2020 NFL Draft: Bears look to find tight end in class with no obvious stars

This could be the first draft since 2016 without a first-round tight end. That’s not such a bad thing for the Bears, who don’t pick until No. 43.

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Purdue’s Brycen Hopkins is one of several tight ends the Bears are scouting at the Senior Bowl this week.

Purdue’s Brycen Hopkins is one of several tight ends the Bears are scouting at the Senior Bowl this week.

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MOBILE, Ala. — Every team wants a versatile pass-catching tight end, but in Matt Nagy’s offense, it’s a necessity. So while there are many reasons why the Bears’ offense was abysmal this season, that spot was the biggest issue outside of quarterback.

It’s a top priority this offseason, and it would behoove the Bears to find a quality contributor in the draft rather than spend big on free agency when Trey Burton is already on a sizable contract.

That’s going to be tricky this year. There’s a chance this could be the first draft without a tight end picked in the first round since 2016. Considering the Bears don’t have a first-round pick, maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

Their first selection is a second-rounder at No. 43 overall, followed by No. 50, then nothing until the fifth round. The Senior Bowl has a few tight ends worth considering with those earlier picks, as well as some late-round candidates.

Vanderbilt’s Jared Pinkney and Purdue’s Brycen Hopkins are potential second-round targets the Bears have been scouting this week. Small-school prospects Harrison Bryant of Florida Atlantic and Adam Trautman of Dayton are of interest, too.

Pinkney has the potential to be the top tight end in the class, though Notre Dame’s Cole Kmet is the consensus choice. Pinkney said he told the Bears he can be “any type of tight end a team needs” and tries to pattern himself after NFL standouts Travis Kelce, George Kittle, Austin Hooper and Zach Ertz.

“I can theoretically become a great mixture of all of them,” he said.

Pinkney had a breakout season as a junior with 774 yards and seven touchdowns, but opted to return to Vanderbilt after evaluators told him he probably wouldn’t be a first-round pick.

That move backfired football-wise — another aspect of his decision was getting his degree from one of the most prestigious schools in the country — and he had only 20 catches for 233 yards and two touchdowns last season. 

“I want to show that junior year wasn’t an outlier,” Pinkney said. “It wasn’t a fluke.”

Hopkins, conversely, rose steadily throughout his time at Purdue before delivering 830 yards and seven touchdowns as a senior.

The Bears got burned by a small-school tight end when they drafted Adam Shaheen 45th overall in 2017, but there’s a lot to like about Trautman. He is 6-6, 253 pounds and, like Burton, is a former quarterback.

Most tight ends don’t start out playing the position and get steered there by coaches, but Trautman’s path was particularly unusual. Two years into his time a as quarterback at Dayton, he asked to switch.

“In a way, it was the fastest way to the field, but I wasn’t running from competition,” Trautman said. “We had a three-year starter at tight end, so it wasn’t like, ‘Oh, I’m never going to play at quarterback, so I’m gonna go over here to tight end and try it out.’ It was because I wanted to bring a new dynamic to the position and open up something new in our offense.”

It was a gutsy call that paid off for him and the program. Trautman caught 70 passes for 916 yards and 14 touchdowns last season.

Bears offensive assistant Shane Toub, a fellow Dayton product, gave him a shout-out on Twitter this week, and Trautman said

he has talked with the team “several times.”

“They’re interested in me and they tell me they like what they see,” he said. “And I like the history of the organization. It’s almost second-to-none.”

The bigger concern for the Bears is their future, which is tenuous for Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace at the moment. Nagy lamented the tight-end issues throughout last season. The Bears’ group collectively managed 416 yards and two touchdowns on 46 catches. Finding someone who can change that immediately and for the long term is paramount.

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