It’s almost a consensus that the Chicago Bears had a strong 2016 draft. GM Ryan Pace was able to take the best player available with most of his picks, while still filling plenty of needs for the Bears. Of course it helped that the Bears have a lot of needs, but it was still an impressive performance during the draft for the young GM.
The Bears actually had so many needs on both sides of the ball that it would have been impossible for Pace to fill them all even with nine draft picks at his disposal. There were a still a few thin positions that weren’t addressed in the draft, specifically tight end and cornerback, but Pace was able to add the top tight end and two of the top five corners among the undrafted player pool.
Pace had some success last year in the undrafted free agent portion of the draft finding a starting nickel corner in Bryce Callahan, two inside linebackers who each started multiple games in John Timu and Jonathan Anderson, a promising corner who ended the year on the active roster in Jacoby Glenn, and wide receiver Cam Meredith who caught 11 passes for 120 yards.
Compared to what most teams get from their UDFAs, it was an impressive haul for Pace in his first year as a GM. The Bears did have more holes in their rotation than most teams which forced some of Pace’s picks onto the field before they were ready, but all of the players except maybe Meredith and Timu should be on the roster next year.
So how did Pace do with his UDFA signings this year? I’ll break down the Bears 2016 undrafted free agents below.
Bears 2016 Undrafted Free Agents
TE Ben Braunecker, Harvard (6’3 | 250 | 4.73) – The Bears are very thin at the tight end position, which is part of the reason I had Braunecker in my top three best available for the Bears from round five on (with Braverman & Scooby Wright). The rest of the reason is that I’m intrigued by Braunecker’s athleticism, smarts, and ability as a receiver.
I already covered Braunecker at length when the signing was announced and you can get a more detailed breakdown there, but in short… Braunecker finished in the top five among tight ends in all seven combine events he participated in. If that wasn’t impressive enough, his combine results are almost an exact match for Rob Gronkowski’s pro day results. So much so that Braunecker was given the nickname, Bronk.
Braunecker is more than just a workout warrior though, he had a breakout season at Harvard in 2015 with 48 catches for 850 yards (17.7 ypc) and 8 touchdowns. He’s got the speed to stretch the seem and was a beast after the catch albeit against sub-par competition in the Ivy League. He’s also a tough, willing blocker who has the size, strength, speed, and intangibles to develop into a 3-down tight end at the NFL level.
CB Kevin Peterson, Oklahoma St (5’10 | 181 | 4.58) – If I wasn’t so excited about Bronk, I may have had Peterson as the Bears best UDFA. He was a team captain and three-year starter in the pass-happy Big12 conference.
Peterson would have been a lock to be drafted after a solid 2014 season or even after the first half of 2015 when he gave up just five catches through the first seven games of the season (PFF). He held his own against Josh Doctson, Corey Coleman, and Sterling Shepard before an ankle injury slowed him down in the 2nd half of 2015.
Peterson struggled late in the year and may not have been 100% at the combine where he ran a 4.66. He doesn’t look that slow on tape and won two track state championships in high school in the 100 meters (10.86) and 200 meters (22.21), so speed shouldn’t be a major concern. Peterson’s recent injuries (knee, ankle) and slight frame are probably more of a worry for most teams.
He’ll need to bulk up to play anywhere but the slot at the next level, but is a solid open-field tackler and the skill-set is there for him to play outside if he can put some weight on. Peterson is a talented cover corner with a track record of success against good competition and solid ball skills (5 INTs, 23 PDs). Considering the Bears lack of depth at corner, Peterson has a legitimate shot to earn snaps early in his career.
Next: More UDFAs