Ben Braunecker might be in one of the most unfortunate situations on the Chicago Bears’ roster.
When the Bears signed him as an undrafted free agent, many thought of him as a steal. He dominated the competition at Harvard, and he lit up the Combine with spectacular numbers. However, he now finds himself in the middle of a tight end logjam.
Braunecker only had four receptions for 41 yards last season - he spent part of the season on the practice squad - so there’s not a whole lot of pro tape to break down. Looking at his college tape, though, there are some things to be hopeful about.
At 6’3” and 250 pounds, Braunecker has ideal size for a tight end in the NFL. He’s a quick and crisp route runner with good hands. In fact, his combination of size and athleticism earned him the nickname “Bronk” - a tribute of sorts to Rob Gronkowski. He is also a good inline blocker who plays with physicality and a high motor. He didn't play much on offense - he was only on the field for 14.39 percent of the team's offensive plays. Bronk does have some value on special teams, though. He was on the field for 49.07 percent of special teams plays, which was sixth on the team.
However, there is still a bit of mystery surrounding Braunecker. As noted earlier, he isn't as proven at the next level as some of the other tight ends on the Bears' roster are. Considering that Zach Miller was hurt for six games of the year, it's a bit concerning that Bronk failed to make a bigger impact (especially considering how bad Chicago's depth at the position was at the time).
Age: 23 years old
Experience: 2nd year
Weight: 250 pounds
Contract and salary cap
According to Spotrac, Braunecker is currently in the second year of a two-year, $990,000 contract. This year, he is set to make $540,000. After this year, he will be an exclusive rights free agent.
Reason for improvement in 2017
Braunecker is still fairly unproven at the NFL level, but he has some potential to tap into. In addition to his athleticism, he has value on special teams, which could possibly come in handy when roster cuts come around.
Reason for regression in 2017
The truth is, Braunecker faces an incredibly steep battle to make the 53-man roster. Dion Sims and Adam Shaheen were both added to the roster this offseason, so the depth is miles ahead of where it was last year. Barring a surprising cut, it is likely that Zach Miller will be on the final roster, as well. Chicago carried three tight ends on their roster for most of the 2016 season, so it may be tough for any other tight end to make the roster. If, by chance, the Bears do choose to have four on their active roster, then that spot may go to Daniel Brown, who was more productive than Braunecker last year.
Final roster odds
The odds that Braunecker will make the 53-man roster are slim to none. Although he is a talented player with a future in the NFL, it's unlikely that that future will come with the Bears. Their depth at the position is just too strong. He is still eligible to make it onto the practice squad, so he could possibly end up there. However, it will take an injury plague at the position for him to make the active roster on Week 1.