Barring a late-offseason move, the Bears will be keeping tight end Jimmy Graham around for the 2021 season.
Considering the $7 million that could have been saved by dumping Graham, many thought his release would be a foregone conclusion. As trade rumors around his friend Russell Wilson picked up and cornerback Kyle Fuller got released, though, it became clear that Graham likely wasn’t going anywhere.
Though they have their two primary tight ends locked in with Graham and 2020 second-round pick Cole Kmet, the Bears are currently lacking in depth at the position.
Their three other tight ends on the roster — J.P. Holtz, Jesper Horsted and Darion Clark — have a combined 15 receptions at the NFL level. Plus, with Graham turning 35 in November and entering the last year of his two-year deal, the Bears don’t have a succession plan in place for the former All-Pro.
Let’s be real here: the Bears have much bigger needs than adding a developmental tight end. However, it is a need that exists and one that not enough people are thinking about. If Chicago gets good value on Day 3 in this month’s draft, it might be beneficial for them to go after a tight end.
Here are six tight end prospects in the 2021 NFL Draft the Bears could consider as a successor to Graham and a long-term complement to Kmet.
Brevin Jordan, Miami (FL)
Widely viewed as a top-5 tight end in the 2021 draft and the third-ranked tight end on my board, Brevin Jordan likely isn’t an incredibly realistic option for the Bears. However, a less-than-ideal Pro Day showing could see him fall farther than expected.
Jordan’s measurement at 6-foot-2 1⁄2 is no surprise, but what is surprising is his underwhelming athletic testing. He came away with a below-average 4.62 20-yard shuttle and while his 4.69 40-yard dash would’ve placed fourth among last year’s tight ends at the 2020 Combine, it fell short of how he played on tape.
All that to say this, though, Jordan’s tape is really, really good. He’s a crisp route runner who brings good footwork and a sharp understanding of exploiting a defense’s weak spots in both man and coverage. He accelerates well off the snap and doesn’t have any wasted movements as a route runner. His ball skills and body control are impressive, and he showcases good effort as a blocker. He may tumble a little bit if teams overreact to his Pro Day outing, and if he ends up in the early Day 3 range, the Bears would be wise to consider taking a shot on him.
Tommy Tremble, Notre Dame
The Bears already have one Notre Dame tight end. Why not bring in another?
Tommy Tremble doesn’t have a breakout collegiate season to his name, having fewer than 20 catches in every season he played. What he lacks in production, he more than makes up for in upside and quality tape. Tremble is an athletic prospect who fires well off the snap and has the raw speed needed to stretch a defense vertically across the middle of the field. He shows off great fluidity on film and is able to flip his hips seamlessly when running routes. With elite speed and explosion numbers according to Kent Lee Platte’s RAS system, Tremble’s Pro Day matched his strengths on tape.
He’s smaller at 6-foot-3 and 241 pounds, and he doesn’t bring significant physicality at the catch point or at the point of attack as a run blocker. While he doesn’t project as a Day 1 starter, the Bears wouldn’t need him to be. He could go as high as the third round, but if he’s available by the time Chicago picks in Round 5 — or in Round 4 if they acquire a pick there — he could be great value. Bringing Tremble in as a “move” tight end to complement his former collegiate teammate could be a smart move if the value is right.
Kylen Granson, SMU
A converted wide receiver with good production at the collegiate level, Kylen Granson offers the athletic profile needed to be a solid pass-catching tight end in the pros.
Granson finished with 78 receptions, 1,257 yards and 14 touchdowns in his 22 games at tight end for SMU, including 9 touchdowns in 2019. He bursts well coming off the snap and has the long speed needed to stretch the field efficiently against linebackers and safeties. He offers crisp movements as a route runner, sinking his hips into his cuts and changing direction seamlessly. Granson’s body control allows him to contort himself to high point and attack the ball, and his fluidity makes him an effective seam threat.
He doesn’t offer great power at the point of attack as a run blocker, and his 6-foot-1, 241-pound frame isn’t necessarily ideal for the position at the next level. Concerns surrounding his size could see Granson fall into the sixth round, but if the Bears are willing to overlook that and take a shot on an athletic and polished receiving tight end, he could be a strong target for them.
Quintin Morris, Bowling Green
One of the top performers at this year’s Senior Bowl among tight ends, Quintin Morris brings plenty of explosiveness and a thickly-built frame.
A quicker tight end who ran a 4.66 40-yard dash at his Pro Day, Morris showcases really good burst off the snap. As a wide receiver who converted to tight end in 2020, his ball skills and fluidity converted to his new position as he’s packed on muscle. Morris is fluid across the middle of the field, squares up to the ball well and is coordinated when rolling his hips through contact as a run blocker. He brings very good thickness in his frame, and his compact frame allows him to bounce off of would-be tacklers pretty well.
Morris is another undersized tight end at 6-foot-2 and 243 pounds, and his physicality at the catch point can be limited by a relative lack of length. He also has minor issues with drops and keeping his pads low as a blocker. His athleticism is apparent on film, though, and the Bears may want to consider him in the fifth or sixth rounds.
Zach Davidson, Central Missouri
The Bears have shown a tendency towards targeting high-upside, small-school prospects late on Day 3, and Central Missouri’s Zach Davidson would be a perfect fit for that criterion.
Davidson, who also served as the Mules’ punter in the three seasons he played, exploded in 2019 with 40 catches for 894 yards and 15 touchdowns. He possesses a massive frame and catch radius at just under 6-foot-7 and 245 pounds, and he complements that with stellar ball skills. He does a very good job of squaring up to the ball and making the necessary adjustments to take the best possible angle to a throw in the air. That, combined with his huge frame, makes him dominant at the catch point. Davidson accelerates very well off the snap for someone as big as he is, and he does a good job of making defenders miss after the catch. Plus, with a stellar athletic profile from his Pro Day, he certainly has encouraging, tangible data to complement his film.
He’s a bit stiff in his lower half as both a route runner and as a blocker, and prior to 2019, he didn’t have great production at a Division II level. Davidson is raw and could stand to have a redshirt year or two before he takes on a bigger role in the NFL, but if the Bears are willing to be patient with his development, he could be a stellar long-term project in Round 6.
Shaun Beyer, Iowa
An explosive, fluid tight end out of Iowa who enters the NFL Draft with lackluster production — sound like anyone familiar?
While comparing Shaun Beyer to current George Kittle has a bit of a stretch, Beyer has quite a bit in common with the two-time Pro Bowler coming out of college. He is a very good athlete for the tight end position, accelerating well off the snap and showing great first-step quickness both out of the slot and in a three-point stance. He is crisp as a route runner and has very good explosion coming out of his breaks. Beyer’s ball skills are commendable, as he does a great job of tracking down the deep ball and squaring up to it. With plenty of experience blocking in a zone-scheme, he showcases good coordination and athleticism climbing to the second level in the run game.
Beyer doesn’t have tremendous power in his lower half as a run blocker, and he can struggle a little bit with facing contact at the top of his route. His career-high totals came in 2020 at just 11 catches for 158 yards and one touchdown, so he’s incredibly unproven as a high-volume pass-catcher. The tools are all there for him to succeed, though, and as a target in Rounds 5 or 6, Beyer could well outdo his collegiate production in a complementary role with the Bears.
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