The start of training camp is right around the corner for the Chicago Bears, and rightfully so, excitement and optimism is in the air for many fans.
With a revamped roster and better depth, 2018 may be the first time in a long time where any single undrafted free agent may have troubling breaking camp on the 53-man roster.
In the face of that reality, there is expected to be plenty of competition. As we know, camp standouts and long-term injuries happen over the course of this next month, which could give a select few the chance to make the team.
Roster openings for one of these long-shots may not be apparent on paper, but here’s a breakdown of who has the inside track on a September roster spot.
CB Kevin Toliver (LSU)
Admittedly, I had Toliver with a third round grade due to size and athleticism. Obviously, that didn’t end up being the case during draft weekend.
The 6’2, 192 pounder dropped due to character concerns and inconsistent play. Some questioned how much football actually meant to him. It’s also been said he’s on a tight leash in Chicago and will have to earn every snap he receives.
Even with an uphill climb, Toliver’s fit in defensive coordinator Vic Fangio’s defense should play a role. He lacks top end speed and did nothing to alleviate those concerns by chosing not to run at the combine or at the LSU pro day.
Despite all of this, the 22-year-old provides immense upside as a developmental defensive back that could slide his way into playing time.
The key to a role on the 2018 roster is simple; he must beat out Marcus Cooper for the team’s first boundary corner off the bench.
RB Ryan Nall (Oregon State)
Upon looking into the depth chart, one through three at the position are locks. Jordan Howard, Tarik Cohen and Benny Cunningham all have roles carved out, barring injury.
This leaves one potential roster spot available that could also be blended into a need at fullback. With Michael Burton currently slotted in as the team’s fullback, Nall will have his work cut out for him, but it’s not an impossible feat.
Rewinding back to his time at Oregon State, it’s clear the 22-year-old’s versatility is a sizable value in a Matt Nagy offense. Listed at 6’2, 237 pounds, would it be a stretch to believe he could play a role including a taste of fullback? He can catch, he can run and he can block.
It remains to be seen if that will translate into the NFL, but he’s the type of Swiss-army knife that could carve out a small role on a team looking to establish an identity.
CB Michael Joseph (Dubuque)
Joseph is a local product that is living out his dream, playing for the team he grew up rooting for.
Coming from a small school, he’s had an daunting path to the NFL, but it won’t ease up just yet.
Much like Toliver, his size and fit in Fangio’s defense could come into play. As a senior, the former division three product had eight interceptions, 56 tackles and eight pass breakups. This is exactly the type of upside a young secondary needs.
Sensibly, Joseph is bound for the practice squad with a chance of an early call up, but Cooper’s job is not locked in, and Toliver’s past gives reason to believe he could fail to seize the opportunity as well.
So you’re saying there’s a chance?
OL Dejon Allen (Hawaii)
The offensive line appears to be set and the depth chart looks even deeper. Even so, Allen has impressed so far and could line himself up to compete for the swing tackle role.
Yes, he’s undersized but the coaching staff appears to see something in him. In addition, swing tackle appears to be ripe for the picking.
Allen is yet another player that could benefit from a year on the practice squad but he’s worth monitoring early in camp.
WR Matt Fleming (Benedictine)
Fleming is yet another local kid that has impressed enough during rookie mini-camp to earn a contract and a chance to compete in camp.
After being singled out on the team’s final day of rookie activity by head coach Matt Nagy, the former Simeon product has the coach’s attention. While he’s not the biggest, or the fastest player on the field, his route running and quick learning has afforded him an opportunity to steal a roster spot.
DL Cavon Walker (Maryland)
The need for pass rushing upside on the Bears’ defense is blinding. The Bears’ official website currently has Walker listed as a lineman but could shed some weight and transition to an edge rushing role.
Walker has shown flashes on tape and despite competing in a group that has five set players entrenched in spots, he’s a player that could carve out a role if he impresses enough when the lights come on in August.
The hill is steep but the former Terrapin is someone to keep an eye on.
Practice Squad Bound
- CB Rashard Fant (Indiana)
- DB Nick Orr (TCU)
- Edge Olumbunmi Rotimi (Old Dominion)
- OL Jeremi Hall (FAU)
- DB/KR John Franklin III (Last Chance U)
This is a group that has some long-term upside but it may take some time for them to develop.
Franklin, the former Last Chance U star, is transitioning positions for the third time in his football career. The former quarterback transitioned to receiver and now is making the move to cornerback. While he has the speed and athleticism to do so, it’s going to take worlds of development for him to be ready for a shot on the active roster. His speed may give him a chance to compete as a kick returner is camp, though.
Orr and Hall are both players who could see early call ups in the season with injuries.
Who are some of your favorite UDFAs in camp with the Bears?