To recap, Zach Miller is currently the Bears’ starting tight end. While he had a breakout season last year with 34 receptions for 439 yards and five touchdowns, he has been injury prone over the years.
He only appeared in four games in 2011 and was out of the league from 2012-14. Going on 32, Miller doesn’t have many more years in the league and therefore the Bears’ need a tight end of the future.
Beyond Miller the Bears depth chart is filled with players whose potential don’t scream difference maker on offense. The team has Rob Housler who is an aging veteran. Like Miller he may not have many years left in the league.
The team also has Joe Sommers and Ben Braunecker, both undrafted free agents from non FBS Division I schools. They are both athletic tight ends and have shown potential to develop into something. But going undrafted shows that it will take some time for either tight end to be a true play maker on offense.
The Bears should look for a tight end of the future next offseason and one place they can look is the 2017 NFL Draft. The upcoming draft is lush with tight end talent. Tight end is usually not an overly talented position in college football but 2017 has four or five tight ends that can be immediate difference makers for NFL’ teams.
Yet they don’t all have to be for the Chicago Bears. Miller was rewarded for his efforts with a two year/$6 million deal this offseason. This means that any tight end the Bears draft will have atleast two years to hone their craft and become a well rounded NFL tight end.
Regardless if the tight end is ready to play immediately or needs some time to get acclimated, the Bears should use one of their picks in the 2017 NFL Draft on a tight end.
Here are Three Tight Ends the Chicago Bears should target in the 2017 NFL Draft.
O.J. Howard, Alabama
O.J. Howard stands 6’6″ and weighs 242 pounds. His junior season he caught 38 passes for 602 yards and two touchdowns.
Howard made a name for himself in the 2015 NCAA Championship game against Clemson. In said game he caught five passes for 208 yards and two touchdowns.
His athleticism was on full display and proved his NFL potential. After the game head coach Nick Saban said that he and the rest of the coaching staff should’ve done a better job of getting him playing time during the regular season.
Saban said, “O.J., quite honestly, should have been more involved all year long. Sometimes he was open and we didn’t get him the ball, but I think the last two games have been breakout games for him in terms of what he’s capable of and what he can do. I would say it’s bad coaching on my part that he didn’t have the opportunity to do that all year long, because he is really a good athlete, and he’s improved tremendously as a player this year.”
Howard should be in for a much larger offensive role this season and should see his regular season stats blossom. But analysts and scouts are already sold on Howard’s NFL potential.
ESPN’s Todd McShay has Howard going 16th overall in his 2017 “Way To Early” Mock Draft. Howard’s hype isn’t just in small draftnik circles. He has become one of the best tight end prospects in the NFL Draft, arguably the best.
Having such a high draft pedigree means the Bears would most likely have to use their first round pick on him. But drafting Howard would give Chicago an athletic tight end that can create mismatches with his size and speed.
An offense core of Alshon Jeffery, Kevin White and O.J. Howard could cause big problems for other teams. Howard would be a great fit with Chicago and could provide value reminiscent of Greg Olsen’s time with the Bears.
Howard is one of the best the 2017 NFL Draft has to offer. Not many teams spend their first round picks on tight ends, but Chicago would be getting a tall, athletic player who can change the Bears’ offense for years to come.
Jake Butt, Michigan
Jake Butt stands 6’6″ and weighs 248 pounds. His junior season he caught 51 passes for 654 yards and three touchdowns.
Butt was credited immensely for his great junior season. He was voted First Team Big Ten as well as First Team All American. He was also named the Kwalick-Clark Tight End of the Year, which is given to the best player in the Big Ten.
If Howard is the best tight end prospect in the draft then Butt is an extremely close number two. CBSSports.com actually has Butt as the top prospect with Howard at two.
Butt’s respect doesn’t just come in the form of CBSSports, NFL Draft Scout also ranks Butt as their number one overall tight end prospect, and Walter Football ranks Butt as their number two overall tight end prospect.
Butt’s biggest compliment may be the fact that Rotovitz compared him to Tyler Eifert and Greg Olsen. Eifert and Olsen have both had successful careers, and if Chicago was able to draft a player equal to their value then their offense would greatly improve.
Butt is lauded for his ball security and hands. He also has decent speed and the willingness to block. He is still fairly young at 21, but he has the body type and the ball skills to be a very solid tight end in the NFL.
Butt is one of the most talented tight ends in the college ranks. He is a big possession receiver with great hands. Like Howard he can create mismatches in the slot.
Chicago could do much worse than drafting Butt, as he could become a fixture in an NFL offense for years to come.
Phazahn Odom, Fordham
Unlike Howard and Butt, Odom most likely couldn’t perform right away. He plays at Fordham and is a raw prospect who would need time to fit the mold of an NFL level talent.
But that won’t be an issue with the Bears as if Chicago were to draft Odom he can sit in the wings for two years before stepping into a starting role.
What makes Odom a better developmental tight end is his size alone. Odom stands 6’8″. That would make him the tied for tallest tight end in the NFL with Falcons’ Levine Toilolo and tied for second tallest player in the NFL behind only Chargers’ King Dunlap and Buccaneers’ Demar Dotson.
Odom showed great improvement his junior season catching 37 passes for 492 yards and seven touchdowns. That stat line shows that Odom would and could be an absolute threat in the red zone.
Drafting Odom would be utilizing Miller to his best effect. If the Bears’ draft Howard or Butt then they will probably run more two tight end sets. But if they draft Odom then they can have Miller return to his number one tight end role while molding Odom to their liking.
One mantra you hear in sports all the time is, “you can teach skill but you can’t teach size/athleticism”. That mantra is extremely true when it comes to Odom. His 6’8″ frame alone makes him a worthy candidate for the Bears. Strength and Conditioning coaches as well as offensive coaches can truly mold Odom to the player they need him to be.
Odom probably wouldn’t be more than a situational red zone threat his rookie year. But after two years Odom can be a dominant threat in the NFL making him a worthy pick for the Chicago Bears.