With the dust still settling on the 2022 draft, there is still a lot of team activity to be had before the season even starts. Even guessing as to who is going to stick on the roster and make it to the initial 90, let alone the final 53, is probably to risk an analytical false start worthy of Germain Ifedi. However, the fan in me can’t help but look at some of the players the team has on tap right now and hope that I see the building blocks for the future. No, the roster isn’t put together yet, but these are still some neat Lego bricks to work with.
Therefore, knowing nothing more about what the teams look like, here are three players that I’m excited to follow for the next few months and one player who interests me only in the sense that I want to be wrong about my concerns.
In an unusual move for me, I’m going to get the one player with the biggest concerns out of the way so that I can try to focus on the positive.
71st selection in the 2022 NFL Draft PR/KR Velus Jones
Jones is a 25-year-old who averaged under 240 yards per season in the receiving game across his six years in college. As someone who went to grad school, too, I am not doubting the value of his intellectual pursuits. However, there is no sign that he mastered a playbook as part of his master’s thesis. He has measurables and is objectively fast, but the NFL is not kind to receivers with poor route trees who rely on physical mismatches in college. Multiple receivers who seem to be more NFL-ready were drafted after him, including players who went later enough that the Bears could have traded down for–and yes, given the way the draft went, we come as close to knowing a trade would have been available as it is possible to be.
Pessimistic Projection: Injured catching a 50/50 ball in Week 4, only to come back in 2023 two steps slower. On the upside, he publishes a monograph on Monsanto’s failure to educate the public on the advantages of BT corn subsidies relating to ethanol prices.
More Likely Outcome: 30ish total returns for 600 yards and a touchdown, with another 400 yards from scrimmage and two more touchdowns both in live-game situations. In other words, he will probably be fine, but I will probably always compare him to David Bell, Jalen Tolbert, and Khalil Shakir–one of whom will break out and be the irrational point of comparison despite landing in a completely different situation.
That said, here are three players who I think it might be fun to watch in 2022:
Free Agent acquisition WR Equanimeous St. Brown
St. Brown has a body type that has traditionally done well for boundary receivers in the NFL. He has a large frame and the ability to use his catch radius to his advantage. He was projected to become an average NFL receiver or at least a legitimate WR3. Instead, he has been a disappointment–or at least as much of a disappointment as a 6th-rounder can be. However, the table is now set for him to live up to his very modest billing. He is no longer on a team with Davante Adams, Allen Lazard, and Marquez Valdez-Scantling. His competitors for the always-coveted third receiver spot on the Chicago Bears will be players who have yet to take a snap in the NFL and journeymen pros with less experience in Getsy’s system.
Optimistic Projection: 27 receptions on 45 targets with 400 yards and 2 touchdowns.
More Likely Outcome: Survives the cutdown to 53 but is never as well-liked or as productive as a UDFA from Buffalo Grove who signs this upcoming Tuesday. Playing for his third team by 2023, still somehow in the NFC North.
174th selection in the 2022 NFL Draft EDGE Dominique Robinson
Want a guy who is determined to play football? Robinson is a former quarterback who became a wide receiver who became an edge rusher. He will struggle to crack a starting lineup, especially with his frame, but every team in the league needs rotational pass rushers to give their starters a break. This is what late-round picks are for in many ways. Besides, as a thought exercise it’s fun to imagine him switching roles multiple times and adding additional elements to his game.
Optimistic Projection: 2 sacks, 3 TFLs, and then converted to a tight end at the bye week with another 21 receptions on 32 targets with 350 yards and 3 touchdowns (let’s throw in a 23-yard pass on a fake punt to pick up a first down). He becomes best friends with Cole Kmet and the two form an unstoppable 1-2 punch on 22 personnel.
More Likely Outcome: 1 sack and 6 total tackles with an extra 50-80 snaps on special teams. He’s a solid rotational DE by 2023.
203rd selection in the 2022 NFL Halfback Trestan Ebner
If you would have told me heading into the draft that I was going to be interested to see how the kid drafted from Baylor played for the Bears, I might have expressed mild surprise that Chicago went with Jalen Pitre early enough to take him or perhaps excited that Tyquan Thornton fell enough to be the pick later on. I might have been thinking “so they gambled on JT Woods in the fifth?” Any of those picks would have been interesting to me. However, Trestan Ebner is an interesting prospect in his own right. Continuing the trend (with only a single year of data, so that’s a weak argument in itself) set by Robinson that Poles likes multifunctional players, he’s a converted wide receiver. As such, he should have the hands to be a threat on third downs, and while I do not see him ever becoming a true multi-purpose back, I can easily see him sharing the load with Khalil Herbert in similar playcall situations.
Optimistic Projection: 120 touches and 560 all-purpose yards with two touchdowns, plus a fumble recovery from a strip sack where he saves the game.
More Likely Outcome: Cut and sent to the practice squad wherein everyone freaks out that he will be poached, but it’s fine. He comes back and is a solid special-teams player in 2023 after working on his blocking and lateral movement, serving on a return team featuring Velus Jones.