The Chicago Bears made an array of fascinating moves during the 2021 NFL draft weekend. A sum total of seven picks followed by 12 undrafted free agents. This has helped to create a clearer picture of what’s coming this summer. Competition will once again be the buzzword at Halas Hall. It is apparent the team brass is intent on not letting anybody be comfortable ahead of such an important season.
So looking at this newly aligned depth chart, it’s time to ask the question. Who has the most to lose over the next four months? Both in terms of starting jobs and roster spots. This upcoming training camp figures to be one layered with all sorts of subplots. Who will answer the bell and who will cave under the pressure?
Here are five names that better bring their best when the pads go on.
Chicago Bears have several players who should be nervous
GM Ryan Pace and head coach Matt Nagy were adamant following the selection of Justin Fields with the 11th overall pick. The plan remains unchanged. Dalton was promised the starting job when he was signed. The team intends to slot Fields behind him and Nick Foles and have the rookie learn the playbook. Chicago feels they are good enough to win 10 games with Dalton. Why throw Fields out there before he’s ready?
Except nobody told Fields this. He is ultimately the one who will dictate the timeline. If he grasps the playbook quickly and shines in practice? He might make the decision to keep him on the bench that much more difficult. That is why the pressure is squarely on Dalton. He can’t afford to come out slow. That was what undid Mike Glennon four years ago. He stumbled early in the year, the Bears started 1-3 and John Fox was forced to start the Mitch Trubisky era sooner than planned. Can Dalton last longer?
Plenty of draft experts felt the Bears got a steal in 2019 when they selected Ridley in the 4th round. His mixture of size and route-running skill made for somebody who’d eventually produce on Sundays. Two years into his career? Ridley has just 10 catches. For whatever reason, he hasn’t seen the field much. This leads one to think the coaches just aren’t seeing what they need to see from him.
— Braggs In The Stands (@BraggsInStands) August 10, 2019
Now his job gets a little bit harder. The arrival of 6th round pick Dazz Newsome and free agent Marquise Goodwin will make it difficult for him to even make the roster. Never mind seeing actual snaps on the field. Considering Ridley doesn’t offer much special team value on top of that? It is going to take a huge performance in training camp to avoid getting the ax.
The 7th round pick fought his way onto the roster last season and even managed to log some snaps when injuries piled up. No doubt he hoped to take things a step further in 2021. The Chicago Bears aren’t making that easy. Not only did they add Teven Jenkins and Larry Borom via the draft. They also secured two interesting undrafted free agents in Gage Cervenka and Dareuan Parker at the guard position.
Suddenly the squeeze is becoming tighter in that offensive line room. Hambright is going to have a difficult time holding those guys off considering Cody Whitehair, James Daniels, and Alex Bars are virtual locks for the main roster already. He should know that draft status is unlikely to protect him at this point. Especially with it being the 7th round.
The Bears traded up to grab Gipson in the 5th round last year. So they have a degree of high expectations for the former Tulsa defensive end. Unfortunately, his rookie season didn’t go as hoped. In limited opportunities across seven games, Gipson managed just three quarterback pressures without a sack. He needs to start showing progress this summer because it’s clear the team isn’t going to wait on him forever.
Rookie 5th round pick Trevis Gipson has played 67 snaps this season and gotten to rush the passer on only about 35 or so of those but this is a rep to be proud of. Beats Tunsil clean inside to force Watson off his spot. pic.twitter.com/HmGlk8aKyE
— Brandon Thorn (@BrandonThornNFL) December 31, 2020
They signed veteran Jeremiah Attaochu in free agency. Then barely minutes after the draft they secured highly-sought-after undrafted free agent Charles Snowden. A player many felt was good enough to go in the 4th round. So there is legitimate competition at outside linebacker behind Khalil Mack and Robert Quinn. Gipson needs to show progress in his efforts to switch to an upright rusher.
Buster Skrine is out as the nickel corner for the Bears. This leaves a tough void to fill. With Desmond Trufant likely destined for the outside, it seems like Shelley is the current favorite to claim that spot. He was the one who filled in for Skrine last year and had some nice moments. Not enough to guarantee him the job though. That was clear when the team worked to add more bodies to the mix.
None more interesting than 6th round pick Thomas Graham Jr. The Oregon cornerback has the perfect makeup of a nickel corner with his quickness and instinct. He was a constant pest in college and probably would’ve been drafted earlier had he not opted out in 2020. This is likely the best chance Shelley will get to prove himself. If he fails, Graham could end up taking it from him.