The Bears struggled to get production out of the tight end position in 2019.
Much discussion has already been made about Trey Burton’s lack of durability, Adam Shaheen’s nonexistence in the team’s offense, and the fact that J.P. Holtz, Ben Braunecker and Jesper Horsted all started games for an actual NFL team. There’s little use spending much more time dwelling over a narrative that has been beaten to death since the regular season.
Chicago added Demetrius Harris in February after he was released by the Browns, but their additions to the tight end position will presumably not stop there. Regardless of what happens in free agency, there remains a strong chance they will add a tight end in the draft, whether that’s in the form of an early-round talent or a Day 3 sleeper.
There are many different ways the Bears can attack their need at tight end, and with the start of free agency right around the corner, there’s a chance they could add talent through that avenue. At the end of the day, their approach in the draft will come down to two options: fixing the ‘U’ position or the ‘Y’ position.
For those unaware, the ‘U’ tight end is the role the Bears have Burton filling—the faster, more athletic tight end whose combination of size and quickness makes him a physical mismatch in the passing game. He can be lined up in the slot or even out wide, if necessary.
The ‘Y’ tight end focuses a bit more on the importance of blocking than the ‘U’, though receiving is still a welcomed trait for that particular role. They’re usually a bit bigger or more physical than their smaller, quicker peers at the position. They tend to line up more as an in-line tight end who is placed right by the offensive tackle.
With that in mind, let’s break down eight draft prospects the Bears could consider at tight end—four in each role.
‘U’ tight ends
Brycen Hopkins, Purdue
If the Bears look for a ‘U’ tight end in the second round, the top player on the board at that time would likely be Brycen Hopkins.
The Purdue standout is one of the most athletically gifted players at his position, as he possesses good straight-line speed, impressive fluidity, and the ability to run precise routes and make sharp cuts that some tight ends can’t make. He has great body control and is able to adjust to the ball well, and his toughness after the catch gives him even more upside through the passing game.
He’s not a polished blocker, as his pad level and overall technique isn’t quite where it can be yet. He also occasionally has issues with drops, making some tough grabs look easily while missing out on easier catches. For the potential he brings as a pass-catching tight end, though, he would be worth a selection in the second round.
Harrison Bryant, Florida Atlantic
The lone FBS tight end to top 1,000 yards in the 2019, Harrison Bryant has plenty of receiving potential at the next level.
Bryant is an athletic and fluid mover for the tight end position. He accelerates well off the snap and has good body control across the middle of the field. He does a solid job of attacking leverage points against man coverage, and he changes direction pretty well as both a route runner and a ball-carrier after the catch. The former Owl standout is also a tough runner with the ball in his hands and has plenty of experience lined up in the slot.
He’s not a great blocker from a technical standpoint, and he doesn’t offer much physicality in tight-window situations, which could limit his red-zone value a little bit. As a pass-catching tight end in a pass-heavy league, though, he should get some looks as early as the third round.
Hunter Bryant, Washington
Though his disappointing Combine doesn’t reflect it, the athleticism Hunter Bryant showcased at Washington makes him an intriguing draft prospect.
A fluid athlete who showcased great deep speed and very good body control on tape, Bryant’s athletic traits indicate he can be a mismatch against some of the bigger defenders at the next level. He doesn’t shy away from contact when he’s fighting for a ball in tight-window situations, and he is able to make his body contort itself in difficult situations to adjust to the ball. He is a dynamic threat across the middle of the field and is capable of utilizing good route-running IQ to create opportunities for himself to generate separation.
Bryant has an extensive history of knee injuries, as he tore his ACL and meniscus in the span of a few months during and after the 2017 season. He’s also an underwhelming blocker, and he doesn’t have great length at just 6-foot-2. Plus, his athletic testing at the Combine wasn’t as good as many were expecting. These factors could potentially push him down to Day 3, but if the Bears see his traits as intriguing enough to take a chance on, he could be an option for them outside of the second round.
Josiah Deguara, Cincinnati
If the Bears choose to wait a little bit on finding their ideal ‘U’ tight end, then a player like Josiah Deguara could be worth a look on Day 3.
As is the case with the aforementioned prospects, Deguara is also a coordinated athlete who has very good body control and adjusts to the ball well in the air. He can change direction fluidly across the middle of the field, and he possesses strong hands and maintains good focus as a pass-catcher. He also blocks with a high motor and has proven capable of maintaining leverage with his hand placement against run defenders.
Deguara isn’t a stellar route-runner, as he ends up running a lot of rounded routes that are easier to mirror. That could present some separation issues for him at the next level, as while he may be a coordinated athlete, he isn’t necessarily a speedy player for the tight end position. His pad level could use some work when he blocks, too. He offers dual-threat potential as a solid bargain pick on Day 3 though, so the Bears could consider him if they plan on waiting to address their need at tight end.
‘Y’ tight ends
Cole Kmet, Notre Dame
When looking at the prospects at the ‘Y’ tight end position, there are a handful of talented players, but perhaps few, if any, stand out as much as Cole Kmet.
A well-rounded prospect who offers upside as both a pass-catcher and as a blocker, many view Kmet as the best tight end in this class, and it’s not hard to see why. He’s a sizable player at 6-foot-6 and 262 pounds who plays with tenacity as a blocker. He’s also a smooth athlete who has good ball skills and can make tough adjustments to make the grab, and his experience as a closer for Notre Dame’s baseball team helped with that. His performance at the Combine was better than expected, too, as he was a top performer in numerous workouts. It helps his case even further that his father and uncle both played in the NFL—his dad, Frank, even enjoyed a brief stint in Chicago.
His lateral agility isn’t all that impressive, and the sharpness with which he runs his routes could be improved. However, his athletic profile and his abilities as a dual-threat tight end make him an enticing prospect who could be worth a look in the second round.
Adam Trautman, Dayton
Hey, look! A small-school tight end named Adam! It would sure be funny if the Bears drafted him! What an astute and original observation I just made, am I right?
Though the obvious comparisons may scare some fans off, Adam Trautman is a legitimate prospect who has much more tools than Shaheen ever did coming out of college. The Dayton standout tallied 70 receptions, 916 yards and 14 touchdowns last season, and his size-athleticism combination helped carry him to dominance in the FCS. He is a fluid athlete who has natural ball skills and can make tough adjustments to the ball look easy. He has proven capable to utilizing techniques like stems and head fakes as a route-runner, faking defenders out and attacking weak spots in a defensive back’s game. An all-county basketball star in high school, he can box out defenders well and out-muscle them with his 6-foot-5, 255-pound frame. Trautman also offers some value as a blocker, as he physically overwhelmed his competition to seal off lanes for the ground game and take good angles as a blocker on the move.
As is the case with most small-school prospects, some inflation has to be taken into consideration due to his lack of competition, although he did impress at the Senior Bowl in January. He ran a pretty limited route tree in college, and his ability to make sharp cuts and sink his hips to create more explosiveness out of his breaks needs polishing. He could also improve his pad level a bit as a blocker, as it would generate more strength and balance for him when he goes up against NFL defenders. All things considered, however, Trautman could go as high as the second round, making him a player to consider for the Bears.
Thaddeus Moss, LSU
Though his dad was a Hall of Fame receiver, Thaddeus Moss brings a different skillset to the table from his father.
To avoid repeating myself from my linked analysis of him from earlier this offseason, Moss is a well-rounded tight end prospect. He has strong hands, great body control and impressive ball skills as a pass-catcher, and his ability to adjust to the ball and track down deep passes give him some upside as a receiving tight end at the next level. He’s also a more than capable blocker, as he plays with a high motor, good overall strength in his frame and intriguing hand placement for a tight end. Whether you line Moss up as an in-line blocker, an H-back or a weapon lined up in the slot, he is able to make an impact from a variety of different alignments.
Moss isn’t a stellar athlete, as his acceleration off the ball is pretty mediocre, and his overall lateral agility isn’t all that great. These prevent his ability to stretch the field as a deep threat, as well as his ability to make defenders miss after the catch. He’s fairly short for a tight end at 6-foot-2, so he doesn’t have stellar value in jump-ball situations. He also only has one season of tangible collegiate production, having sat out 2017 due to his transferring from North Carolina State and missing 2018 due to a foot injury. If the Bears want a two-way weapon who can do a bit of everything, though, Moss could be worth a look if they trade into the third round with one of their second-round picks.
Colby Parkinson, Stanford
If you like size at the tight end position, you’ll find plenty of that in Colby Parkinson.
The 6-foot-7, 252-pound Parkinson has the length in his frame to be a total mismatch for opposing defenses to deal with, and his fluidity and athleticism for his size add on to that. He has great body control for such a taller tight end and can adjust well to the ball, and he excels at high pointing deep balls and timing his jumps on the ball. His fluidity across the seam is good for the position, and he can flip his hips better than both prospects his size should. As one would expect for such a big target, he’s reliable in tight-window and jump-ball situations. He has the physicality and length to overwhelm his opponents and box them out, giving him plenty of value in goal-line situations.
Parkinson is a disappointing blocker for someone as big as he is, however. While his inability to get low and maintain leverage through his pad level is pretty understandable for his size, he doesn’t have great grip strength or tenacity once he locks up with defenders. He could also get better at adding some more route-running techniques to his arsenal, including different releases against press coverage. He might not be as good of a blocker as the Bears may want out of the ‘Y’ position, but Parkinson’s size and athletic traits could make him worth a look early on Day 3.