Chris Varughese

The Bears Brawl Writer, Jr. Editor and Draft Expert

Preseason is not just an opportunity for Bears’ fans to see their favorite team don the navy and orange for the first time since January. If training camp is the place where rookies and undrafted free agents try to prove themselves and earn a roster spot, preseason is a continuation of that. Except even more exciting because the fans get to watch. It is also interesting because it gives these rookies their first taste of NFL competition. This is essential in helping coaches determine who makes the 53-man roster. All that being said, here are the top ten rookies to keep an eye on throughout the Chicago Bears’ preseason.

10. Ian Bunting, TE

Round: UDFA         College: California

At 6’7, 255 lbs Ian Bunting has phenomenal size and length to create mismatches from the tight end spot. His lack of college production is cause for concern, but his size and ability to high point contested catches leaves room for optimism. Due to injury concern to both Adam Shaheen and Trey Burton, Bunting was been able to sneak in first team reps during training camp. At 255 lbs, Bunting is not as bulky as Shaheen but stands a foot taller. He is a natural athlete and preseason provides an opportunity to showcase his length and fluid running ability. If preseason goes well for him it will be a tight competition for the last tight end spot on the roster behind Burton, Shaheen and Braunecker.

9. Kerrith Whyte, RB

Round: 7                College: Florida Atlantic

While he’s not the running back that immediately jumps to mind when thinking of  2019 Bears’ draft picks, Kerrith Whyte is a playmaker. At FAU Whyte was all over the field, being used on special teams, the running game, and the passing game. His straight line speed and acceleration make him a threat in the open field. Training camp provided a glimpse of his ability and talent, but during preseason he will most likely be taking second and third team reps. If he can show his ability to gain separation as well as running ability out of the backfield, he will make some noise for the fourth running back spot on the roster.

8. Stephen Denmark, DB

Round: 7               College: Valdosta State

Stephen Denmark is a hard to place in the secondary. At 6’3, 220 lbs, Denmark is a lengthy cornerback. However, due to his athleticism and his ball skills he can also be considered at safety. Denmark is the most raw of all the the Bears’ 2019 draft picks, being that he has more experience playing wide receiver than he does playing cornerback. However, if his coverage skills on the outside comes together he can be a special talent at cornerback. Denmark will be on the field with third stringers during the preseason, but if he can dominate against his first taste of NFL competition it could provide a glimpse to the future of outside cornerback for the Bears. He’s buried in the depth chart at the moment behind John Franklin III and Michael Joseph, but with a strong preseason showing he would rise the furthest out of the cornerback group.

7. Dax Raymond, TE

Round: UDFA        College: Utah State

When Dax Raymond was signed as a undrafted free agent by the Bears, all the draft nerds like me gave a little cheer. When atching his college tape, Raymond glided across the field, showing natural route running ability and the ability to catch the ball. While he has made a few nice plays during training camp, he has largely been underwhelming. Preseason will be his chance to prove that he deserves a roster spot. Currently he sits behind Ian Bunting in the pecking order, but if he has the tools to be a prolific pass-catching tight end.

6. Mathieu Betts, OLB

Round: UDFA        College: Laval

Mathieu Betts was taken number 3 overall in the Canadian Football League in 2019. This came before he declared for the NFL Draft, where he went on to be undrafted, and after a career at Laval where he totaled 33.5 sacks. That is a summation of both his uncertainty and upside in the NFL. He is someone who caught Chuck Pagano’s attention during training camp and for good reason. Betts’ game will have to fundamentally improve, as he won’t be able to blow past offensive tackles in the NFL like he did at Laval. However he already shows good instincts and has good hand-fighting ability. Currently he is buried at the bottom of the depth chart at outside linebacker. However that is very much open to change, as those immediately ahead of him are just as unproven. A solid preseason will give him the opportunity to increase his stock and take a roster spot.

5. Alex Bars, OG

Round: UDFA       College: Notre Dame

Injury held Alex Bars to only 5 starts his senior year at Notre Dame. Up until then, Bars was well on his way to hearing his name called during the NFL Draft instead of after. He made starts all over Notre Dame’s offensive line. He played with recent first-round picks Mike McGlinchey and Pro Bowler Quenton Nelson. He also has experience working with current Bears’ offensive line coach Harry Heistand. All of this playing experience combined with the talent that he possesses makes him the most interesting undrafted offensive lineman that the Bears signed. At 6’6, 312 lbs he possesses a very similar build to Kyle Long (6’6, 216 lbs). He also offers the same versatility that Long did earlier in his career, being able to play tackle or guard at Notre Dame. On the most recent team depth chart release, he stands only behind Cody Whitehair at left guard. While he most likely is not taking that job away from the veteran Whitehair, it is his spot to lose during the preseason.

4. Clifton Duck, DB

Round: UDFA      College: Appalachian State

Cilfton Duck may be a surprise for many to see on this list. The cornerback room is packed this year for the Bears, and Duck is hovering around the bottom. However, Clifton Duck has been grabbing coaches’ attention during training camp. And interceptions. His ball skills were always undeniable, totaling 12 interceptions in his 39 starts at Appalachian State. He has natural cover instincts and enjoys being physical. He has a lot of experience starting on the outside, but he will be competing for the slot cornerback job that Bryce Callahan left vacant. If he continues to be a ball magnet in the preseason, he can earn himself a roster spot. However, the slot position is highly competitive, and one of those competing is next on the list.

3. Duke Shelley, DB

Round: 6             College: Kansas State

Duke Shelley could possibly be the future at the slot defender for the Chicago Bears. Throughout training camp, he has shown the fluidity, speed and footwork that drew scouts to him. He is undersized at 5’9, but he makes an impact all over the field. Special teams contributions will almost guarantee him a roster spot. Preseason will be the first time that fans see him in a Bears jersey, and hopefully it will be the first time they see him making plays. Although Buster Skrine seems to be entrenched as the starting slot cornerback to open the season, a solid preseason will improve Shelley’s chances of stealing that job sooner.

2. Riley Ridley, WR

Round: 4            College: Georgia

When the Chicago Bears drafted Riley Ridley, they were getting the most polished route runner in the draft. At 6’1, 199 lbs he has the size and physical play style that a team would want in an outside receiver. A big theme of the Bears’ offseason is competition and the wide receiving corps is no exception. Currently Ridley is as the third string wide receiver, and is competing against veterans such as Javon Wims and Cordarrelle Patterson. As a fourth rounder with high upside, Ridley is in no danger of being cut, however preseason will give him a chance to prove that he was a steal before the season even starts.

1. David Montgomery, RB

Round: 3           College: Iowa State

David Montgomery needs no introduction. Throughout training camp, his elusiveness, physicality and vision have been on full display. However the preseason will be the first opportunity for him to run over defenders that aren’t on the same team as him. The preseason also may help to shed some light on who leads the running back committee. Mike Davis and Tarik Cohen provide ample rotation, but if Montgomery can showcase his ability to be a lead back it could provide Chicago with a even bigger boost on offense. That seems like a lot to ask of a rookie, but Montgomery carried the Iowa State offense and if he has the ability to make explosive plays. Hopefully that big play making ability will show in preseason.

 

The Bears first preseason game is August 8th, 7:00pm CDT, against the Carolina Panthers.