floyd and Adam Walker combined for 58. Floyd had 47 in eight games before being injured.
That team also featured a running back with 87 receptions in Derek Loville, while Jerry Rice had 122 catches and J.J. Stokes added 38.
Drafting Eifert or Ertz wouldn't be my first choice for the Bears, but I don't think it would be a bad draft pick.
If the Bears are unable to trade down and are set to take the best player available with the 20th pick, either Ertz or Eifert would make their offense hard to defend.
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