It’s been an active off-season for Chicago Bears’ general manager Ryan Pace. As of the first week of OTAs, Pace has added 31 new faces to the 90-man roster, including seven veteran free agents, nine draft picks and 15 undrafted free agents.
Last year, the team’s roster lacked depth and was going through a massive transition. As a result, they ended up starting a handful of undrafted free agents, including safety Harold Jones-Quartey, cornerback Bryce Callahan, and linebackers John Timu and Jonathan Anderson.
Going into 2016, the roster has much more depth but that won’t stop the coaching staff from keeping more youth.
With roster spots at a premium, here is a list of all 15 UDFAs currently on the Bears roster.
- TE Ben Braunecker (Harvard)
- TE Joe Sommers (Wisconsin-Oshkosh)
- OLB Roy Robertson-Harris (UTEP)
- CB Taveze Calhoun (Mississippi State)
- CB Kevin Peterson (Oklahoma State)
- WR Darrin Peterson (Liberty)
- WR Derek Keaton (Georgia Southern)
- OL John Kling (Buffalo)
- ILB Don Cherry (Villanova)
- OL Adrian Bellard (Texas State)
- DL Kenton Adeyemi (Connecticut)
- WR Kieren Duncan (Colorado State-Pueblo)
- P Ben LeCompte (North Dakota State)
- OL Donovan Williams (Louisiana Lafayette)
- ILB Jarrett Grace (Notre Dame)
From this list of 15, which players are most likely to break training camp with the team going into Week 1? Let’s take a look.
TE Ben Braunecker (Harvard)
It was surprising that Braunecker fell out of the draft, considering he was a consensus mid-round pick heading into draft weekend.
At 6-4, 250, the Harvard standout broke out last season with 48 catches, 850 receiving yards and 8 touchdowns. The biggest knock on him was his level of competition, but even then, this was a weak tight end class.
One of the weakest spots on the Chicago's current depth chart is tight end, especially after trading Martellus Bennett to the Patriots.
As of now, Zach Miller projects as the starter with every spot behind him wide open. Even though Miller broke out in 2015, he still has a long, concerning injury history.
Behind him are Braunecker, Rob Housler, Khari Lee, Gannon Sinclair, fellow UDFA Joseph Sommers, and converted-defensive-end-turned-tight-end Greg Scruggs.
With a lack of depth behind Miller, it’s a wide-open competition for what looks like two roster spots.
Although Braunecker doesn’t posses dominating size or speed, he has the tools to become a quality backup with starting upside. It will take a good camp from him but with the so-so competition around him, it won’t be hard for him to break camp as a part of the team’s 53-man roster.
OLB Roy Robertson-Harris (UTEP)
The Bears found more than one gem in the UDFA pool with both Braunecker and Robertson-Harris, who was a projected mid-round pick and also a player on whom the Bears used one of their 30 pre-draft visits.
Somewhat raw, Robertson-Harris' size (6-7, 255) and freakish athletic traits make him a strong candidate to crack the final roster, even in a deep outside linebacker position.
Of all his collegiate tackles, 45 percent came within two yards or less of the line of scrimmage. Along with his great size and length, he also possesses good speed and playmaking ability.
Robertson-Harris is still very raw and his overall ceiling did not particularly translate into his game film, which is likely the reason he went undrafted.
Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio has always prefered lengthy pass rushers. Yes, they traded up in the first round and spent the 9th overall pick on Leonard Floyd but Pace has said multiple times that they can never have enough pass rushers.
It’s not going to be an easy task cracking the final roster, especially with Pernell McPhee, Lamarr Houston, Willie Young, Floyd, Sam Acho and recently-moved Christian Jones all higher on the depth chart.
Robertson-Harris is a player with a high ceiling, which will make him very hard to hide on the practice squad, which is why the Bears will have to go in with the mindset that he either lands on the final roster or they’ll lose him. My bet is they'll keep him.
CB Kevin Peterson (Oklahoma State)
It’s been no secret that the Bears lack quality depth at defensive back, namely at cornerback. They spent one of their three fourth-round picks on Deoindre Hall but make no mistake, there are multiple secondary positions up for the taking on the depth chart.
Peterson is a product of a bad senior season, which ultimately dropped his draft status from a mid-round pick to a UDFA.
With Kyle Fuller, Tracy Porter, and Hall being the only players truly guaranteed roster spots, Bryce Callahan, Sherrick McManis, Jacoby Glenn, DeVante Busby, Peterson and Taveze Calhoun will all be battling for two or three roster spots on the back end.
So far, Peterson has seen the majority of his time in the slot through rookie mini-camp and the start of OTAs, which could provide the team with good value, especially if Callahan falters.
Other names to keep an eye on:
-LB Don Cherry (Villanova)
Cherry is a straight throwback linebacker that can lay the wood. Although he does not project as a top-notch NFL starter, he could push former UDFAs Timu & Anderson for a roster spot with a good camp.
- TE/FB Joseph Sommers (Wisconsin-Oshkosh)
Sommers has seen his time split between fullback and tight end so far. If the team elects to keep a fullback, Sommers may have the edge over Paul Lasike due to his athleticism, even if he does lack ideal bulk for the position.
- P Ben LeCompte (North Dakota State)
Yes, the punter made the list. Frankly, it’s always an unnecessary risk to draft a punter and former general manager Phil Emery did nothing to kill that narrative with the pick of Pat O’Donnell, who finished 24th in the NFL last year in average yards per punt - and 28th in 2014. Even with a big leg, O'Donnell's extreme inconsistencies have put his roster spot in jeapordy. LeCompte did double duty in college as a place kicker and a punter. Don’t be surprised if he dethrones O’Donnell with a good camp.