The Bears may have finally found their franchise quarterback
Every year, the draft brings hope to the fans of all 32 teams. But that’s not always the case with the Chicago Bears, especially under the leadership of general manager Ryan Pace. But after the 2021 NFL Draft concluded, Bears fans are much more hopeful this time around. That’s because the team only drafted for specific needs this year. They didn’t reach on any of their picks, they didn’t take chances on fringe prospects, and they may have finally found their franchise quarterback. No, seriously.
Here’s a breakdown and grade for each of the Bears’ 2021 NFL Draft picks.
Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State
Round 1, 11th Overall
The Bears may have finally found their franchise signal-caller. Chicago traded with the New York Giants to move up from the 20th overall pick to No. 11, and selected Fields as the fourth quarterback selected in the after Trevor Lawrence (Jacksonville), Zach Wilson (New York Jets), and Trey Lance (San Francisco) went in the first three picks. Pace and head coach Matt Nagy have both said that Andy Dalton is the starter heading into this season, but everyone knows Fields is the future. That doesn’t mean the former Ohio State standout won’t see the field at some point this season, however, something the fans are definitely clamoring for. Between Georgia and OSU (34 total games), Fields threw for 5,701 yards, ran for another 1,133, and accounted for 86 total touchdowns (67 passing).
His ability to change the course of the game on his own, and his athleticism are aspects that the Bears have been lacking under center for quite some time. The only real question is how long until the starting job is his?
Teven Jenkins, OT, Oklahoma State
Round 2, 39th Overall
Many felt that Jenkins should have been a first-round selection. But when the Bears saw that he was still available on Day 2, they traded up in order to get him. Jenkins anchored a Cowboys offensive line that helped pave the way for a team that finished fifth in the Big 12 in scoring (30.2 ypg), and total offense (426.8 ypg), and fourth in rushing offense (179.7 ypg). He also played a major role in helping Chuba Hubbard pile up 2,094 yards and 21 touchdowns on the ground in 2019.
Jenkins was a three-year starter at Oklahoma State (32 games) and was named first-team All-Big 12 by both the Associated Press and coaches last season. During his Cowboys career, he played left tackle, right tackle, and right guard, and has the size (6-6, 320) that teams covet up front. With Chicago recently parting ways with left tackle Charles Leno Jr., it’s possible that Jenkins takes over there or he could start on the right side. Either way, his addition should provide a huge boost to the Bears’ offensive line.
Larry Borom, OL, Missouri
Round 5, 151st Overall
Borom is another versatile lineman who’s played both tackle and guard. He appeared in 32 games for the Tigers and was named second-team All-SEC by Pro Football Focus last season. PFF ranked him as the 16th-best offensive tackle in the country, as he was a major contributor to an offensive line that helped the Tigers average 402 yards per game. He also brings plenty of size (6-5, 332) to the table and should carve out a role in the offensive line rotation fairly quickly.
Khalil Herbert, RB, Virginia Tech
Round 6, 217th Overall
Herbert is the type of versatile running back that Nagy likes to have in his offense. Between Kansas and Virginia Tech, Herbert proved himself to be reliable as a rusher, pass catcher, and return man. In total, he recorded 3,661 all-purpose yards, with 23 total touchdowns. The only question is how will he fit in with the Bears? Right now they are stacked at the running back with David Montgomery as the unquestioned starter, Tarik Cohen set to return from a torn ACL, and former Kansas City Chief Damien Williams was signed in free agency. Artavis Pierce and Ryan Nall are on the roster as well. But with Cordarrelle Patterson no longer around (signed with Atlanta), Herbert could get the opportunity to make an impact as a kick returner.
Dazz Newsome, WR, North Carolina
Round 6, 221st Overall
Allen Robinson II, Darnell Mooney and Anthony Miller are likely the starting receivers for the Bears this season. Veterans Marquise Goodwin and Damiere Byrd were added through free agency, but after that, it’s a host of young, unproven options. Newsome joins the logjam of guys looking to claim their spot on the team.
Newsome was quite productive in his last two seasons at North Carolina, posting 126 catches for 1,702 yards and 16 touchdowns during that span (24 games). For his career, he averaged 13 yards per catch and also made his mark as a punt returner (11.1 yards per return, one TD). His ability to contribute both on offense and special teams should help him make the team, provided he makes the most of his opportunities during training camp and the preseason. Chicago also will have some decisions to make at wide receiver after this season with Robinson and Miller set to become free agents. Miller also has been the subject of trade rumors throughout this offseason.
Thomas Graham Jr., CB, Oregon
Round 6, 228th Overall
Graham opted out of last season due to the coronavirus pandemic, which probably hurt his draft stock. But several draft analysts think the Bears may have found a sixth-round gem in Graham, who was a playmaker during his three seasons at Oregon. Second-team All-Pac in both 2018 (AP) and 2019 (PFF), before opting out Graham entered the 2020 season as the FBS active leader in both passes defended (40) and pass breakups (32). In 40 games for the Ducks, he also totaled 182 tackles (143 solo), 10.5 tackles for a loss, and eight interceptions. He was a force against the run, but some scouts have questioned aspects of his coverage skills. Graham will be looking to contend for the nickel corner spot.
Khyiris Tonga, DT, Brigham Young
Round 7, 250th Overall
His single-season numbers weren’t great, but his overall body of work was enough to impress the Bears. Over the last four seasons at BYU, Tonga registered 130 tackles, 16 tackles for a loss, 8.5 sacks, 12 pass deflections, and two forced fumbles. With his size (6-2, 326), strength, and ability to shed blocks, Tonga could be used at both end and nose in the Bears’ 3-4 alignment.
Overall Draft Class Grade: A-
— Gabe Salgado is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He’s also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He can also be heard on WGN Radio. Follow him on Twitter .
(Justin Fields photo courtesy of )