Setting Realistic Expectations for Each Chicago Bears Rookie
The Chicago Bears added six new players to their roster via the NFL draft in 2015, and an additional 16 players were signed as undrafted free agents. While most of Chicago's draft picks are expected to make a contribution this season, some of the team's undrafted free agents will also have a chance to make an impact in 2015.
Draft analysts, NFL front office members and coaches do their best to determine how good a player can be, but it is difficult to know just how successful a player can be until he steps onto the field during the regular season.
Many of Chicago's rookies, primarily those who were selected in the draft, have a chance to make an impact this season, but a handful of the team's undrafted free agents have a chance to make the practice squad or possibly the 53-man roster in 2015.
Most of the team's undrafted free agents are long shots to make the roster or practice squad, but a few of those players have upside and potential.
What should Bears fans expect from this year's rookie class? We explore that ahead as we set realistic expectations for some of Chicago's undrafted free agents and each of its 2015 draft picks.
WR Kevin White
The Bears needed to find a playmaker at the wide receiver position after trading Brandon Marshall to the New York Jets in early March, and new general manager Ryan Pace did just that with his selection of Kevin White with the seventh overall pick in this year's draft.
“This was an easy pick,” Pace said about White's selection, according to John Mullin of CSNChicago.com. “Stay true to our board, take the best player available, and let's get a playmaker. Whether it's defense or offense, let's get a playmaker in the top 10 and that's what we did.”
White only registered 35 catches for 507 yards with five touchdowns in 2013, but he burst onto the scene in 2014 with 109 catches for 1,447 yards with 10 touchdowns. He is a quick receiver who can take the top off the defense with his speed, but he is also physical and is not afraid to go up and attack the football at its highest point.
He will begin the season as one of the starters on the outside alongside Alshon Jeffery, and he has the ability to become one of quarterback Jay Cutler's top targets on offense. He has the size (6'3", 215 lbs) Cutler covets in the passing game, and his speed is a welcomed addition to a receiving corps that has lacked a downfield target in recent years.
White has all the tools to develop into a Pro Bowl receiver in his rookie season, but he still needs to work on his route running and has to become more technically sound.
With guys like Jeffery and veteran slot receiver Eddie Royal on the roster, receptions may be hard to come by for the young receiver in his first season. Ideally, he will develop into a Pro Bowler, but a more realistic outcome for him in his rookie year is to finish the season with 800 to 900 receiving yards while developing into a reliable target for Cutler in the passing game.
Rookie receivers have proven over the course of the last couple of seasons that the learning curve is not as steep as it once was for young receivers, but White comes into a situation in Chicago in which he will not be asked to be the savior on offense.
Jeffery, Royal, running back Matt Forte and tight end Martellus Bennett are all proven commodities in the NFL, and their presence will help take some of the burden off White in 2015.
DT Eddie Goldman
With the Bears moving to a 3-4 defense this offseason, the team needed to add a young nose tackle who could anchor the middle of the defensive line for years to come. Pace could have taken Washington's Danny Shelton with the seventh overall pick, but he waited and took Florida State's Eddie Goldman in the second round.
After the young lineman was selected in May, Pace gave the media a scouting report, saying, according to CBSChicago.com:
This is a young player, third-year junior, two-year starter. When I think about the standout traits with Eddie Goldman it’s strength, stout at the point of attack. He’s very instinctive, he gets off blocks. I really like the pad level he plays with. Steps up in big moments. In the Clemson game this year, there’s three game-changing plays he makes to basically win that game for Florida State. This is a stout, strong nose tackle that anchors the center of your defense. I think he’s an ascending player.
The young interior lineman produced 62 total tackles, 12 tackles for loss and six sacks in three seasons at Florida State, and he appears to be the front-runner for the starting 0-technique nose tackle spot in Chicago's 3-4 defense.
Veteran Jeremiah Ratliff has experience playing inside at nose tackle and would be a great fit at the position, but he will likely get a look on the outside at the 5-technique defensive end position because of the team's lack of depth along the defensive line.
The most important thing a nose tackle has to be able to do in defensive coordinator Vic Fangio's scheme is hold his ground, and Fangio likes what Goldman can bring to the table.
"We don't feel like he'll get knocked back into our inside linebackers, which is really important," Fangio said, according to Jeff Dickerson of ESPN.com. "That's job No. 1 for any of the three guys up front. We feel like he's strong and is able to get off blocks and make some plays in there, and hopefully we can get some pass rush out of him, too."
In an ideal world, Goldman will come in and become a force against both the run and the pass in his rookie season, but he needs to become a more consistent pass-rusher. He does a nice job of collapsing the pocket at times, but he relies too heavily on his bull rush.
He should be the team's starter at nose tackle in Week 1 against the Green Bay Packers. While he won't put up big numbers as a pass-rusher, he should have a big impact against the run in 2015.
His numbers will not jump off the page, but if he can tie up offensive linemen and open up lanes for his linebackers to make plays, he will be able to call his rookie season a success.
C Hroniss Grasu
The center position did not appear to be one of Chicago's most pressing needs heading into the draft, but the team opted to use its third-round pick on Oregon center Hroniss Grasu.
Grasu was a first-team All-American in 2013 and 2014 and was considered to be one of the best centers in this year's draft. He is an extremely athletic lineman who does a great job of getting to the second level in both the running game and screen game, but he needs to add more bulk.
The Bears parted ways with longtime center Roberto Garza this offseason and signed veteran center Will Montgomery to a one-year deal in early April.
Montgomery is a nine-year veteran who has made 71 starts in his career, and he played for current Bears head coach John Fox in both Carolina and Denver. Montgomery said, according to Rich Campbell of the Chicago Tribune:
They believe in me and they’re interested in me. Also, I like what they’re all about. Fox has been a great coach (for) years. Adam Gase is a head coach in the making, and obviously [offensive line coach] Dave Magazu, too, has been around as a very good coach. It definitely has been a privilege to play for those guys.
Montgomery may be experienced, but he lacks the overall athleticism Grasu possesses. Montgomery is strong at the point of attack and plays with a good base in pass protection, but he is limited in the running game.
At best, Grasu will earn the starting role this offseason because of his athleticism and ability to get up the field in the running game, but it is more likely he starts the season as Montgomery's backup.
Montgomery's experience and familiarity in Gase's offense makes him a great fit for the job, but if he stumbles, Grasu has a chance to grab the position and never look back. At the very worst, Grasu will head into the season as Montgomery's backup and as a reserve offensive lineman.
RB Jeremy Langford
The Bears drafted Michigan State running back Jeremy Langford in the fourth round this past May, and he is expected to compete with Ka'Deem Carey, Jacquizz Rodgers, Daniel Thomas and Senorise Perry for the No. 2 spot behind Matt Forte.
In two years as a starter for the Spartans, Langford carried the ball 568 times for 2,944 yards with 40 touchdowns. He entered Michigan State as a defensive back and was moved to wide receiver before finally settling into the running back position his junior season.
“[Running back] was where I wanted to be the whole time,” Langford said, according to Larry Mayer of ChicagoBears.com. “It was a dream come true when I finally got a chance to start my first game. I feel like I earned it.”
His 4.42-second 40-yard dash time at the NFL Scouting Combine in February was the fastest among all running backs, and his speed translates to the field. He has terrific initial quickness and does a great job of getting to the edge. He uses his feet well and knows how to make defenders miss. He is not a very physical runner, but he proved in college he can be an effective blocker in pass protection.
Forte is going to receive the majority of the reps at running back this season, but Langford has a chance to make an impact in 2015 because of his speed and ability to catch the football. He has the ability to spell Forte in the running game for 15 to 20 plays a game, but it is hard to know how much of the offense is going to go through the veteran running back this year.
Langford has the ability to earn the No. 2 job out of training camp, but it will be difficult to knock off Carey and Rodgers for that role. Rodgers is a proven third-down running back who excels in the passing game, while Carey has the ability to pound the football between the tackles.
During Fox's final year in Denver last season, the Broncos ran the football 443 times. C.J. Anderson led the way with 179 carries, while Ronnie Hillman finished second on the team with 106 carries. By contrast, the Bears ran the football 355 times in 2014, and Forte led the way with 266 carries. Cutler finished second on the team with 39 carries, and Carey finished with 36 carries.
Forte's carries will likely drop this season, meaning Langford could end up carrying the football around 80 to 100 times if he wins the backup job.
At the very worst, Langford will be a key contributor on special teams, but he should get a fair share of carries this season in Gase's offense behind Forte.
S Adrian Amos
The Bears have struggled to find a reliable starting safety in the draft for the better part of the last decade, but they hope they found one in this year's fifth-round pick, Adrian Amos.
Amos played cornerback, nickelback and safety at Penn State, and Fox likes what the young defensive back brings to the secondary.
"I think he’s very smart," Fox said, according to Arthur Arkush of ChicagoFootball.com. "He’s got good height. He’s got good speed. He’s got a lot of the measurables, and he’s got the ability to cover, which in this league now is a big part of the job description."
He finished his collegiate career with 149 total tackles, nine tackles for loss, three sacks, 22 pass deflections and seven interceptions, but he dropped in the draft because of his poor tackling ability.
Amos struggled against the run at Penn State and often took bad angles when trying to track down a ball-carrier. One NFL coach thinks the young safety does not always play at the level he should.
"Great athlete, but I don't always see him play to his ability," said an AFC defensive backs coach, according to Lance Zierlein of NFL.com.
Despite the perceived negatives to his game, the young safety has a lot of upside and could be in the running for a starting job at either strong safety or nickelback this offseason.
His best fit is at the free safety position, but veteran Antrel Rolle will head into the season as the team's starter at the position.
Strong safety might seem like an odd choice for a defensive back who has struggled with tackling in the past. But Fangio likes his safeties to be interchangeable, and Amos would not necessarily be asked to stop the run as a strong safety.
Ryan Mundy is the front-runner for the strong safety position, but Brock Vereen and Sherrod Martin will also be competing for the starting job this offseason.
Amos has a lot of upside and the potential to develop into a starter down the road, but the majority of his reps in 2015 will come on special teams. He could find his way into the lineup in certain sub-packages this season, but he needs to improve as a tackler before he can become an every-down player.
T Tayo Fabuluje
To help bolster the tackle position, the Bears selected TCU lineman Tayo Fabuluje in the sixth round of this year's draft.
Fabuluje initially committed to BYU in 2010 and redshirted that season for the Cougars before transferring to TCU in 2011. He was forced to sit out the entire 2011 season due to transfer rules but started 12 games the following season. He then transferred back to BYU in 2013 before rejoining the Horned Frogs in 2014. He started 12 games at left tackle last season.
He stands 6'6" and weighs 353 pounds, but he will need to slim down in order to be an effective NFL offensive lineman. He is strong and powerful, but he lacks athleticism and agility, particularly in pass protection.
Fabuluje is a better fit on the inside at guard because the position would allow him to better utilize his strength and size, but the Bears are crowded at the position. In addition to having Kyle Long and Matt Slauson pegged as starters at the two guard positions, the team also has guards Vladimir Ducasse, Ryan Groy, Michael Ola and Conor Boffeli on the roster.
If he can manage to drop some weight and improve his athleticism, he has a chance to make the roster out of training camp. But if he struggles, he could be looking for a new team before the start of the regular season.
Fabuluje has a lot of positives to his game, but he would benefit from a strict workout routine and is an ideal candidate for the practice squad. He could receive some playing time during this season due to injuries, but that would be a worst-case scenario for the Bears in 2015. The young lineman has a chance to be a starter in the future, but that opportunity is still a bit of a ways down the road.
CB Bryce Callahan
Kyle Fuller and Tim Jennings currently sit atop Chicago's depth chart at the cornerback position, but the rest of the depth chart is currently wide open. Veterans Alan Ball and Tracy Porter were brought in on one-year deals, and the team also added undrafted free agents (UDFAs) Bryce Callahan, Jacoby Glenn and Qumain Black to the roster following the conclusion of the draft.
Callahan is one of Chicago's most intriguing UDFAs, and Bleacher Report's Matt Miller was high on the young cornerback prior to the draft:
Bryce Callahan (Rice) is a nice little sleeper at CB. Good hips, good feet when mirroring WRs. Just doesn't have great size or strength.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) March 30, 2015
The former Rice star is a speedy, athletic cornerback, but he stands just 5'10" and weighs 185 pounds. His weight is not that big of a problem, but as Miller mentioned, he lacks ideal strength for the position.
He works well on the outside and is athletic enough to keep up with most receivers, but he could face problems going up against strong receivers in man coverage. He is a candidate for the nickelback job this offseason because of his speed and athleticism, but he still needs to work on his technique.
Callahan could begin the season as the team's top nickelback if he has a strong training camp, but a more likely scenario is he ends up as a special teams contributor. He is too talented to stash away on the practice squad, so he should get an opportunity to contribute on every phase of special teams in 2015.
CB Jacoby Glenn
Callahan is not the only young cornerback on Chicago's roster who could end up being one of the team's biggest surprises this offseason.
Like Callahan, Central Florida's Glenn went undrafted this past May, but the Bears quickly signed him as an undrafted free agent.
Glenn surprised some by declaring for the draft after his redshirt sophomore season, but he is a talented defensive back who could develop into a productive NFL player with the right coaching.
Zierlein pegged the young cornerback as a fifth- or sixth-round pick this year, but he has concerns about Glenn's speed.
"Thin cornerback who can be a ballhawk when he's in position, but he might have issues sticking with NFL speed," wrote Zierlein.
CBSSports.com's Dane Brugler thinks Glenn's skills translate better to the safety position:
#UCF CB Jacoby Glenn one of several CBs in this class who you don't want moving in reverse. Safety skills, not sure he has the body for it— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) February 23, 2015
Glenn stands 6'0", but he only weighs 179 pounds and is far too light to play either safety position. He has the range and playmaking ability to be a free safety, but he needs to add more bulk and strength to play the position.
The Bears have not announced any intention to move him to safety, so he will spend training camp and the preseason fighting for a roster spot at cornerback.
He could make the 53-man roster if he shows a willingness to compete on special teams, but he is the type of player who would benefit from a stint on the practice squad.
Instead of focusing on a game situation or trying to prepare for an upcoming opponent, Glenn would be able to add more bulk and strength to his frame while also being able to learn various techniques and approaches from Fangio and defensive backs coach Ed Donatell while on the practice squad.
QB Shane Carden
Undrafted free-agent quarterbacks are a dime a dozen, but the Bears think they signed a good one in East Carolina's Shane Carden.
“He was actually a guy that we had good grades on, a guy that could have potentially been a draft pick,” Fox said, according to Dickerson. “Our scouts, obviously, saw a lot more of him than the coaching staff. But he was productive, smart. He has good moxie, being able to execute in a pass offense that throws the ball quite a bit and was very productive.”
In three seasons as a starter for the Pirates, Carden completed 1,052 of his 1,579 passing attempts for 11,991 yards with 86 touchdowns and 30 interceptions.
He was very accurate at East Carolina, but he relies almost exclusively on his arm to create power. He is stiff in the pocket and does not do a good job of planting his foot and driving through his throws. In addition to his struggles with his footwork, his throwing mechanics are out of sorts.
Carden tends to throw sidearm, and while he completed a lot of his throws in college throwing that way, he will need to improve his delivery in order to claim a spot on Chicago's roster in 2015.
He worked with former Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Vinny Testaverde this offseason to improve his mechanics, and the young quarterback impressed Bleacher Report's Dan Pompei at rookie minicamp in May:
5. Shane Carden looked a little better than expected. He made some nice throws outside the numbers.— Dan Pompei (@danpompei) May 11, 2015
The top two spots on the depth chart at the quarterback position are guaranteed to Cutler and Jimmy Clausen, but the third spot is an open competition between Carden and 2014 sixth-round pick David Fales.
The best-case scenario for Carden is he plays so well in the preseason the Bears are forced to keep him on the 53-man roster, but the more likely scenario is he will be waived and placed on the practice squad.
DL Terry Williams
Goldman was added in the second round to give the team much-needed depth at the nose tackle position, but the Bears may have found a sleeper in undrafted free agent Terry Williams.
Like Carden, Williams also attended East Carolina, and the young lineman finished his college career with 125 total tackles, 17 tackles for loss, three sacks, five pass deflections and four forced fumbles. He is a prototypical 0-technique nose tackle who can take up space in the running game.
He has a strong upper body and uses his hands well, but he often wears down during games. He needs to work on his conditioning, but he has a chance to make the 53-man roster this offseason if he can become a reliable force against the run.
He is currently listed at 322 pounds, but his weight jumped up to 353 pounds in 2014, according to Miller.
If Williams can keep his weight in check, he has a chance to make the roster because of the lack of depth at the nose tackle position. Goldman and Ratliff will receive the majority of the reps at the 0-technique position, but the team does not have any other proven nose tackles on the roster.
Williams has the ability to contribute on defense in obvious running situations and on the goal line, but unless he can keep his weight in check, he'll start the season on the practice squad.
He could eventually work his way onto the field if he impresses enough in practice and in the classroom, but he will start the season on the practice squad barring any injuries to the players ahead of him on the depth chart.
Matt Eurich is a Chicago Bears Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America.