Report Card Grades for Bears' Undrafted Free-Agent Signings
Like they did in the draft itself, the Chicago Bears appear to have put a priority on athleticism when signing undrafted free agents, something that could pay off.
While most players go undrafted because of physical limitations such as size or speed, the Bears managed to find a bunch of players who have the necessary requirements to be NFL players.
Before anyone gets to excited, it's important to remember that each of the players the Bears signed went undrafted for a reason. It takes more than a blend of size and speed to make it in the NFL. Players have to have a great work ethic and dedication to their team, especially if they're going to fight the uphill battle of making the roster after not being drafted.
Most undrafted free agents don't pan out. They're in camp one year and never heard from again. For that reason, I didn't hand out any "A" grades. I also did not hand out any "F's" because there is no real risk involved with giving these young players a chance to prove themselves in camp.
That said, some have better shots than others, so here are the grades the Bears get for signing each.
Zach Minter, DT, Montana State
Although he may be a little short and a little light, there's little doubt that Minter has the speed and strength to make an impact for the Bears.
Minter is listed at 6'1" and 301 pounds by NFL Draft Scout, where they credit him with a 40-yard dash time ranging from 4.78 to 5.02 seconds. They also credited him with doing 31 bench-press reps and registering a vertical of 34.5 inches at his pro day.
His 40 time would've easily been the best amongst all defensive tackles at the combine, as would his vertical jump, while his bench press would've been fourth.
Minter might have played his way into the draft if not for a hamstring injury last season, which he admitted trying to rush back from in an interview with Football Dialogue.
He has the physical ability to play right away, if not in their regular defense then on special teams. With the Bears' lack of depth at defensive tackle, Minter is certainly someone worth watching.
Michael Ford, RB, LSU
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Despite only starting five games, Ford made some big plays at LSU, scoring 14 touchdowns, according to the Bears' team website.
Ford averaged over 5.5 yards per carry in each of his three seasons at LSU. His best year came in 2011 when he ran for 756 yards and seven touchdowns on 127 carries. Last season, he ranked second in the SEC with a kickoff return average of 27.5 yards, including four returns of 40 yards or longer.
He showed some speed at the combine, running the fifth-fastest 40-yard dash amongst all the running backs. He also did 25 bench-press reps and registered a 38.5-inch vertical.
In an article posted last June about Ford, Bleacher Report's Sean Merriman predicted Ford would have a long, successful NFL career.
In many years, it seems Ford would've likely been drafted. He was ranked as Scouts Inc.'s (subscription required) 22nd-best running back. However, they rate him below average in terms of competitiveness, vision/patience and power/balance.
Ford also doesn't offer much in the passing game, catching just eight passes in three seasons. Scouts Inc. (subscription required) said he "looks a bit stiff adjusting to balls outside his frame."
Ultimately, the goals of signing an undrafted free agent are to increase competitiveness within the roster and get a player who could make the team. His athletic ability should make him a special teams contributor; however, it's hard to see him contributing to the offense in the foreseeable future.
Mark Harrison, WR, Rutgers
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Harrison could be the vertical threat the Bears offense needs.
Scouts Inc. (subscription required) referred to him as a "long strider that can cover a lot of ground and stretch the field vertically."
Harrison ran the 11th-fastest 40-yard dash time at the NFL combine, and the 10 players who ran faster were all drafted. Perhaps more impressive was the fact that Harrison did it while weighing 231 pounds at 6'3". He also has a 38.5-inch vertical.
Despite those physical skills, Harrison didn't dominate at Rutgers like many feel he should have. Last season, he caught 44 passes for 583 yards and six touchdowns. Not bad numbers, but you would expect more out of someone with his athletic ability.
His draft profile on NFL.com noted that he isn't a great route-runner and tends to drop some balls he should easily catch.
Harrison could have been drafted, but he had to sit out Rutgers pro day with a foot injury. He was also rumored to have been a part of the hotel room that was trashed during the combine according to NFL.com.
Although he could use more polish, Harrison has the size and speed of an NFL player. That's a start. If he works hard before training camp and has a good showing in the preseason, he could find himself on the Bears roster.
He faces an uphill battle, however, as the Bears have three guys who are guaranteed a spot in Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Earl Bennett, two more who have a good shot in Devin Hester and Eric Weems, and seventh-round pick Marquess Wilson.
Demontre Hurst, CB, Oklahoma
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Hurst is one of the few Bears additions who don't "wow" you physically.
Although he wasn't invited to the combine, he ran the 40 in 4.51 seconds and registered a 37-inch vertical at Oklahoma's pro day, according to NFL Draft Scout. He measured a hair above 5'9" and weighed 189 pounds. Those numbers aren't bad and are actually better than what former Bear D.J. Moore had.
Hurst was solid at Oklahoma, but finished his career with just two interceptions. He also struggled in run defense. Scouts Inc. (subscription required) rated him as below average in terms of both ball skills and run support. They note he "can struggle to shed blocks," which make it unlikely that he'll be an impact special teams player.
Hurst's ceiling is as a third or fourth defensive back; however, he'll have a hard time reaching that point. His lack of size, speed and strength are going to make it hard for him to be a special teams player. Unless he shows exceptional coverage skills in their base defense, it's hard to see him making the team.
Josh Lenz, WR, Iowa State
The tape on Lenz didn't offer a lot of evidence suggesting he'd be an NFL player, but his sub-4.4 second 40-yard dash is enough to give him a look.
Lenz never caught more than 39 passes, but he stood out at Iowa State's pro day.
He not only showed speed, but he registered a vertical of 38.5 inches and did 21 bench-press reps. His 40 time would've been the third-best amongst receivers at the combine and his three-cone drill time of 6.59 seconds would've been the second-best.
At Iowa State, he showed the ability to make plays down the field, but he still didn't look like a burner. The agility he showed in the three-cone drill also didn't show on the field. During his collegiate career, he averaged just 3.2 yards per punt return and 22.8 yards per kick return.
Odds are he is just a workout warrior, but the Bears don't have anything to lose by giving Lenz a shot.
P.J. Lonergan, C, LSU
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Lonergan has been LSU's starter in the middle for the last three seasons, meaning he's already played against a bunch of NFL-caliber defensive linemen in the SEC.
Although he's not the most athletic, Lonergan possesses the strength, intelligence and attitude to be successful in the NFL. He was referred as a "strong, intelligent pivot man" in his draft profile on NFL.com and it was noted that he "does not back down from any challenge."
He was rated as the sixth-best center on CBS Sports, and Bears offensive coordinator/line coach Aaron Kromer has had success with undrafted players at the position before. Kromer helped Brian de la Puente develop into one of the best in the league with New Orleans.
Lonergan has already shown he can play at a high level; with Kromer's tutelage it's possible he can take the next step for the Bears. At the very least, it's worth a shot.
Marcus Rucker, WR, Memphis
Rucker is another guy whose talent and production didn't quite match up.
According to NFL Draft Scout, Rucker measured 6'3", weighed 195 pounds and ran a 4.44 40-yard dash. Despite that size and speed, he only had 47 catches for 525 yards and three touchdowns last season against subpar competition. Much of that production came in one game, as he had 10 catches for 177 yards and two touchdowns against Middle Tennessee State.
Memphis was more of a running team, finishing the season with 489 rushing attempts to just 283 passes. That should've brought the safeties up and made it easier for Rucker to make plays down the field, yet he averaged just 11.2 yards per catch this year and 9.8 last year.
Against that level of competition, there's no reason Rucker shouldn't have been dominant. It's hard to see him becoming an NFL receiver, but he has physical tools that will give him a chance.
Brent Russell, DT, Georgia Southern
Russell is a player who had great statistics and solid workout numbers while playing for a small school.
During his career at Georgia Southern, he recorded 54.5 tackles for loss, 25 sacks and five blocked kicks. At his pro day, he did 36 bench-press reps and ran the 40-yard dash in 5.12 seconds, according to NFL Draft Scout.
He was reportedly asked to work at offensive line during his pro day, as a few teams see him as a center.
Where the Bears will play him is unknown, but this is just another example of an athletic player they're giving a chance to.
Russell's tape against North Dakota State wasn't overly impressive. He took a lot of double-teams, but there were also a lot of occasions where they handled him with a single blocker.
Although his production is undeniable, he got by on above-average athletic ability and hustle at Georgia Southern, it would take a lot more than that for him to be successful in the NFL.
It's hard to see him becoming any more than a training camp invitee.
Tress Way, P, Oklahoma
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There isn't a lot to say about Way, other than he is another camp leg.
According to the school's website, he ranks first in school history with a career average of 44.0 yards per punt.
For his career, he has downed 91 of his 250 punts inside the 20, an average of 36.4 percent. Current Bears punter Adam Podlesh has a career average of 32.6 percent of his punts landing in the 20, but had 42 percent last season.
Tess also launched 71 over 50 yards. His career long is an 85-yard punt he hit his sophomore season.
Although he has a big leg, accuracy is a question mark, as he had a career touchback percentage of 14.4 percent. That isn't very good when compared to Podlesh's NFL career mark of 7.3 percent.
It's hard to tell what can happen when a punter jumps from college to the NFL. Way has the leg; perhaps the other things can be taught. More than likely he'll just end up being someone who will kick in preseason.
C.J. Wilson, CB, North Carolina State
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Wilson started for three years at NC State, tying a school record with three interceptions returned for touchdowns; however, he only had four in his career.
Wilson wasn't invited to the combine but had a very good showing at NC State's pro day, running the 40-yard dash in 4.34 seconds, registering a 37-inch vertical and doing 17 reps.
Although he started 29 games over the last three seasons at NC State, played nearly 2,000 snaps—according to his bio on the school website—and made a few big plays, there isn't much information on Wilson. Neither Scouts Inc. (subscription required) nor NFL.com have draft profiles with any information for him.
He was suspended for the first four games of last season for academic reasons and was slowly worked back into the lineup last year, according to The Wolfpacker. He only played in four games last season.
Perhaps that lack of action is what kept him from being scouted heavily or drafted. If Wilson is going to be a good NFL player, he's one who has truly slid under the NFL's radar.
Like most of Emery's additions, he has the physical skills to play in the NFL. That, combined with his experience could make him the ultimate find.
Or there could be other reasons why he was overlooked.