Bears Draft Prospects: TE (Rounds 1-4)

With an eye toward best fits for the Bears, we break down in detail the top tight ends in the 2015 NFL Draft, which includes a number of quality complementary targets.

In 2014, Martellus Bennett had one of the best seasons by any tight end in Chicago Bears history.

He caught 90 passes for 916 yards and six touchdowns, all career highs. His 90 catches were the most by any NFL tight end last year and broke Mike Ditka’s franchise record for most receptions in a season. His 916 yards were third most in the NFL and second highest in team annals, behind only Ditka’s 1,076 receiving yards in 1961.

To boot, Bennett is also a quality blocker, so it’s safe to say the Bears have one of the top all-around tight ends in the league.

That said, depth at tight end is a concern. Primary backup Dante Rosario has been a bit player the past two seasons and Zach Miller can’t stay healthy, while Blake Annen and Jacob Maxwell are camp bodies.

In reality, if the Bears go forward as is with the current tight end corps and Bennett gets hurt, the offense will take a significant step backward.

With that in mind, let’s break down the top eight tight ends in the 2015 NFL Draft, the players expected to come off the board in the first four rounds.

Maxx Williams, Minnesota (6-4, 249)

Williams is a vertical receiving threat with very good game speed. He led all college tight ends in 2014 with nine catches of 25-plus yards, while 82 percent of his catches went for either a first down or a touchdown. Used mainly as a move tight end, Williams has a big catch radius, solid hands and is dangerous in the red zone. He tested well at the combine and should be the top tight end off the board.

Projected: Round 2

Clive Walford, Miami (6-4, 251)

Walford isn’t an exceptional athlete but he’s decent in every phase of the game. He’s improved dramatically as a blocker and was very productive as a pass catcher for the Hurricanes – 121 receptions, 14 touchdowns in his career. He tested better than expected at the combine, propelling him into the second-round conversation. He’s a limited player who isn’t likely to develop into a star but Walford has plenty of potential as a primary backup.

Projected: Round 2-3

Jeff Heuerman, Ohio State (6-5, 254)

Heuerman had sub-par production last season for the Buckeyes (17 catches, 207 yards, 2 TDs) but there is a buzz around him due to his potential. He has very good size and strength (26 bench-press reps) with solid speed down the seams. He’s reliable as both a pass catcher and a blocker and, since he didn’t start playing football until college, most scouts believe his best days are ahead of him. Health is his biggest concern, as he’s still recovering from foot surgery from last offseason. But if he can stay on the field, Heuerman could pay big dividends as a sleeper mid-round pick.

Projected: Round 3-4

Mycole Pruitt, Southern Illinois (6-2, 251)

Pruitt is a two-time First-Team FCS-All American who led all Division I tight ends in catches (81), yards (861) and touchdowns (13). He then lit up the combine, finishing first among tight ends in the 40-yard dash (4.58) and vertical jump (38 inches), and was third in the short shuttle (4.37). Athletically, Pruitt has it all and he produced at a high level against weaker competition. Four-year starters with great hands are tough to come by. He’s short for the position and there are serious questions about his desire but under the right coaching staff, Pruitt could be coerced into an NFL starter.

Projected: Round 3-4

Jesse James, Penn State (6-7, 261)

James is one of the biggest tight ends in this class who tested well in the power, burst and agility categories. He’s a plus blocker who has great post-up ability in the end zone – his 11 touchdown grabs are a Nittany Lions school record for tight ends. He’s a tall, well-rounded tight end but he’s not overly athletic and has a mechanical style of play. He isn’t a great route runner and is more of a one-trick pony in the passing game. If he continues to improve his blocking, James can quickly develop into a quality No. 2 option at the next level.

Projected: Round 3-4

Nick O’Leary, Florida State (6-3, 252)

O’Leary lacks ideal size and speed (4.93 40-yard dash) and isn’t a great athlete. Yet he makes up for it with the softest hands of any tight end in this class. He won’t offer much as a blocker but as a secondary option in the passing game, O’Leary can have a lot of success in the NFL. He runs good routes, is intelligent when searching for soft spots in zone coverage and can make every catch in the book. He’s a high-character, high-effort player who lined up at multiple positions for the Seminoles. As an H-back option in the middle rounds, O’Leary should be on Chicago’s radar.

Projected: Round 4-5

Ben Koyack, Notre Dame (6-5, 255)

Koyack worked as an H-back and fullback for the Fighting Irish. He’s one of the toughest and most versatile blockers in this class. He also has dependable hands and good burst after the catch. Koyack is a solid all-around tight end with limited upside. His positional versatility and blocking ability, assuming it translates to the NFL level, will make him a very attractive option in the fourth or fifth round.

Projected: Round 4-5

Tyler Kroft, Rutgers (6-5, 246)

Kroft is a good run blocker with a solid skill set as a pass catcher. A former high school wide receiver, Kroft is very athletic and shows good zone recognition. He also has the straight-line speed to be a threat down the seams. Kroft lacks ideal strength and production (24 catches, 269 yards, 0 TDs in 2014) but his ceiling is much higher than his numbers indicate.

Projected: Round 4-5

THE PICK: Nick O’Leary

With Brandon Marshall now in New York, most believe the Bears will attempt to replace him with a young wide receiver early in this year’s draft. It’s a deep class at the position, so that makes sense.

Yet why not add another pass-catching option for two tight-end sets?

Due to Jay Cutler’s limitations as a passer, most believe new offensive coordinator Adam Gase will utilize a run-first approach. With that comes multiple two tight-end sets, which can be very effective if you have two pass catchers on either edge of the line, particularly on play-action passes.

O’Leary has a limited skill set and doesn’t offer much as a blocker but his hands are like glue. He’s a 100-percent-effort player who plays with fire. His proficiency in route running allows him to mitigate his lack of ideal athleticism. With opposing secondaries focused on Bennett, O’Leary could carve out a nice role as an outlet target with upside.

He’s worth a look in the fourth round and would be outstanding value if he falls to the fifth.

If the Bears are searching for more of a blocking tight end, Jesse James makes a lot of sense in the fourth round. His size would be a boost to the run game and would provide Cutler with another tall target in the red zone.



Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his fifth season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter.

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