Bears draft preview: Impressive Jerell Adams could fill TE void

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South Carolina tight end Jerell Adams. (AP)

Part 4 of a 10-part series previewing the NFL draft, which begins April 28 at the Auditorium Theatre.

South Carolina’s pro day in March felt personal to tight end Jerell Adams. With six tight ends coaches from NFL teams in attendance, including the Bears’ Frank Smith, how could it not?

“It felt pretty good,” Adams said in a phone interview. “I felt like I did pretty well, too, even though I did have two drops.”

Adams is one of the top-rated tight ends in this year’s draft. He visited two teams last week and he spoke to all of the tight end coaches at South Carolina’s pro day.

What did he think of Smith?

“He’s a cool coach,” Adams said. “I really liked him a lot.”

The Bears, of course, are eyeing tight ends in the draft after trading Martellus Bennett to the Patriots. Adams would improve a mix that’s led by veteran Zach Miller.

Adams, who is 6-5 and 247 pounds, followed up a solid week at the Senior Bowl with an impressive showing at the NFL Scouting Combine. He led all tight ends in the 40-yard dash (4.64 seconds), 20-yard shuttle (4.31) and 60-yard shuttle (11.52).

But Adams thinks what truly separates him from other tight ends in the draft is his blocking. Pro Football Focus rated him as one of the best blocking tight ends in the country. Adams said he’s eager to do it.

“I feel like what makes me stand out the most is that I can block and I can catch very well,” Adam said. “There’s a lot of tight ends who have strengths at just one.

“I actually love blocking. I feel like if I have a better game blocking it turns over into a good game catching. I love sticking my hand in the dirt.”

Adams wasn’t part of a prolific offense at South Carolina. He made only 28 catches for 421 yards and three touchdowns last season for the Gamecocks, who featured three different quarterbacks.

Scouts see upside in Adams as a pass catcher. He said he’s been working at staying low while running routes and other fundamentals.

“There’s some work to be done,” he said.

Overall, the tight end class isn’t regarded too highly. But Adams doesn’t pay much attention to such criticisms. He’s done plenty to stand out on his own.

“People are going to think what they want to think,” Adams said. “Everyone has their own opinion. I don’t really entertain that top of stuff. I just focus on being the best that I can be.”

POSITION SPOTLIGHT – TIGHT END

Rating Bears’ need: High

The Bears’ decision to trade Martellus Bennett had more to do with what he does off than on it. They were no longer willing to tolerate Bennett’s penchant for creating conflict. He frustrated two coaching staffs.

Still, Bennett’s departure leaves a void on the field. He made 208 catches for 2,114 yards and 14 touchdowns over three seasons.

Zach Miller is the Bears’ No. 1 tight end after getting a two-year contract full of incentives. He had 34 catches for 439 yards and five touchdowns last season. But after Miller, the Bears need more than Rob Housler and Khari Lee.

The Bears tried to add Josh Hill, but the Saints matched the Bears’ offer sheet for the restricted free agent.

Best of the best

Arkansas’ Hunter Henry (6-5, 250 pounds) is far from a finished product but NFL.com likens him to Cowboys star Jason Witten.

Henry could be a real option for the Bears in second round with the 41st overall pick. He met with the Bears at the combine and had a predraft visit.

Henry needs to improve as a blocker, but already excels as a route-runner, making 116 catches for 1,661 yards and nine touchdowns over three seasons at Arkansas.

Other options

General manager Ryan Pace characterized the tight end class as OK, but South Carolina’s Jerell Adams, Stanford’s Austin Hooper, Western Kentucky’s Tyler Higbee and Ohio State’s Nick Vannett will be on draft boards.

Higbee’s draft stock took a significant hit after he was arrested earlier this week in Ohio following an altercation at a bar. He was charged with second-degree assault, alcohol intoxication in a public place and fleeing/evading police.

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