Chicago Bears Mini-Camp – Undrafted Rookies to Watch
Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
The Bears rookie mini-camp finishes up today. Here is the full roster and here are links to my 3-part mini-camp roster breakdown (part 1, part 2, part 3). With 66 players in camp, half of which aren’t under contract, and limited spots available on the Bears 90 man roster, most of the unsigned players at mini-camp won’t be affiliated with the Bears come Monday. This was the most talent rich draft I’ve ever seen and there was plenty of NFL talent left after the draft, so this crop of unsigned free agents is more talented than usual. Already some teams like the Vikings have released rostered players to make more room for undrafted rookies. Normally only a handful of undrafted rookies stick around, but this year could be different. I am excited about some of these undrafted rookies and I’ve broken down the players by position that I think have the best shot of making the Bears final 53 or at least the practice squad.
QB – The Bears only brought in one undrafted QB, Adam Kennedy from Arkansas St. The Bears top three QBs are pretty much set with Cutler, Palmer, and Fales all but locks for the final 53, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the Bears kept a QB on the practice squad. Adam Kennedy doesn’t have the typical college resume of an NFL QB, he was a back-up at Utah St and couldn’t beat out Chuckie Keaton (who is pretty good). With one year left of eligibility and a degree from Utah St in hand, Kennedy transferred to Arkansas St. He was the starter from week 1 on and had a decent but unspectacular season (69%, 2341 yards, 11 TDs, 6 INTs). His numbers aren’t awe-inspiring, but they are more a reflection of Arkansas St’s run-heavy offense than Kennedy’s skill level. He is a good fit for what Emery & Trestman look for in a QB; Kennedy is tall (6’5) very accurate (69% career), has good poise in the pocket, adequate scrambling ability and an NFL caliber arm. He didn’t show it much in college, but Kennedy throws an impressive deep ball. He has the ability to be an accurate, mistake-free game manager type but with the arm strength and touch to air it out for one of the Bears deep weapons. Kennedy struggled with locking on to his primary receiver, but that seems like a fixable issues for the QB Whisperer Marc Trestman.
RB – After Matt Forte and Ka’Deem Carey, the running back position is wide open. RB Michael Ford made the team as an undrafted free agent last year after an impressive preseason, but the fact that the Bears used a 4th round pick on a running back tells me they don’t value him highly enough to be a the primary backup. That at least leaves the door open for a rookie to come in and give him some competition for his job. I like Ford and would be happy him as the 3rd running back, but he is a similar back to Carey in that they are both tough runners without break-away speed. There is one back at the mini-camp that does have break-away speed and that is Senorise Perry out of Louisville. I thought he had a chance to get drafted and figured at worst he would be a priority UDFA. Somehow Perry slipped through the cracks and ended up in the Bears camp without a contract. I watched a lot of film on Teddy Bridgewater during draft season and Perry consistently stood out. He was part of a running back rotation at Louisville so never put up huge numbers and nagging injuries kept him on the bench too often, but when he did play he was impressive. Perry has elite speed (4.35), can make people miss in the open field, and is a smooth receiver out of the backfield. He can block a little as well which we know Bears management considers a must have skill. Perry only had 289 carries during his college career, so his legs are fresh and he could give the Bears a dynamic home run hitter out of the backfield that they haven’t had in a long time (Neal Anderson?). Perry also excels on special reams as a gunner and has some kick return experience. If he can out play Ford on special teams and break a couple of long runs in the pre-season, I think he has a chance to make the roster as the 3rd RB or at least the practice squad.
WR – With Marquees Wilson expected to take over the #3 WR role, the Bears three starting receivers and primary TE are all 6’3 or above. That is going to give Jay Cutler plenty of big targets down-field or outside the hash marks, but what they don’t have is a quick underneath receiver. B-Marsh, Jeffery, and Wilson aren’t slow, but they are long striders, not shifty, quick-twitch types. The Bears could use an underneath slot receiver to balance out the massive weapons and punish defenses for playing both safeties deep. Earl Bennett was supposed to be that guy but injuries and off-field issues kept him from improving on a strong rookie season and he was always more of a possession receiver than a guy who could catch a short pass over the middle and gain yards. There were a handful of late round receivers I thought would be good complements to the Bears current receiving core, but they were all snatched up by other squads. The Bears did manage to bring in a couple of interesting prospects who fit the slot receiver profile I mentioned earlier. Of those, WR Diontae Spencer from McNeese St is the guy with the best chance to make the team. He’s small, but lightning fast (4.27) and is more than just a track guy. Spencer put up good numbers last season (50, 835, 10) and despite his small frame is a tough football player (13 reps of 225). He has the ability to catch a slant or bubble screen and take it to the house. What is going to decide Spencer’s fate is his ability to return kicks and punts. Losing Devin Hester leaves a big hole on special teams, but Spencer has the ability to fill it. As a kick/punt returner, he had 3 returns for TDs the last two seasons. I had the Bears taking Dri Archer in every mock draft I did because I thought the Bears not only needed a replacement for Hester but that Marc Trestman needed a speedy multi-purpose weapon to open up the playbook a little. We all know Hester wasn’t the quickest learner, but if the Bears can find a dangerous return man who also has the ability to contribute as a slot receiver and the football smarts to be able contribute in trick plays and unusual formations, the Bears offense will be even more dangerous. I think Spencer could be that guy.