After striking out on some of the bigger free agent signings such as cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore and A.J. Bouye, Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Pace doubled down on filling the depth of his team with a heavy amount of new additions. One of the more underrated acquisitions was former Dolphins tight end, Dion Sims, a classic “Y” at the position with high upside. Given his contract at $18 million over three years to $10 million guaranteed, it’s clear Chicago has a measured belief in the dimension the 26-year-old can bring to the Bears’ attack.
With that, let’s take a look at Sims’ background, obtain a deeper understanding of just what exactly he brings to the table in a new environment, and analyze his fit with the Bears.
A natural athlete in college
The Michigan State product in Sims played well in his relative niche role at East Lansing. Given his natural size and quality fundamentals in blocking, the now 6-foot-4, 271 pounder was a seamless fit as a number two tight end. Sims has a massive frame with soft hands that he has always put to good use regularly when available.
As a blocker - his primary strength - he sets the tone in anchoring his feet well, positions his body properly, and displays a natural instinct as a second edge-setting weapon.
In that light, Michigan State had a quality, quick showcase of some of Sims’ highlights as a high-level amateur after being drafted by Miami in the fourth round of the 2013 NFL Draft. Needless to say, the innate burst after the catch and strength is regularly understood here.
An underwhelming Combine cemented Sims as a mid-round prospect with speed concerns, but someone was still going to take a long-term shot on him. In the end, he was a player drafted in the mind of developing into a quality utility guy with potential for more. At the time, little did Miami know they had a gifted tool in their hands.
Coming into his own as a professional
Sims saw a small role in his rookie season in 2013 given the incumbent Charles Clay enjoying a career year with 67 receptions, 759 yards, and six touchdowns. However, over time he became the man in Miami, especially as Clay left for free agency in 2015.
With Clay later gone to the Bills, Sims now had a sizable brunt of expectations in South Florida at tight end, even with newly signed Jordan Cameron as the starter in tow. But the 2015 season didn’t start well for the big tight end. He suffered a concussion while reaching for an overthrow in the end zone very early in the first week of the season in a 17-10 win over the Redskins.
Here’s what The Phinsider editor, Kevin Nogle, had to say about the play:
Emblematic of what Sims will bring to the table even in one-time catastrophic results.
Of course, Sims would be sidelined for a month back then and now may have reoccurring symptoms as he also suffered a concussion last season. No doubt something to watch in Chicago.
Whatever the case, any progress or step Sims was supposed to take in either of the last two seasons - especially as Cameron’s play became a disappointment - was derailed temporarily each time due to injury.
Even so, when Sims was able to see the field, he impressed as his play time increased steadily under head coach Adam Gase. Intelligence to sit down when necessary as a target for your quarterback isn’t an asset every receiving weapon understands immediately. It’s certainly become a part of Sims’ game over time as he’s become comfortable.
With his strong flourish and growing ability as a dual-threat as well as an underrated 26 receptions, 256 yards, and four touchdowns last season, there was even talk out of Miami that Gase viewed Sims as the primary starter for the future.
Sims himself confirmed this assertion from his former head coach. “He told me he wants me back a number one. I have obviously proven myself as a starting tight end in the league and want to continue in that role,” said the tight end back in February.
Clearly the Dolphins didn’t give him that opportunity and the Bears are better off for it.
Interestingly enough, Pro Football Focus actually graded Sims with less than high marks in each of the last two seasons at 47.4 and 59.3, respectively. His struggles with injury and concussion issues have likely played a part in that as his chain link has been disrupted time and again. Rhythm is a key that can’t be lost here.
A versatile and heavy Bears offense
Now though, Chicago sees an ascending player with a skill set that can be honed in a larger role - health provided. It’s no secret that Logan Paulsen wasn’t an adequate back-up to Zach Miller last year and given the money handed out to Sims, the Bears feel the same way. This is finally a player that can really allow Chicago’s offense to operate out of versatile two tight end sets with his blocking assets. Most successful offense’s have this option of multiple talented tight ends to use and the Bears no doubt appreciate this newfound aspect as well.
What will determine his ultimate success is how he’ll block as that’s his strong suit. If Sims can blossom into more of a consistent pass catcher as he nears the prime of his career, the Bears may have found themselves a fantastic weapon off of the bargain bin.
In greater application for Sims, there’s more of this where that came from. An excellent and massive security blanket for quarterbacks.
Good to see Dion Sims make a catch in traffic. Especially for a TD. pic.twitter.com/4cOHnWa86H— Eric Elizondo (@EricElizondo8) November 27, 2016
In the end in summation, Nogle had nothing but stellar marks for Sims and the Bears.
To be fair, I doubt the acquisition of Sims will preclude the Bears from drafting a tight end in a very deep class in April’s draft, which could create a fascinating three-headed monster with a variety of formations and plays. But while said young drafted guy develops, there’s now a long-term insurance policy for a 32-year-old Miller in Sims that could play out very well, in place where Chicago played the second tier of free agency to a tee.
With any luck, the athletic and rising Sims takes immense advantage of his new opportunity in Chicago.
Robert Zeglinski is the Bears beat writer for the Rock River Times and is a staff writer for Windy City Gridiron and Second City Hockey. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.