The Chicago Bears welcomed seven new players to their roster this weekend during the 2021 NFL draft, including two of the top prospects in the draft class in quarterback Justin Fields and offensive tackle Teven Jenkins.
While it’s far too early to start evaluating this draft class before they’ve even hit the field, it’s fair to wonder if, down the line, we might be looking back at this 2021 draft class as Bears GM Ryan Pace’s best.
Here’s a round-up of all of our grades for each of the Bears’ seven selections in the 2021 NFL draft.
Round 1, Pick 11: QB Justin Fields, Ohio State
While Chicago gave up a decent haul — this year’s fifth-round selection, a first-round pick in 2022 and fourth-round pick in 2022 — it was necessary in order to get who many dubbed the second-best quarterback prospect in this draft class. Fields is everything you would want in a quarterback — he has a big arm, good accuracy, mobility, toughness and the kind of leadership that Matt Nagy wants in his quarterback. And with the right people in place — Nagy, quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo and veteran Andy Dalton — the hope is that Fields will develop into the Bears’ long-term franchise quarterback. While GM Ryan Pace insists Dalton remains the team’s starting quarterback heading into he 2021 season, it shouldn’t take long for Fields to establish himself as the clear-cut starter in Chicago.
Round 2, Pick 39: OT Teven Jenkins, Oklahoma State
Jenkins has the potential to step in right away as the starting right tackle for the Bears, which would fill the vacancy left by Bobby Massie. But he also has experience playing left tackle, and he even mentioned getting reps at the interior, should his services be needed. He’s a polished offensive lineman who’s a dominant run blocker with solid pass protection skills, which should have running back David Montgomery, along with quarterbacks Fields and Andy Dalton smiling. Jenkins brings a nastiness to his play, which is something that has been lacking on this Bears offensive line. He’s someone who believes he should’ve been a first-round pick, and he’s going to be taking out his frustrations on opposing defenders for years to come.
Round 5, Pick 151: OT Larry Borom, Missouri
There’s plenty to love about this selection as GM Ryan Pace is focusing on addressing the offensive line, unlike past drafts. Now that they have Fields, the goal is to build for the future around him, and Borom could be a big part of that future. Borom brings with him versatility to the offensive line, where he’s played both tackle and guard. While some have Borom kicking inside to guard, it’s the tackle position that has been the area of concern for Chicago. And it’s one they’ve addressed with Teven Jenkins and Borom. It also doesn’t hurt that the Bears have added some nastiness to the offensive line with both Jenkins and Borom, something that has been missing in Chicago since Kyle Long.
Round 6, Pick 217: RB Khalil Herbert, Virginia Tech
While running back wasn’t a dire need like some other positions, the Bears got another good value pick in Herbert, who provides depth behind David Montgomery and Tarik Cohen. With the addition of veteran Damien Williams to a one-year deal, Herbert could eventually work himself into that No. 3 role. But the Bears are also getting some special teams value in Herbert, who has experience returning kicks during his collegiate career. Last year, Herbert averaged 23.5 yards per return. With Cordarrelle Patterson’s departure and Cohen returning from a torn ACL, Chicago certainly needs help in the kick return department, and Herbert could be that guy. Ultimately, the Bears got a solid value pick in Herbert, who addresses depth at running back and could help resolve one of Chicago’s biggest questions on special teams.
Round 6, Pick 221: WR Dazz Newsome, North Carolina
While the Bears didn’t use a high draft pick on a wideout, they got a steal with Newsome in the sixth round. He brings athleticism and speed to the position, and some have called him a human highlight reel. Chicago is also getting some special teams help with Newsome, who has experience returning punts in college. Over the last three seasons at North Carolina, Newsome averaged 11.1 yards on 48 punt returns, including one return for a touchdown. With running back Tarik Cohen returning from a torn ACL, Chicago could look to get Cohen off punt returns, and Newsome could be his replacement. Newsome is another speedy weapon that’s been added on offense for new quarterback Justin Fields and Andy Dalton, who will likely start the 2021 season. At his pro day, Newsome ran a 4.38 40-yard dash. The fact that Chicago was able to get Newsome in the sixth round was a steal, and some are wondering if we could have another Mooney on our hands.
Round 6, Pick 228: CB Thomas Graham Jr., Oregon
Graham was one of the best cornerbacks in the country during that time, and you have to wonder if his decision to opt out affected his draft stock. Pro Football Focus even had Graham ranked as the 76th-best prospect in the entire draft. And the Bears got him with the 228th overall pick. Heading into the draft, cornerback was an area of need following the release of two-time Pro Bowler Kyle Fuller and Buster Skrine this offseason. The Bears did sign veteran Desmond Trufant to presumably occupy Fuller’s role, but it’s clear he’s not the future at cornerback. The Bears didn’t address cornerback with a high pick, but the addition of Graham brings much-needed depth to the position.
Round 7, Pick 250: DT Khyiris Tonga, BYU
While the defensive line wasn’t a significant area of concern, the Bears added a nice developmental prospect in Tonga, who has the chance to work with one of the best defensive lines in the league and learn under Akiem Hicks and Eddie Goldman. Ultimately, Tonga is a mountain of a defensive tackle with big physical prowess and versatility along the defensive line. He’s a powerful run-stuffer, but he also has the ability to get after the quarterback, something that’s vital for nose tackles in this pass-happy league.
Clay Jackson /Herald & Review via AP
While we don't want to get ahead of ourselves before any of these players actually hit the field, it's hard not to wonder if, when all is said and done, this winds up being one of Pace's better draft classes. Not only did the Bears land two of the top-rated prospects in this draft class in the first two rounds in quarterback Justin Fields and offensive tackle Teven Jenkins, but Pace found some great value picks in the later rounds, which is where he tends to find some of those late-round gems. Chicago addressed their biggest roster needs -- quarterback, offensive tackle -- and added depth at valuable positions -- cornerback, wide receiver, running back and defensive tackle. It was a draft that was very un-Ryan Pace like, at least in the earlier rounds. It was solid from start to finish, and now we'll see how the Bears go about developing this talented rookie class.
Overall Grade: A