The 2022 NFL Draft is fast approaching. Despite the limited capital Chicago has in 2022, it’s always an exciting time. Last year, the Bears had no third or fourth round picks and were still able to find valuable contributors and possible players for the future.
This year, the Bears have two seconds, one third, two fifths and one sixth. Last year, Chicago had seven picks. Here’s a look at each rookie from the 2021 draft class and how they fared in their debut season.
No. 11 – QB Justin Fields
The crown jewel of the class. The Bears traded up to make Fields the face of their franchise. Everyone inside of Halas Hall, except for Matt Nagy, knew this. Fields took snaps as the No. 2 quarterback during the offseason, limiting his ability to develop chemistry with the No. 1s.
When Fields did take the field, we saw glimpses of the special talent he is. We also saw the struggles that every rookie quarterback goes through. Ball security, decision making and pocket awareness are all things to improve on.
But the talent is there. His fourth down touchdown scramble against San Francisco proved he can be the best athlete on the field on every snap.
A lot of the struggles he endured in his rookie campaign can be pointed towards Nagy and his failure to cater the offense towards his strengths. That’s the hill I’ll die on. Hopefully, Fields can erase whatever Nagy told him in 2021.
That isn’t to say Fields will become this perfect quarterback in year two. There will be more struggles. Right now, the supporting cast isn’t great. But if we see throws like this every week, the offense will do doubt improve in 2022.
The Bears have their quarterback (hopefully).
No. 39 – OT Teven Jenkins
Jenkins was thought to be a first round prospect, but a cloudy injury history tanked his stock. That didn’t stop Chicago from picking the former Oklahoma State Cowboy to be the future at one of the tackle positions.
The injury concerns showed up right away. Jenkins had back surgery in August and was inactive to begin the season. He remained inactive until week 12.
It was at least encouraging to see him fight back in a lost season. He could’ve easily mailed it in and taken a safer approach, but he wanted to see the field in his rookie season.
Jenkins’ first game action was rough. Against Green Bay, he committed four penalties and gave up two sacks. He didn’t start the game and came in cold. Not exactly how you want your future tackle to begin his career.
But he settled in and played the rest of the season, making two starts. I keep complaining about Nagy, but it’s hard not to dismiss the negligence he showed towards younger players. Jenkins should’ve started every game he was active, maybe except for the first game, due to the long injury layoff.
The highlight of his season, and what excited Bears fans, was the personal foul penalty he picked up against Minnesota late in the season after D.J. Wonnum shoved Fields out of bounds. Jenkins got in his face and defended his quarterback. That’s the attitude you love to see along the offensive line.
2022 will be a fresh start for Jenkins. He’ll go into camp as the starter, whether it be on the right or left side. Erasing injury doubts this season will be an important part of his development. There’s a reason he had a first round grade in 2021.
No. 151 – OL Larry Borom
An unexpected contributor for the Bears. Borom played in ten games with eight starts. A number of moves and injuries on the offensive line thrust him into action right away. Unfortunately, he got hurt in week 1 and missed the next six games. He returned to the lineup and played right tackle.
Any time you can grab a fifth rounder with value, it’s a big plus. That helps down the road when filling out the rest of the roster. Same with Jenkins, it remains to be seen what position he’ll play on the offensive line. He has the ability to play right tackle or be kicked inside to a guard position.
But where he lines up, he’s a solid piece of the offense.
No. 217 – RB Khalil Herbert
Chicago signed Damien Williams in the offseason as the backup/third down running back. Herbert quickly proved he was the better of the two and made two starts.
He averaged 86 rushing YPG when Montgomery was sidelined and looked very impressive in a leading role. With all the wear and tear running backs take, Chicago now has two backs they feel comfortable with running the show.
His emergence has possibly impacted what the Bears do with Montgomery in terms of an extension. Any time you can force yourself into the starting conversation, that’s a tremendous thing. A superb late-round selection for Ryan Pace. At least Pace left us with that.
No. 221 – WR Dazz Newsome
Newsome was a healthy scratch in all but three games. It’s hard to give a grade on a player who barely played. He had only two catches for 23 yards. Right now, Newsome is in line for the WR4 job, potentially moving up to WR3. It likely won’t look that way once training camp begins.
No. 228 – CB Thomas Graham Jr.
Graham was headed towards the same valuation of Newsome, but earned a late season opportunity with the regular starters in the secondary heavily impacted by injuries and covid. He started week 15 against the Vikings and looked tremendous.
Graham had seven combined tackles and three passes defended, looking every bit like a regular starter in the NFL. How did Graham not see the field at all in the 13 weeks prior? He along with Newsome was a healthy scratch every week. Especially with the revolving door opposite of Jaylon Johnson at the cornerback position, it’s stunning Graham didn’t play more. He returned to a bench spot for the last three games, but at least he was active.
Graham projects more as a nickel corner and could be given the chance to earn that job. It’s a new defensive staff and he will have to prove himself yet again.
It was an EXTREMELY small sample size from Graham last year, but he at least showed he deserves another look in 2022.
No. 250 – DL Khyiris Tonga
More value! Tonga played in 15 games and was a rotational piece at defensive tackle. He’ll have an opportunity in 2022 to continue that role with a number of linemen ahead of him leaving town. For a 7th round pick, just making the roster is an accomplishment in itself
He also adds the theme of this article – value!