The Chicago Bears have a number of holes to fill on the current roster yet few are as thin as the tight end position.
Zach Miller will be 33 to start the 2017 regular season. He has an extensive injury history and missed six games last year, finishing the season on IR.
Counting on Miller next season would be short-sighted at best. If he stays healthy, gravy, but the Bears need Plan B and C in place. They went into 2016 with a shaky Plan A and nothing else, and it hurt the offense mightily. GM Ryan Pace can't make the same mistake two years in a row.
As such, expect the Bears to be paying close attention during Saturday's workouts at the 2017 NFL Scouting Combine, when the tight ends in this year's draft class take the field at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Here are five tight ends the Bears should be watching closely.
David Njoku, Miami
Njoku is arguably the most athletic tight end in this year's class. He only started nine games for the Hurricanes but he made the most of every snap. As a redshirt sophomore, he averaged 17.2 yards per catch and as a junior in 2016, he finished with 43 catches for 698 yards and 8 TDs. At 6-4, 258, and as a former national high jump champion in high school, Njoku has the size and leaping ability to be a serious weapon down the seams and in the red zone. His inexperience may scare a few teams off but if he tests well on Saturday, he'll surely rise up the Bears draft board. If he's still available when it's GM Ryan Pace's turn to pick with the fourth pick in the second round, Njoku will receive strong consideration.
Evan Engram, Ole Miss
At 6-3, 236, Engram is a hybrid tight end/receiver. In 2016 he was named All-SEC and All-American after catching 65 passes for 926 yards and 8 TDs. He produced at an elite level and was a two-year captain for the Bulldogs, so he brings good character and leadership as well. Engram could be a mismatch nightmare at the next level, where his top-tier short-area quickness will allow him to exploit slower linebackers and safeties. He needs to demonstrate power and technique as a blocker during the combine but if he shows well, Engram will be on Pace's radar in the second round.
Bucky Hodges, Virginia Tech
Hodges is an extremely athletic pass catcher who has the body (6-6, 245) of a big wide receiver. He was productive the past two seasons as a starter for the Hokies, gobbling up 15 TDs in 2015 and 2016 combined. Hodges has an elite blend of size and speed, and should test well off the field at the combine. Yet his on-field performance on Saturday will be more telling, as Hodges must show improved route running and more consistent hands. If he does, he'll be a legitimate second-round option for the Bears.
Adam Shaheen, Ashland
At 6-6, 277, Shaheen was a man among boys in Division II. He had a whopping 16 touchdown receptions in 2016, while his 70 receptions in 2015 set a DII record. Shaheen's film is very impressive but teams will question his lack of competition. As a result, he has arguably the most to prove during Saturday's workouts. Most NFL teams have limited familiarity with Shaheen and will be seeing him up close for the first time. If he shines, look for the Bears to target him in the third round.
Jordan Leggett, Clemson
Leggett caught 46 passes for 736 yards and 7 TDs in 2016, and was named first-team All-ACC and a finalist for the John Mackey award. At 6-5, 250, Mackey has very good size and can be an immediate weapon as a receiver at the NFL level. He should show well on the field, yet his interviews will hold even more weight. Leggett lacked motivation early in his collegiate career, which earned him the nickname "Lazy Leggett." He'll need to prove to NFL teams that he's fully committed to the game. If he is, the Bears could target him in the fourth round.