Part 6 of a 10-part series previewing the NFL draft.He grew up listening to his father tell stories about Walter Payton. So when E.J. Bibbs walked into Halas Hall for the first time earlier this month, part of the Bears’ local pro day, he looked for signs — and shrines — of “Sweetness.” The Bogan High School and Iowa State found the Lombardi Trophy, too, awarded after the Super Bowl XX victory, and worked out with Bears tight ends coach Frank Smith.
“It was actually overwhelming,’ he said. “Going into the facility and walking around, it was different.”
The product of two Cook County Sheriffs deputies and from a CPS high school, Bibbs knows he’s in a unique position after being named to the All-Big 12 first team as a senior.
“Growing up, I was trying to be the next Michael Jordan,” he said. “Chicago basketball is known more than football. I give credit to my mom and dad for letting me stick through football these past years.
“It’s like a dream come true. Coming from Chicago, there’s not a lot of guys that have done what I’ve done.”
The 6-2, 258-pounder is a fifth- to seventh-round pick, according to ESPN’s Mel Kiper, Jr., who characterized him as probably the ninth or 10th best tight end in an underwhelming draft class headlined by Minnesota’s Maxx Williams.
Bibbs caught 45 passes for 382 yards and a whopping eight touchdowns as a senior, and finished his two-year ISU stint with 84 catches for 844 yards.
After growing up idolizing the Chargers’ Antonio Gates, Bibbs spurred a Bogan turnaround — as a senior, his team went undefeated during the regular season — before going to Arizona Western for two seasons.
He did not play in the Senior Bowl or run at the NFL Scouting Combine because of a knee injury. Twenty-seven teams visited the Cyclones’ pro day, though, and watched him run a 4.86 40-yard dash.
Bibbs, who can play special teams and might even profile as a pro fullback, said he was told to work on blocking and catching the ball over his shoulder the last month or so.
“A kid who obviously has talent,” Kiper Jr. said of Bibbs. “We saw that in a lot of games this year. I’ve had him in my top ten tight ends pretty much the entire way.”
If the Bears select a tight end, it will probably come on the last day, given their satisfaction with starter Martellus Bennett.
In that case, Bibbs could fit.
He’s been training and finishing his semester at ISU, but will head home to watch the draft with family. He said he’s not tempted to head downtown to view the festivities.
Until then, he’s not tempted to Google himself, or his draft prospects.
“I’ll let everybody else talk,” he said. “I’m just at the end of the day, once the draft comes and someone picks me up, ‘OK, there we go.’”
POSITION SPOTLIGHT: TIGHT END
Rating the Bears’ need: Low
Say one thing for the Bears: they have a tight end.
No tight end in the game caught more regular season passes than Martellus Bennett, a rare bright spot in a lost season. He set career highs with 90 catches, 128 targets, 916 receiving yards and six touchdowns, earning his first Pro Bowl berth.
He continued to develop a rapport with Jay Cutler and, with Brandon Marshall gone and Matt Forte likely catching fewer passes than he did in his record-setting season, could be more involved than ever this year. Under new Bears offensive coordinator Adam Gase, then-Broncos tight end Julius Thomas went to Pro Bowls the last two seasons.
The Bears will draft a meaningful tight end only if Gase is enamored with formations that regularly involve two tight ends. The team re-signed Dante Rosario, the team’s backup the past two seasons, as well as Zach Miller, who starred in the last training camp before breaking his foot.
Best of the best
Minnesota’s Maxx Williams is everybody’s choice for the top tight end in a weak class. The 6-4, 249-pounder caught 36 passes for 569 yards and eight scores as a redshirt sophomore last year. With the ability to flex out wide, Williams could go in the second round, ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said.
Third-day options feature a bevy of local names —Notre Dame’s Ben Koyack, SIU’s MyCole Pruitt to Chicago native E.J. Bibbs of Iowa State.