With the draft rapidly approaching, it’s easy to get excited about who the Bears will take with their first pick as Chicago has another opportunity to add a potential young superstar to a team looking to compete sooner rather than later.
But not every contributor to a playoff caliber team is going to be a first-round pick … Or even drafted at all.
Take a look at this past Super Bowl for proof. James White (fourth round), Corey Clement (UDFA), Chris Hogan (UDFA), Danny Amendola (UDFA), Jalen Mills (seventh round) and others all played major roles for their teams.
And yes, even Tom Brady was a sixth rounder.
In recent years, the Bears have also had a few undrafted free agents and late-round picks make an impact.
Christian Jones, who deserves a second contract in Chicago, has been an underrated player and spot starter after coming into the league as an undrafted free agent.
Last year’s media darling and undrafted free agent Roy Robertson-Harris had a solid year this past season after spending his rookie season on injured reserve and should continue to grow into a larger role next season.
The Bears starting left tackle for the past three seasons Charles Leno Jr., who just earned a four-year contract extension, was a seventh-round pick who only appeared in six games his rookie season.
So who on the current Bears roster can make a similar jump from unknown to solid contributor – and possibly more?
1. RB/WR/KR Taquan Mizzell
The undersized, 5-foot-10, 192-pound, Mizzell went undrafted after a four-year career at Virginia where he was a true all-purpose back. In his last two collegiate seasons, he accumulated 127 receptions and 1,125 receiving yards to go along with 1,604 rushing yards. He is the only player in ACC history with 1,500 rushing and 1,500 receiving yards for their career.
Mizzell was claimed by the Bears after being one of the final cuts by the Ravens after the fourth preseason game. Despite being on the roster for all 16 games, Mizzell did not see much playing time for the Bears last season. Most likely because he didn’t seem to fit what John Fox and Dowell Loggains wanted to do in their offensive scheme.
It’s almost as if Ryan Pace claimed Mizzell with a different head coach in mind.
Mizzell is much better suited for Matt Nagy’s offense than the one run last season (if you can call what the Bears ran last year an “offense”).
Nagy had a similar player the last four years with Kansas City in De’Anthony Thomas. Just like Thomas, Mizzell can be an explosive playmaker from either the running back or wide receiver position – something the Bears have been lacking in recent years.
Mizzell is quicker than fast with the shiftiness and quick twitch athleticism to make defenders miss in space. But he also shows some impressive balance and power for a guy his size as seen here:
Now imagine Tarik Cohen and Mizzell on the field at the same time. That’s a lot of athleticism for which the defense needs to account.
I mentioned White and Clement above for good reason. Like Thomas, both are listed as running backs but really provide more in the passing game. And that’s exactly how I envision Mizzell being utilized.
2. NT Rashaad Coward
If Mizzell is undersized, it is fair to classify Coward as oversized. At 6-foot-5 and 320 pounds, Coward makes some lineman look small.
Coward was an undrafted free agent out of Old Dominion originally signed by the Bears this past offseason. A dominant force in the middle of Old Dominion’s defensive line, Coward was a space eating nose tackle for the Monarchs.
He improved each season he played; eventually leading Old Dominion to a Conference USA title and a Bahama’s Bowl win his senior season in which he tallied 49 tackles, 7.5-for-loss and 1.5 sacks.
While not eye-popping numbers, he did his job and consistently absorbed double teams allowing other players on his team to make plays.
Coward did not contribute much of anything in Year 1 in Chicago only appearing in one game and not accumulating any stats. He spent a majority of the year on the practice squad but has the potential to be a role player this season.
He won’t overtake Eddie Goldman as the starting nose tackle, but should be able to beat out John Jenkins for the backup role. Don’t expect much in terms of a pass rush but he should be able to eat blockers and clog running lanes on early downs, allowing linebackers to make plays behind him. He also has the size and skill to give Akiem Hicks some rest as well.
Best case scenario for Coward is you will probably never notice him (as much as you can’t notice a man his size), but that just means he’s doing his job. Such is the life of an NFL nose tackle.
3. G Jordan Morgan
While Mizzell and Coward were both undrafted, Morgan was actually drafted by Chicago last season.
The fifth-round pick was a four-year starter at left tackle at Division II Kutztown University. While he played at a lower level of competition, he was unquestionably the best offensive lineman in the division – and has the awards to prove it.
He was voted first-team All-American twice and won the Gene Upshaw award his senior season given to the best offensive lineman in Division II. Additionally, he was voted team captain and team MVP twice.
He may have played left tackle in college, but the general consensus was he needed to move inside to guard to play in the NFL. And that’s exactly what the Bears did.
He didn’t see the field in his first year, but that was expected for someone making the jump from Division II.
However, he displayed the traits and skills necessary to be an above average guard in college. With almost 35-inch arms he has the desired length of an NFL lineman. A better run blocker than pass blocker in college, a year with NFL coaching and, more importantly, in an NFL strength and conditioning program should allow him to make a big jump in his second season.
Morgan has the skills and the physical attributes, and now he has the best offensive line coach in the country. If anyone can turn Morgan into a future star it’s Harry Hiestand.
While everyone, including myself, is calling for an upgrade at the guard position, it’s possible the upgrade doesn’t come from a high draft pick or a big free agent signing, but through the development of a player already on the roster.
These players most likely won’t be the reason the Bears win a Super Bowl, but rather a small part of what gets them into the playoffs.
Each has a sought-after skill set and a clear-cut opportunity to force themselves into bigger roles with this team. It’s also possible all three are cut before the season.
Maybe it’s my inner-optimist, but I can picture Mizzell catching passes from Mitch Trubisky in the Super Bowl à la White and Tom Brady with Morgan delivering a key block to set up the play. Or Coward making a key goal-line stand as the clock strikes zero in the big game.
Who knows? Maybe we are even talking about contract extensions for one of these players in the next few years.
Regardless of what happens, it’s clear all three show the potential to contribute on a Super Bowl caliber team. Whether the Bears can become a Super Bowl team is a conversation for another day.