The Chicago Bears opened the 2021 season with five tight ends on the 53-man roster, Cole Kmet, Jimmy Graham, Jesse James, J.P. Holtz, and Jesper Horsted, but only one of those guys are still around. The shift to a new offensive scheme has something to do with that, as does the team’s decision to utilize a fullback this year, so it’ll interesting to follow this position battle to see how many tight ends the Bears open up with.
Cole Kmet is a polarizing player amongst Bears fans. Some think he’s vastly overrated, while others have him pegged as a future pro bowler, but as usual there’s logic to be found between those two sentiments. From a purely statistical standpoint, Kmet just finished a top ten all-time season from a tight end in Bears history. His goose egg in the TD category needs to be improved upon, but with red zone hog Jimmy Graham out of the picture I’m sure he’ll have a few more opportunities to score.
The 23-year old Kmet has worked hard this offseason to ready himself for the new offense, and I expect him to build off the success he had a year ago. “You kind of see how the tight end’s involved in the run scheme,” Kmet said after an OTA earlier this year, “and, off of that, the play-action movements and all those type of things can be really advantageous for tight ends.”
Tight ends in variations of this scheme have been able to thrive, so Kmet understands the opportunity he has in front of him. He was kind of caught between being a Y and a U in the old offense, but now he has a more defined role.
The Bears brought in two veteran free agents with a similar style, and both Ryan Griffin and O’Shaughnessy should find a place on the 2022 team, but Griffin’s spot on the roster seems more secure
The 32-year old Griffin (6’6”, 255) has 67 starts in 119 career games with plenty of experience on special teams too. He’s a solid blocker lining up as a Y, but also comfortable working in a 2-point stance from the bunch set slot, so the Bears could get him on the move as a lead blocker on some plays. Griffin also signed for about $500,000 more than O’Shaughnessy — with some guaranteed money to boot — so that should give you an idea how the team sees these two. Griffin could be the Bears version of Marcedes Lewis who has been Green Bay’s veteran blocking tight end for a few years.
A good bet to make it
O’Shaughnessy (6’4”, 245) attended Naperville North High School, which is about 30 miles west of Chicago, and during his career he has 40 starts in 80 career games. The 30-year old is comfortable lining up in various spots in an offense, he’s a decent blocker, and has special teams experience.
Neither of these two veteran additions are electric playmakers, but both provide some stability and insurance at the position.
The other three tight ends on the team could be battling for a fourth spot on the roster or a place on the 16-man practice squad.
On the bubble
Free agent Rysen John was brought in after a couple years with the Giants where he spent time on their injured reserve and their practice squad. The former UDFA from Canada’s Simon Fraser University is a converted wide receiver with the size (6’7”, 227) and speed (4.6 forty) to be a move-TE. He could be an intriguing mismatch, but there’s a lot of unknown about his game
Undrafted rookies Chase Allen (6’6’, 251) and Jake Tonges (6’4”, 240) have different styles and will try to impress in their own way. Allen is probably the better blocker of the two and would project to the Y, while Tonges is a better athlete and could bring value if the Bears want to play him like a U.
Keeping a fullback this year could cut into the number of tight ends the team carries, but I see five sticking around between the 53 and the practice squad.
How many of these tight ends do you think make the cut this season?