People often fear change because the unknown is scary. That is entirely fair. However, change has often proven to be a good thing. It is no different in the world of football. While the Chicago Bears overhauling their coaching staff might not be good for some players on the roster, it could be the opposite for others. Guys once considered afterthoughts under the Matt Nagy regime might find themselves part of the bigger picture under his replacement.
For example, Charles Leno was a 7th round nobody under Marc Trestman and his staff in 2014. A year later, with John Fox’s arrival, he becomes their new left tackle. A job he would hold through 2020. Having fresh eyes on the roster can lead to things like this. So it’s fair to ask which players that got minimal looks last year might end up emerging as core players in 2022.
Here are three that stand out the most.
Subscribe to the BFR Podcast for analysis, insight, and discussion about Chicago Bears football.
Chicago Bears that could get long-overdue opportunities
One of the most confusing situations for the past three years is the Bears’ handling of Horsted. Early on in 2019, during his rookie year, it became apparent the undrafted free agent out of Princeton had unique receiving ability. Enough to where an open-minded coach would’ve looked to get him on the field more often. Instead, Matt Nagy chose to get him only 13 targets across three seasons.
Despite that, the 25-year old has more touchdowns (3) than Cole Kmet (2) who has 124 more targets. Offensive coordinator Luke Getsy is no stranger to seeing his team offer opportunities to unheralded names. The Packers gave one to Robert Tonyan, a former undrafted free agent) in 2020. He scored 11 touchdowns. Horsted has a connection with Justin Fields. It makes perfect sense to put more on his plate.
Chicago Bears CB Thomas Graham Jr. had one of the best rookie debuts of 2021 on MNF:
🔸 90.7 @PFF grade
🔸 3 PBU
🔸 1 passing stop
🔸 10 yds allowed (0 1st downs)
Smart, balanced and plays the catch point really well. Should've gone waaaay earlier than Round 6 in the draft. pic.twitter.com/wZPisS8Z5j
— Anthony Treash (@PFF_Anthony) December 21, 2021
Thomas Graham Jr.
After all the talk about how they felt Graham was a steal in the 6th round last April, the Chicago Bears brass didn’t follow through on that confidence during most of 2021. The cornerback out of Oregon got just 112 snaps total during the season. Yet he still managed to finish tied with Kindle Vildor for the fourth-most passes defended on the team (4). Keep in mind Vildor played 822 snaps.
Quarterbacks completed just 50% of their passes thrown at Graham. This doesn’t mean he is a budding star, but he should’ve gotten on the field way sooner than late December. That is why having Matt Eberflus in charge is a good thing. His defensive staff has a history of granting opportunities to young defensive backs, regardless of their pick status. Former undrafted free agent Kenny Moore became a star under their watch. Graham should be right at home with a shift to the more zone-oriented Tampa-2 system.
— Talking The Line Sports Media™️ (@TalkingTheLine) August 21, 2021
He was never going to see action on defense in 2021. Not as an undrafted rookie with guys like Roquan Smith, Danny Trevathan, and Alec Ogletree ahead of him. Still, Johnson showed glimpses in the preseason that he is far more capable than his humble NFL arrival would indicate. He was around the football constantly, demonstrating instincts and decisiveness. Combine that with good size and decent athleticism, and the kid has the building blocks to start in this league.
Johnson already proved his value to the Chicago Bears with five tackles on special teams. In the third phase, he was one of their best players before an injury sidelined him. With the shift back to a 4-3 defense, it adds another off-the-ball linebacker spot to the front seven. Ogletree is a free agent. Trevathan might get cut. This presents a perfect window for the kid to stake his claim on a starting job.