The Bears have 14 rookies on their roster right now. 12 of which have been on the roster for extended periods of time and have played.
I know that it is early to look at the returns on a draft class, but this class has shown enough that I think it can be discussed. After so many drafts that we have preached patience, and wait 3 years, only to not have them pan out, so let’s look at a draft that appears to be a homerun.
Grades are based on performance, value in relation to draft, and potential.
1. CB Kyle Fuller [30 tackles, 3 ints, 3 FF, 6 PDF]
Early returns on Fuller have been sensational. Stepping in and producing not only on the stat sheet, but also matching up against the oppositions top receiver has shown that Fuller is a building block player. I cannot remember a Bears 1st rounder who came in and dominated in this way. The argument could be made for Kyle Long, but even he showed signs of being a rookie. Fuller has looked like a veteran on the field, has acted like a veteran off the field and looks like nothing short of a homerun for Phil Emery. Fuller is tied for the league lead in interceptions and forced fumbles.
2. DT Ego Ferguson [7 tackles, 2 sacks, 3 PDF]
All we heard early in the offseason was how raw Ego Ferguson was, and how we should temper our expectations for the 2014 season. In reality Ferguson has been a key member of the DT rotation and has added increased size and power to a unit that was abused by the run last season. Ferguson showed flashes of dominance against the Panthers with 1 series where he had a TFL, 2 PDF, 1 of which was intercepted. Ferguson is playing at a solid level for a 2nd round pick, but he has outplayed expectations. The potential is there as he looks like he can physically bully NFL Olmen at times and has flashed more value in the passing game thabn anyone expected.
3. DT Will Sutton [11 tackles, 1 PDF]
Will Sutton’s stat line does not really reflect the impact that he has had on games. Sutton came in and his lack of size caused people to think that he would be a situational player, would not help against the run, and physically needed more time and to be protected. Sutton stepped into Ratliff’s spot and was very strong and disruptive against the run. He was a force against the Jets in the run game and he has flashed as a disruptive player against the pass. Although he does not have any sacks of his own he has created for others. He, like Ferguson and Fuller, looks like a long term player for this defense.
Getting a DT that looks like an NFL starter as a rookie is a huge value for the Bears in the 3rd.
4. RB Ka’Deem Carey [22 carries, 97 yards, 4.4 YPC]
The Bears have invested a ton in garbage veterans [Taylor, Barber, and Bush] to backup Forte and gotten next to nothing from them. Carey has started to get carries and earn playing time, which is key with the amount of touches and wear and tear on Forte. In those carries he has shown that he runs North/South violently and has the vision to run the inside zone. He has work to do as a pass protector and we have not seen him in the passing game as a receiver, but he has shown that he is a nice change of pace for the Bears.
A 4th round pick who can step in and have a role early and have success in limited carries is a nice value, and the potential is there for him to be a starter down the road.
4. S Brock Vereen [7 tackles]
Vereen has played early in his rookie year and has not looked lost, although he has not looked like a dominant player and he looks like he needs more time. But, at the same time he has shown that he belongs in the NFL and is worth development. The Bears have needed the depth at S with a number of injuries and while Vereen was not meant to play this season, but he has played decently. I thought his strongest moments on the field were late in the game against San Fran playing the nickel position. Vereen was forced into action against the Jets and made the game saving play in the end zone.
He looks like he could be a player down the line, and he has provided solid depth as a rookie, which is a nice value in the late 4th round.
6. P Pat O’Donnell [44.2 average, 59 long, 6 inside 20]
I have been happy with O’Donnell as the Bears punter, although I still do not love the value of a drafted punter. I have been fairly impressed with O’Donnell who has hit a number of nice punts, gets good hang time, and I think has been more a victim of coverage and protection breakdowns on the negative plays. O’Donnell can be a long term option for the Bears and he has plusleg strength for the weather, which is a major plus.
6. QB David Fales
I am not sure how to grade Fales because can a 6th round QB that has limited impact be a real failure or disappointment? Fales showed a little in the preseason and he is being developed in 2014, my real issue is that I did not see NFL starting QB physical skills. He looks like a career backup who will not get any game experience unless Cutler gets hurt and that will be too late. If you are taking a developmental QB why not take one with more physical skills? You are not going to make Fales bigger or stronger.
7. OT Charles Leno
Leno has not seen game action, but I thought he flashed at LT in the preseason and he showed enough as a 7th round pick to make the active roster. Long arms, athletic feet, and only really needing to develop strength Leno could be a player that has an impact on the Bears down the road. Anytime a 7th round pick makes a team, and shows that he belongs at the NFL level it is a huge win for the team.
Value and potential are there.
LB Christian Jones [7 tackles]
Jones has started to get on the field and he has shown incredible size and athletic ability. Add that to how the coaches rave about him and you have a player that is dripping with potential. I thought he was a steal as an UDFA and he may turn out to be more than we thought. Against the Falcons I was impressed with how he moved around and was able to rush the passer. His length and physical skill set make him an ideal SLB. To get a player that you can realistically see starting by his 2nd year as an UDFA is an incredible value. The type of sneaky value that dominant teams all have. Many people though Jones would be a 2nd or 3rd round pick and he is proving that he should have been, it is like stealing a high pick.
S Ahmad Dixon [1 tackle, 1 FF]
Dixon has only really played in 1 game and in that game he was a demon on special teams forcing and recovering a huge fumble against the Jets. Dixon even played some reps on defense that game and did not make the big mistake. Dixon might never be more than a backup safety and a core special teamer, but he showed in limited action that he could be a special team’s star moving forward. His physicality is a welcome addition to both specials and defense. A hamstring injury has cost him the last couple of games, but I am excited to see him on the field again. Again stealing a player off of a PS that immediately comes in and contributes is a nice value.
RB Senorise Perry
Perry is another player who has not gotten a ton of reps and you need to look at the preseason to judge his ability. The one thing that he has proven that he is not an NFL kick returner right now, lowering his potential score and his production. But if you go back to the preseason you will see someone who can run the ball at this level and he has shown up on special teams. He was explosive in the preseason turning runs into 8-10 yard gains. He was good enough to push Michael Ford right off the roster and he looks like he could be a valuable depth player down the road. The value for an UDFA is not what it is on the OL or LB lowering his value score.
OT Michael Ola [5 starts]
Another home run for the Bears. Emery’s bottom roster turnover is something people laugh about, but it unearths players like Ola who have been key contributors to the Bears this season. The Bears were blessed with great health last season as all 5 OLmen started all 16 games. This season they have been wiped out by injuries and the Bears have been reliant on an NFL rookie to save the day. Ola has played well at LG and done an admirable job at LT, despite being more of an OG. He has proven to be the perfect swing OLmen. The Bears OL in the past has been destroyed by injuries and this year Ola has kept the rig on the road.
To steal a versatile swing back up, who looks like a starter down the road off of a PR squad is an incredible value.
Overall this draft class and UDFA class is stocked with players that are not only contributing early, but that are showing the potential to be stars or impactful players for the Bears. This is the type of draft class that a winning team can be built around.