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Draft analysis: Bears still need help at tight end

Even with 10 tight ends on the roster after signing Jimmy Graham in free agency, the Bears don’t know precisely what they have at a crucial position in coach Matt Nagy’s offense. 

Notre Dame tight end Cole Kmet (84) blossomed as a junior in 2019 — he had 43 receptions for 515 yards and six touchdowns after coming into the season without 17 catches for 176 yards and no touchdown in his first two years.
Notre Dame tight end Cole Kmet (84) blossomed as a junior in 2019 — he had 43 receptions for 515 yards and six touchdowns after coming into the season without 17 catches for 176 yards and no touchdown in his first two years.
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Part 3 of a 10-part series previewing the NFL Draft and analyzing the Bears’ needs.

The Bears have 10 tight ends on their roster, the most in the NFL and double the league average. But coming off a season in which they were at or near the bottom of the NFL in production at the position — 46 receptions for 416 yards and two touchdowns — there’s always room for more. They have quantity; they need quality.

Despite signing Jimmy Graham and Demetrius Harris in free agency, the Bears very well might be in the market for a tight end in the draft, even with one of their two second-round picks. For one thing, even with 10 tight ends on the roster, the Bears don’t know precisely what they have.

The top three tight ends on their roster are question marks. Trey Burton played in only eight games last season because of complications from a groin injury that flared up before the wild-card playoff game after the 2018 season. Adam Shaheen, a second-round pick (45th overall) in 2017, has missed a combined 18 games the last two seasons and has underperformed when healthy. And Graham’s production has declined in recent seasons.

The tight end class in the 2020 draft isn’t considered to be particularly strong. Notre Dame’s Cole Kmet, a former football and baseball standout at St. Viator, is the consensus top prospect, but he’s projected to go in the second round — possibly late in the first. Kmet fits the classic mold of the blocking/receiving tight end, which is likely to be a particularly hot commodity after the exponential success of the 49ers’ George Kittle the last two seasons.

Dayton’s Adam Trautman might be the most intriguing tight end prospect in the draft — a small-school player rising up mock-draft boards. The 6-5, 255-pound Trautman is a former option quarterback who started playing tight end as a freshman and bulked up to become a matchup nightmare at the FCS level. He had 70 receptions for 916 yards and 14 touchdowns last season. But after coming up empty with Shaheen out of tiny Ashland (Ohio) in 2017, drafting Trautman would appear to be too dicey for the Bears.

For what it’s worth, tight end is one position where not having a first-round pick isn’t a major obstacle. Several of the best tight ends in the NFL in the last 10 years were drafted in the second round or later, including Rob Gronkowski (second), Travis Kelce (third), Kittle (fifth), Graham (third), Zach Ertz (second) and Austin Hooper (third).

DRAFT SPOTLIGHT

Tight ends

Grading the Bears’ need: High. The Bears have bodies and potential production already on their roster. But considering the importance of this position in coach Matt Nagy’s offense, they likely will take a shot somewhere in the draft.

On the roster: Trey Burton, Jimmy Graham, Adam Shaheen, Ben Braunecker, J.P. Holtz, Jesper Horsted, Demetrius Harris, Dax Raymond, Darion Clark, Eric Saubert.

The five best draft prospects: Notre Dame’s Cole Kmet, Dayton’s Adam Trautman, Florida Atlantic’s Harrison Bryant, Washington’s Hunter Bryant, Missouri’s Albert Okwuegbunam.

Keep an eye on: Purdue’s Brycen Hopkins, a run-after-catch, big-play receiver who might be a good fit for Nagy’s offense. The 6-4, 245-pound Hopkins, who had 61 receptions for 830 yards and seven touchdowns last season, is a good route-runner who seems to have an intuition about the position and the game that might flourish at the NFL level in the right offense.

Close to home: Okwuegbunam, a wide receiver on Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin’s

Class 5A state-title teams in 2014 and 2015, had modest production in college (98 receptions, 1,187 yards, 23 touchdowns in three seasons), but he has the athleticism and versatility to be a complete tight end in the NFL.