Ryan Poles’ roster overhaul has helped turn the Bears into one of football’s youngest teams, and the general manager has a head coach who isn’t afraid to put rookies on the field.
“We pride ourselves on developing these youngsters, and as you guys know, we’re not afraid to put youngsters out there,” said Matt Eberfluss after recruiting. “If the guys are good enough to start, we’ll put them out there and play them.”
The Bears led the NFL last season with six undrafted rookies making the Week 1 roster. Part of that was due to all the menu jobs that opened up. Part of this is what rebuilding is like.
A few of these unoccupied rookies received valuable experience. Cornerback Jaylon Jones and linebacker Jack Sanborn started several games. Cornerback Josh Blackwell has become one of the team’s best special players. Tight ends Jake Tonges and Chase Allen have both had time on the active list as well.
As the team improves, it should be more difficult for starters who aren’t interested in getting game time, but the Bears should always be open to anyone who steps up. At this weekend’s freshman mini camp, we’ll meet our 10 draft picks and get to know 14 undrafted freshmen.
Here’s a look at the UDFAs, ranked in order of intrigue as they struggle to make the team.
1. QB Tyson Bagnet, sponsor
Statistics for 2022: 15 starts; 400 of 572 (69.9 percent) passing for 4,580 yards, 41 touchdowns and eight interceptions. First Team All American, Division II Player of the Year.
Measurements: 6-3 1/8, 213 lbs. with hands 9 1/2″. He ran a 4.79 40 at harvest and had a vertical jump of 36 inches and a triple cone dig of 6.95 seconds.
Dane Brugler positional rank: fourteenth.
Bruggler takes: He hasn’t looked out of place during Senior Bowl week, but his ability to quicken his eyes, play more substantially and tweak his decision-making is what determines whether he can continue to the next level. Overall, Bagent knows nothing but speed. Division II defensive tackle and faces a steep learning curve against NFL competition, but has the mentality and functional physical appearance worth developing.”
It had been eight years since the Bears signed an undrafted rookie quarterback. They had Shane Cardin in their 2015 rookie mini camp. Mind you, in the same stretch, the only rookie QBs on the roster were Mitch Trubisky and Justin Fields. Enter Bagent, who was, according to Brugler’s ratings, the best quarterback who wasn’t drafted.
Bagent has the size and athleticism to play the position. He set Shepherd’s records and dominated Division Two. More importantly, for Bears purposes, he impressed offensive coordinator Luke Getsy enough in the Senior Bowl to sign him to come to Chicago. During OTAs and at training camp, the coaching staff will see how Bagent’s handling and accuracy work against the NFL defense. If the Bears keep two of their roster quarterbacks, he will compete with Nathan Peterman to be No. 3 on the practice squad. Peterman might offer more experience to help Fields, but Bagent has the upside.
2. Edge Galen Harris, Arizona
Statistics for 2022: 12 starts; 51 tackles, 7 1/2 tackles for loss, 3 1/2 sacks, a forced fumble and three pass breakups.
Measurements: 6-4 3/8 257 pounds. 40 ran 4.70 when combined.
Positional Bruegler Rank: 60.
Harris’ father, Sean, played for the Bears from 1995 to 2000, appearing in 82 games with 38 starts as linebacker. For all the talk about the team not drafting an edge accelerator, Harris is the only rookie defensive end not drafted to sign. He’s got plenty of experience, good height, the bloodlines—in addition to his dad’s basketball career, Harris’ mom played basketball at Arizona—and plays a position that could use some youth.
3. C. Nicholas Amuah, University of California, Davis
Statistics for 2022: First Team All-Big Sky, Second Team FCS All-American.
Measurements: 6-2 3/8, 306 pounds; 2.66 seconds 20-yard best split between centers.
Positional Bruegler Rank: 43.
Many fans have been calling for the Bears to draft a center. Well, they’ve got an uncut rookie, and given the focal point focus — and Amoah’s athletic profile — he gets top three billing for plotting. Amoah can compete with Doug Kramer to be No. 3 and at best make his way into consideration for the future. How Amoah handles the Big Sky’s upcoming NFL competition will be critical. He was a track and field and basketball player in high school as well.
4. S. McConne Clark, Tulane
Statistics for 2022: 14 starts; 68 tackles, eight tackles for loss, three forced fumbles, six pass breakups and two interceptions. Named first team All-AAC.
Measurements: 5-11 3/4, 203 pounds. He ran a 4.59 40 on his professional day.
Positional Bruegler Rank: 31
Bruggler takes: Clark gives flashbacks to TJ Ward with the way he drives downfields, using aggressive angles and rage behind his pads to put a lick on the ball carrier. Although he sees the field well, his range can be limited if he doesn’t start at the right time, and he can Being caught in no man’s land when he bites. Overall, Clark will need to prove himself with NFL covering duties, but he’s one of the most physically fit players in the draft, which should translate well to NFL special teams.”
The Bears had two rookies undrafted as special teams players and capable fill-ins last season at cornerbacks in Jones and Blackwell. It’s a position where freshmen can often appear if they’re adept in the role, and Clark’s physique can help him in that regard, as he’ll be competing with a pair of seventh-round picks at safety Elijah Hicks and Kendall Williamson.
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5. LB Micah Baskerville, LSU
Statistics for 2022: 14 games, 10 starts; 89 tackles, 4 1/2 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 9 passes protected, six pulled up and blocked throws.
Measurements: 6-0 1/2, 221 pounds. He ran a 4.82 40 on his professional day.
Positional Bruegler Rank: 26.
Bruggler takes: Baskerville diagnoses downhill runs well for leveraged flows, diagnoses haulers and finishes at the ball carrier. However, his range and instincts are far better against a run than a pass. Overall, Baskerville is smart on the football and runs it without missing strides, but his athleticism and strength characteristics are mediocre. He’s very tough and tough to beat at the NFL level. His special teams background and prospect will help his chances of earning a roster spot.”
The Bears are at quarterback, but Baskerville can give himself a chance with the way he plays on special teams. He may not have the size to play defense full-time in the NFL, but he did play 567 snaps on special teams at LSU with two blocked kicks.
6. K. Andre Smit, Syracuse
Statistics for 2022: Made 20 of 26 field goals of 54 yards. 40 for 40 bonus points.
Measurements: 6-0 5/8 200 pounds.
Positional Bruegler Rank: VII.
Not that the Bears are up against the cap, but Cairo Santos counts $4.5 million for the cap in 2023, the final year of his contract. Can Szmit, who played high school football on the road in Vernon Hills, outsmart Santos this summer, win the job and save the Bears some money? On the kicker, it’s hard to rule anything out. Santos’ impressive season on the field was overshadowed by his struggles with extra points. Either way, the Bears have to consider 2024 and beyond for the kicker, and Szmyt will be an option.
7. WR Aron Cruickshank, Rutgers
Statistics for 2022: 12 games, 10 starts; Third Team All-Big Ten as a returner; 42 catches for 385 yards and two touchdowns; 18 kickoff returns for 370 yards (20.6-yard average).
Measurements: 5-9 3/8, 165 pounds. He ran a 4.62 40. His three cone time was 6.67 seconds to rank second among widerunners in the combine.
Positional Bruegler Rank: 123.
In OTAs and minicamp, speed can stand out. Cruickshank’s 40 might reflect someone who doesn’t have the best long pace, but speed in the short area is his calling card. A scout singled out Cruickshank from the Bears’ rookie roster due to his running back ability. We’ll see what the team plan with Philos Jones Jr. and Dante Pettis and the return leg, but this is how Cruikshank is likely to make his mark.
8. J. Lorenz Metz, Cincinnati
Statistics for 2022: seven games with five starts; He was first team All-AAC at right guard in 2021.
Measurements: 6-9, 316 lbs. with 34 1/4″ arms.
Positional Bruegler Rank: 33.
Metz is a prime candidate on the coaching staff. He started playing football at the age of 18 when he was a chemical technician in Germany, so he is new to the sport. You can’t teach size, and the Metz got it, and he’s been part of Cincinnati’s stellar offense in 2021. He looks tall for a guard, but the Bears could use developmental players inside and at tackle.
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9. FB Robert Burns, UConn
Statistics for 2022: 13 Game 74 carries for 374 yards and two touchdowns; five catches for 28 yards; Five processors. Played in Miami (FL) from 2018-20.
Measurements: 5-11 1/8, 222 pounds; He ran a 4.66 40 and his jumps and three-cone time ranked in the 90+ percentile for his position.
Positional Bruegler Rank: 65.
The Bears love the quarterback. Is Burns good enough to compete with Khary Blassingame for the starting role? This may be ambitious, but they may want to retain a coaching staff member. Burns started his professional career in Miami (FL) and was a four-star prospect in high school.
10. WR Thyrick Pitts Jr. , Delaware
Statistics for 2022: 13 starts; 57 catches for 631 yards and 10 touchdowns. Third Team All-CAA.
Measurements: 6-1 3/4, 201 pounds. 4.44 40 ran.
Positional Bruegler Rank: 106.
The Bears went to Matt Nagy alma mater for Pitts, who left Delaware ranked in the top ten in receptions, receiving yards and a touchdown. It has a good mix of size and speed. The Bears are well set with top veteran receivers, and fourth-round pick Tyler Scott, but every practice squad needs a wide. Bates will compete for one of those sites.
11. DB Justin Broyles, Oklahoma
Statistics for 2022: 13 games, 12 games; 71 tackles, three tackles for loss, one interception, two pass breakups. Honorable mention All-Big 12.
Measurements: 5-10 pounds 191 pounds. It ran 4.74 40 and my head was 35.5 inches.
Positional Bruegler Rank: 86.
Aside from his vertical jump, Broyles’ athletic qualities are below average. He was a four-star recruit who came out of high school, played in a senior program, and was named Academic All-Big 12 in 2021 and 2022. Broiles will have to fend off a pair of recent draft picks on special teams, but unlike a corner , it is not a stack depth chart.
12. TE Damien Caffery, Stony Brook
Statistics for 2022: 7 catches for 78 yards.
Measurements: 6-6 1/4 264 pounds. 4.85 ran 40.
Positional Bruegler Rank: 58.
Caffrey’s competition will be last year’s unoccupied rookies Chase Allen and Jake Tonges, and he’ll have to prove it on special teams. He has size and was famous for blocking it in college. The depth chart is poor behind Cole Kemet and Robert Tonian, but Allen and Tongez know the system and will enter camp with an edge.
13. OT Bobby Haskins, USC
Statistics for 2022: He played in 13 matches. From 2018-21, she played in 45 games with 20 coming in for Virginia.
Measurements: 6-5 7/8, 297 lbs with a 33″ arm.
Positional Bruegler Rank: 39.
Haskins was an All-Virginia ACC Honorable Mention in 2021. Granted he was a graduate transfer, but anyone who played at USC will get some attention. He has the perfect height for the offensive line and has a great time off three cones (7.50sec), but he’s on the lighter side – something the Bears prefer.
14. OT Gabby Hwy, Pittsburgh
Statistics for 2022: 8 games, 5 starts; Third Team All-ACC in 2021 (12 starts – nine at right tackle and three at right guard)
Measurements: 6-6 1/2, 306 lbs. with a 32 5/8″ arm.
Positional Bruegler Rank: 48.
Given the depth chart, there is scope for this developmental intervention to be on the training squad. Kailyn Dish played the role last year. Personal Larry Borom and Alex Leatherwood will be in the mix for the backup swing tackle spot. Houy has the framework to aid his chances as a right tackle for the coaching staff.
(Photo by Galen Harris: Darren Yamashita/USA Today)
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