Player to Watch – Ben Braunecker
I’ve already covered Braunecker in a few posts and am clearly high on his potential as an NFL tight end. I had a 4th-5th round grade on him in the draft and think the Bears got a steal signing him as their most expensive undrafted free agent.
Braunecker came out of nowhere last season to dominate the Ivy League with 850 receiving yards (17.7 ypc) and eight touchdowns. He has good size (6’3, 250) and was a tough, effective blocker, but it’s his speed (4.73), athleticism, and receiving ability that stands out.
At the combine Braunecker competed in seven events and finished in the top five among tight ends in all seven. His combine numbers put to rest any doubts about his athleticism and even drew comparisons to what Rob Gronkowski did at his pro day in Arizona. Gronk has a couple inches of height on Braunecker, but their numbers match up pretty well. They are close enough that Braunecker was even given a new nickname, Bronk.
It’s a big leap from the Ivy League to the NFL, but Braunecker has the athleticism to play in the NFL, the willingness to block, and the receiving skills to be a weapon in the passing game. It might not happen in 2016, but Braunecker has the potential to be a solid starter at tight end in the near future.
Summary – The Bears don’t have much established talent at the tight end position, but they definitely have some interesting options. Maybe veteran Tony Moeaki is finally healthy and plays like he did early in his career? Or Ben Braunecker’s dominance in the Ivy league translates to the NFL? Or Khari Lee shows why GM Ryan Pace traded for him last season? Or maybe Scruggs is a natural at tight end?
There are more question marks than answers right now, but training camp should sort things out and the Bears have enough players with upside at the position that hopefully three to four players step up and separate themselves from the pack.
My prediction for the position is that Zach Miller stays healthy and has a breakout season, Rob Housler gets hurt again (the odds of them both staying healthy are pretty slim) and is released, Khari Lee becomes a solid blocker and safety valve receiver as the #2 TE, while Ben Brauncecker surprises everyone during training camp and makes the final-53 as the Bears third tight end. On the practice squad the Bears keep both Gannon Sinclair and Joe Sommers due to injury concerns and the possibility of using a fullback more often in 2016.