Highly motivated undrafted free agents clawing their way through OTAs and mini-camps to make their team’s season-opening roster is one of the things that keeps me captivated during this part of the offseason. And in the case of a team like the Bears, the intrigue is heightened because of the number of young, untested players battling for potentially significant roles.
With that in mind, Bleacher Report’s Gary Davenport recently shared which undrafted free agent will shock the world and make their respective NFL team’s Week 1 roster. For the Bears, Davenport pegs wide receiver Tanner Gentry to be the guy who takes training camp by storm and earns a roster spot.
We’ve discussed Gentry in this light before, as we attempted to visualize his future role after impressing coaches at rookie mini-camp. Gentry has worked his way from one of the undrafted free agents to keep an eye on to potentially the kind of player who could take advantage of increased time due to players at his position recovering from injuries. And after showing the ability to catch the deep ball at Wyoming, he could be the kind of player Mike Glennon – who we learned throws a pretty decent deep ball when given an opportunity – could have his eyes on when he’s on the field.
Of course, Gentry has to make the cut for any of this to play out in this way.
Taking a look at the Bears’ wide receiver depth chart, and you can see where Gentry will face challenges en route to making the final roster. But it’s not as if he won’t have his chances, especially if this group of receivers, which projects to be among the league’s worst, plays to its lowly expectations in camp and during the preseason. The Bears signed Kendall Wright, Victor Cruz, and Reuben Randle to one-year free agent contracts, while also retaining Deonte Thompson and Josh Bellamy on one-year deals. Cameron Meredith, Markus Wheaton, and Kevin White project to be locks, but there is uncertainty after that at the position. And that’s where Gentry’s best chances come into play.
However, Gentry isn’t the only undrafted free agent with his eyes on a roster spot. So let’s check out the rest of the field heading into mini-camp:
- RB Joel Bouagnon: With Jordan Howard, Jeremy Langford, Ka’Deem Carey, Tarik Cohen, and Benny Cunningham ahead of him on the depth chart, Bouagnon has one of the toughest roads to a roster spot.
- FB Freddie Stevenson: Fullbacks are a dying breed in the NFL, but the Bears have two in camp after signing Michael Burton off the waiver wire. Burton performed admirably in his time with the Lions, but Stevenson showed off some versatility at Florida State.
- OTs Dieugot Joseph, Mitchell Kirsch: The Bears drafted a tackle (Jordan Morgan) with the idea that he can develop into a guard, but didn’t draft a player to stick at the position – despite the evident need. Outside of Gentry, Joseph and Kirsch have an inside track at nabbing a roster spot because of the position they play and the fact both were highly productive against their level of competition. However, it’s unlikely that both will make it.
- LBs Alex Scearce, Hendrick Ekpe, Isaiah Irving: Linebacker isn’t an easy place to break through on the Bears roster, but someone from this trio could break out. Scearce’s strengths include football intelligence, versatility (he made the move from safety to linebacker in college), and potential to stand out on special teams. Ekpe and Irving might have the most difficult challenge as an outside linebacker, where a mix of veterans and young players have high expectations for 2017.
- DL Rashaad Coward: The Bears have two defensive linemen coming off season-ending injuries in 2016, so Coward could make the roster as a healthy depth piece. Jaye Howard and Eddie Goldman combined to miss 18 games in 2016, while Mitch Unrein’s 51.8 grade ranked 62nd among Pro Football Focus’ qualifying players.
- K Andy Phillips: Kicking competitions aren’t the most sought-after by football fans, but Connor Barth’s 78.3 percent success rate in 2016 was his worst showing since 2009. Further, Barth has seen his accuracy drop in each of the last two seasons.