The Chicago Bears will need some young players to breakout in this upcoming season. They have one of the oldest rosters in the NFL, with an average age of 27.1 years prior to the NFL Draft. The Bears also have 44 expiring contracts this offseason, including key contributors such as Allen Robinson and Akiem Hicks.
With an aging roster that lacks depth, Chicago will need some players to step up next season. Here are three breakout candidates for the Chicago Bears in 2021.
The Bears drafted tight end Cole Kmet out of Notre Dame in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft. In his rookie season, Kmet got off to a slow start, catching six passes on eight targets over his first eight games. However, after Chicago’s bye in Week 9, the rookie tight end showed what he was capable of. With an increased role in the Bears offense, he amassed 22 receptions in the last eight games of the season and made several impressive plays, such as the run shown below.
— Chicago Bears (@ChicagoBears) December 15, 2020
Part of Kmet’s initial lack of usage was due to veteran tight end Jimmy Graham. Graham was a Bears offseason signing in 2020 and his presence caused Kmet to originally get less snaps.
At the same time, however, Graham likely helped Kmet develop. He has spent 10 years in the NFL, and his 82 career touchdowns are the fourth-most ever by a tight end. This type of veteran leadership in Kmet’s rookie season certainly improved his game.
Kmet is also poised to have a breakout season due to Chicago’s new quarterback room. The Bears brought in veteran Andy Dalton and then drafted Justin Fields 11th overall in the 2021 Draft. Fields has widely been described as a generational talent, and even better for Kmet, enjoys throwing to his tight ends. Dalton will likely be the starter in the beginning of the season as the Bears try to ease Fields into the NFL, but Dalton is still better than Chicago’s quarterbacks last year.
The stars have aligned for Kmet to burst onto the scene in 2021. Not only did he show great development in his rookie year, but he now has a better offense around him. Expect Kmet to be a big force in Chicago’s offense this year.
Cornerback Jaylon Johnson was the Bears other second round pick in 2020. Unlike Kmet, his rookie season started off strong until he sustained a shoulder injury in Week 14. Prior to the injury, Johnson had 15 pass deflections and allowed just 56.4% of passes when targeted. Through the first few weeks, he was even a contender for Defensive Rookie of the Year.
A lot of pressure is on Johnson to succeed and stay healthy in 2021. The Bears released top cornerback Kyle Fuller in the offseason due to cap constraints, leaving Johnson the role of number one cornerback. This is a big deal for a player who struggled, both in college and as a rookie, to avoid injury.
Johnson will have every opportunity to succeed in the upcoming season. He has the talent to do so and could breakout with his increased role on the Bears defense. However, Johnson’s inability to stay healthy is a potential issue.
Who will play cornerback opposite Johnson is still in question. The Bears did not do much to address it in the offseason. They signed veteran Desmond Trufant, but he is washed up and injury prone. Chicago also drafted Thomas Graham Jr. out of Oregon in the sixth round, who is more likely to play nickel back than on the outside. Aside from these low investment acquisitions, the Bears did not pay much attention to defensive back.
At the moment, Trufant appears to be the second cornerback. However, it is reasonable to expect that Johnson or Trufant will get injured next year. It is also quite possible that Trufant underwhelms upon arriving in Chicago. In such a case, Kindle Vildor would likely be the one moving into the starting job.
The Bears drafted Vildor in the fifth round of the 2020 NFL Draft. He did not get much playing time in his rookie year, which is common for a late round draft pick.
However, Vildor did show potential upon receiving playing time in the last few weeks. So much so that Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins praised his performance, saying that Vildor “did do a good job… We weren’t able to hit those explosive plays down the field as we had in other weeks.”
Vildor showed flashes of brilliance on the field as a rookie. He certainly is not a polished product, but depending on how much he sees the field, Vildor could be an impact player for the Bears in 2021.
Featured Image Courtesy of Quinn Harris/Getty Images
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