I admit that it's probably foolish even to try this exercise before OTAs begin, let alone training camp, but It's always fun to guess what the Chicago Bears roster will look like come Opening Day. Before beginning, I will say that I firmly believe that sometime in the next few weeks there will be at least two veteran additions to the current roster. One will be a speed pass rusher, and the other could be that the Bears decide to bring back safety DeAndre Houston-Carson. One more speed rusher is badly needed on this roster, and Houston-Carson is a very reliable vet who excels on special teams and plays well when needed.
Today we will look at the projected offensive roster, and later in the week, I'll write up the defense.
Judging from past seasons, the Bears will, at least early on, keep just two quarterbacks on the 53, and that will be Justin Fields and P.J. Walker. The third quarterback will be on the practice squad. Fields is ready for a breakout year, and Walker is an athletic and accurate backup who can win games if he has to play.
There is going to be some wild competition this summer for the usual four running back slots. One will go to fullback Khari Blasingame who is an important part of Offensive Coordinator Luke Getsy's offense because of his blocking and pass-catching skills. There will be five backs competing for the other three spots. Third-year vet Khalil Herbert is the leader to be RB1 early in the season. Herbert is an explosive runner but needs to improve his pass blocking and receiving skills.
D'Onta Foreman was signed in free agency and is a big power back with speed (sub 4.50). Last year Foreman had his best season running for 914 yards. He'll compliment Herbert well. Another vet signed in free agency was Travis Homer, and don't underestimate his ability. While he has never put up big numbers, this is a player that General Manager Ryan Poles really wanted. While not the biggest guy, he has speed, is a very reliable receiver, and a very good pass blocker, to go along with very good special teams ability.
Rookie Roschon Johnson, the fourth-round pick from Texas, was one of the steals of the Draft. Had he not been in the same team as Bijan Robinson, Johnson would have more than likely been a second-round pick. There is no weakness to his game.
The fourth running back is Trestan Ebner, the second-year man from Baylor. Ebner has all kinds of speed but only flashed as a rookie. If he wants to challenge for a roster spot, he has to come on strong this summer.
There is quality at this position but not great depth. The lead tight end will be Cole Kmet, who had a strong year in 2022 with 50 receptions and seven TDs. His numbers should only improve with this being his second year in the scheme.
Former Packer Robert Tonyan was signed in free agency, and much is expected from him. While Kmet is the Y, Tonyan will be the move TE. He is fast and athletic and has put up excellent numbers in the past. Last year in Green Bay he had 53 receptions. Those two make the position the strongest it's been in years.
The likelihood is three tight ends will be kept. That means holdovers Jake Tonges and Chase Allen will compete for the third roster spot. At this time, Tonges has the advantage because he can play fullback and tight end. Allen is a player the coaches liked. He needed to get stronger from last year, and we'll see shortly if he did. Veteran tight end Stephen Carlson was recently added after a tryout, and he'll be in the mix for a spot.
In one off-season, the Bears' wide receiver corps went from a weakness to a strength. As part of the trade down from pick number one, the Bears acquired D.J. Moore from Carolina. Moore is one of the better outside receivers in the League. He put up huge numbers with basically no quarterback at Carolina the last four seasons. Moore can do for Fields and the Bears' offense what Stefon Diggs did for Buffalo when he was acquired four years ago.
Chase Claypool did not do much after being acquired at the trade deadline last year. Both he and Fields had some injury issues and never developed any kind of chemistry. With a full off-season to work together that will change. Ryan Poles expected big numbers from him at 6'4 – 235 with 4.42 speed; Claypool will be the X wide receiver.
For most of his career, Darnell Mooney has played outside. This year I feel both he and Moore will flip-flop between the Z and slot positions. Matchups will determine where each lines up. Mooney has been a top receiver since being drafted four years ago and will just keep getting better.
Most clubs keep six receivers on the active roster, and as I see it, there are four players for those last three slots. Equanimeous St. Brown didn't put up great numbers, but he is the best blocker of the group, can play teams, and is reliable when called up. At 6'5 – 215 he is the ideal backup for Claypool at X.
Velus Jones was a third-round pick and from a numbers standpoint disappointed as a rookie, but with a year in the system, he should take a big step in 2023. You can't teach his speed (4.31) as he is one of the fastest receivers in the League.
Rookie Tyler Scott is a clone of Darnell Mooney in that they are about the same size and speed and have a similar skill set. Scott can back up Mooney in the slot. Scott plays much faster than his 4.4 Combine speed and in fact, ran a 4.37 at his Pro Day.
Dante Pettis had a very good season for the Bears last year. After being a second-round pick back in 2018, he struggled. He was signed late by the Bears and took advantage of the opportunity. He became the Bears' top Punt returner and was, for the most part, reliable when used as a receiver. He will have an uphill battle to make this Bears squad, but because he can produce on special teams, it helps his cause.
One thing of note, this receiver group is one of the fastest, if not the fastest, in the League from top to bottom. The slow guy in the group is St. Brown, and he runs a 4.48. Three have been timed under 4.40 (Mooney, Tyler, and Scott), while the others have all been timed in the 4.42 range. I don't remember a Bears WR group being this fast.
It was imperative that Ryan Poles upgrade this group, and he did. During free agency, the plan was to sign a right tackle, but that didn't materialize. Instead, they signed veteran guard Nate Davis who was one of the better guards available. When the Bears failed to sign a tackle, everyone knew that a right tackle would be a high priority in the Draft. With the 10th pick in the first round the Bears selected powerful right tackle Darnell Wright. Wright will be a plug-and-play player for the Bears. Between Wright and Davis, the Bears' right side of the line is very athletic.
The left side of the line will be manned by second-year man Braxton Jones at left tackle and third-year pro Tevin Jenkins as left guard. Jones was the surprise of last year's rookie class as he played every offensive snap despite being a fifth-round pick. Jones' athletic traits are rare. His weakness was lower body strength to anchor. With a full off-season in the Bears' strength program, that weakness will be alleviated.
Tevin Jenkins was a tackle all through college but was moved inside to guard last year. Though he missed some time with injuries, when healthy there was no doubt he was one of the better and most physical guards in the League. He should have no problem switching to the left side as he has a lot of experience at left tackle.
As I write this, who will be the center has not been determined. On paper, it is former guard and center Cody Whitehair who has several years of experience at the center position. Center is actually his more natural position, and he will be a huge upgrade over Sam Mustipher. Lukas Patrick will compete for the starting job with Whitehair. At Green Bay in 2020 and 2021 his tape at center was very strong playing for Green Bay. Last year he was bothered by injuries all year and ended up playing just one-quarter of one game at center. If he can regain his 2021 form, he very well could beat out Whitehair.
Most clubs keep eight or nine OLinemen in the 53. The backups have to be versatile and be able to play more than one position. Most clubs only dress seven linemen on gameday, so it's imperative that the sixth and seventh guy can play multiple positions.
In camp, there should be some quality competition for the remaining jobs along the line. Larry Borom is going into his third year. He has started games at both left and right tackle, and though he isn't what we want as a starter, he can be a capable backup. He also has some experience at guard. The loser of the Whitehair/Patrick competition will be the top backup at guard and center.
Free agent rookie Gabe Houy from Pitt is a quality signing. His tape is very good, as he is athletic and nasty. His problem was keeping healthy. If he stays healthy, he has a very good chance of sticking and perhaps beating out Borom. Last year the Bears drafted Ja'Tyre Carter from Southern University. Carter was a tackle in college and had to make the conversion to guard. He is extremely strong as well as very athletic, and I'd be surprised if he wasn't on the 53. It wouldn't surprise me if he sees some work at center in OTAs and training camp.
If the Bears keep nine linemen, the ninth guy could very well be Deiter Eiselen. This will be Eiselein's fourth year in camp, and he has shown improvement every year. Coming from the Ivy League, he had to make a big adjustment but judging by how he played towards the end of last year, he may finally be comfortable.