Grading the Bears’ 2021 NFL draft class with 4 games left

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Following the 2021 NFL draft, Bears general manager Ryan Pace received glowing reviews for his draft selections. That of course had a lot to do with trading up to draft quarterback Justin Fields, but there were a lot of Day 3 picks that had the potential to be contributors.

We’re nearing the end of the regular season, and the Bears have gotten contributions from some, not all, of their 2021 NFL draft class. Here are our grades for all seven players selected by the Bears in the 2021 NFL draft with four games to go.

Round 1: QB Justin Fields

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While Justin Fields’ start to his NFL career has been filled with plenty of highs and lows, it’s safe to say Bears fans are pleased with what they’ve seen so far. Fields has flashed star qualities — including his athleticism, leadership, ball placement and poise — which gives fans reasons to believe they might’ve finally found their franchise quarterback in Fields. But there have been struggles, whether that’s the expected rookie mistakes or those due to coaching and personnel or his rib injury that sidelined him for a couple of games. But despite those struggles and less-than-ideal circumstances around him, Fields has managed to flash during his rookie season, and those mistakes aren’t anything to deter from the belief that he can develop into a star quarterback. This offseason will be extremely important in his development, which includes getting the right head coach in place to develop him.

Grade: C+

Round 2: OT Teven Jenkins

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There was a ton of excitement when the Bears traded up to draft offensive tackle Teven Jenkins in the second round. He was poised to become the team’s left tackle of the future. And while that might still be true, his start to his career has been rough. Jenkins missed all of training camp and the first 12 weeks of the season after back surgery. He returned from injured reserve a couple of weeks ago. Jenkins made his NFL debut last Sunday against the Packers in place of an injured Jason Peters, who was hurt during the first quarter. And it was a rough debut for Jenkins, who struggled in pass protection and had some costly penalties. That doesn’t mean Jenkins isn’t going to pan out, just perhaps that he wasn’t ready. One game isn’t enough to grade Jenkins’ rookie season so far. Assuming Jenkins sees more reps with Peters’ injury, we’ll revisit it at the end of the season.

Grade: Incomplete

Round 5: OT Larry Borom

AP Photo/Duane Burleson

After missing the first seven games of the season, fifth-round rookie Larry Borom made his return, where he got the opportunity to start at right tackle in place of an injured Germain Ifedi. Borom’s first two starts were especially impressive given he held his own against the likes of San Francisco’s Nick Bosa and Pittsburgh’s T.J. Watt. And while Borom has had his share of rookie mistakes, which is to be expected, he’s been solid at right tackle on Chicago’s offensive line. There’s been discussion about potentially switching Borom to left tackle, considering Jenkins might be better suited for the right tackle position. Regardless, Borom looks like he has the potential to develop into a solid starting tackle for the Bears.

Grade: B-

Round 6: RB Khalil Herbert

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Khalil Herbert has been one of the most consistent rookies and most pleasant surprises in this draft class. When starting running back David Montgomery went down with a knee injury in Week 4, Herbert stepped up in a big way in his absence. In four games as the workhorse back, Herbert never had less than 70 rushing yards in a game. He even recorded his first 100-yard rushing game against the NFL’s best run defense at the time against the Bucs. The Bears appear to have found another late-round gem in Herbert, where he’ll continue to complement Montgomery in the run game. He’s also been valuable on special teams in the kick return game, where he’s averaging 24.6 yards per return.

Grade: A

Round 6: WR Dazz Newsome

AP Photo/Wade Payne

The expectation was that wide receiver Dazz Newsome was a lock to make the 53-man roster given his explosiveness and special teams contributions as a returner. But after suffering a broken collarbone during organized team activities, he missed a good portion of the offseason and training camp and was playing catch up. Newsome was signed to the practice squad, where he’s remained all season. He’ll get a chance to continue to develop and compete for a spot on the roster next offseason.

Grade: Incomplete

Round 6: CB Thomas Graham Jr.

AP Photo/Mark Zaleski

One of the biggest surprises during final roster cuts was how sixth-round rookie Thomas Graham didn’t make the cut, especially given the uncertainty at the cornerback position. The Bears have struggled in the slot all season, which is where Graham was competing to earn a spot. Like Newsome, with another year to develop, Graham will have a good shot at competing for a roster spot next season.

Grade: Incomplete

Round 7: DT Khyiris Tonga

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Defensive tackle Khyiris Tonga was a player that caught a lot of people’s attention, especially with how the Bears were able to snag him in the seventh round. In his role as a reserve, Tonga has showed he’s got some natural talent and can develop into a contributor within the next couple of years. Working with some talented defensive linemen, including Akiem Hicks and Eddie Goldman, has certainly helped. Tonga has been seeing more time at nose tackle over the last few weeks, so perhaps there’s a future for him at that role.

Grade: C-

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