Difference-Making Tight Ends Available For Bears In This NFL Draft Class

By Chris Emma–

(CBS) Jamal Adams knows football, and he knows his case as a safety potentially being selected in the top five of the NFL Draft relates to the evolution of the tight end.

Tight ends are utilized in unique ways in the NFL as quarterbacks break records in pass-happy offenses. Teams could use an Adams type in the secondary to control traffic from a tight end.

“The game is starting to change — scheme-wise, passing,” Adams said at the NFL Combine in March. “We’re starting to have tight ends that can run now. Four-four-two, as you see, my man Evan (Engram) from Ole Miss went 4.42. The game is changing. O.J. (Howard of Alabama) as well, 4.51. You need safeties that can do everything in the back end, can cover, can tackle.”

The Bears have been seeking a game-changing tight end of their own, the kind of rounded player who can pose as a top target for new quarterback Mike Glennon and serve as a blocker for running back Jordan Howard.

In the offseason, the Bears signed 26-year-old and four-year veteran Dion Sims — a strong blocker who touts his abilities as a receiver — to complement steady target Zach Miller. Daniel Brown, Ben Braunecker, Justin Perillo and MyCole Pruitt could bring depth to the position, but the Bears would love to find that game-changer.

The 6-foot-6, 250-pound Howard, he of the 4.51 speed that caught Adams’ attention, is the top tight end in the class and could go in the top 10. The Bears were among the teams high in the draft order to bring in Howard for a visit to their facility.

Is tight end enough of a pressing need to select him in the top 10? Howard aims to be worth that type of investment.

“I’m trying to be a guy that can help a team make plays down the field, be that go-to guy (in) big moments,” Howard said at the Senior Bowl. “Just separate myself from defenders and be a playmaker. I think I’m a playmaker, I play better with the ball in my hand. I can help a team out a lot that way.”

The Bears could look to Miami’s David Njoku if he should fall to to their spot at No. 36 overall, in the second round. He’s considered a good athlete who’s strong as both a receiver and a blocker. Another option would be South Alabama’s Gerald Everett, who some have compared to Redskins tight end Jordan Reed.

A potential star is Engram of Ole Miss, the player in whom Adams is investing. He isn’t a drive blocker, but perhaps Bears general manager Ryan Pace would look past the blocking abilities for a tight end who runs a 4.42 40-time at 6-foot-3 and 235 pounds. Sims could perhaps fill the blocking role.

“I can be a huge weapon for a team and help their offense immediately next year,” Engram said at the Combine.

Plenty of intriguing names will be available for the Bears in the middle rounds. Arkansas tight end Jeremy Sprinkle is a player who shined at the Senior Bowl while working with the Bears-led North team. Teams have moved past the character concerns stemming from a shoplifting arrest during a Belk Bowl event at a Belk store, with Sprinkle admitting to his mistake.

And one of the most interesting tight ends to follow in this draft is Michigan’s Jake Butt, who suffered a torn ACL in the Orange Bowl. Butt could be cleared as early as June, he said, meaning he could be ready for training camp in late July.

Butt is considered by many as one of the top tight ends in the class, though teams may be scared by his injury. Many scouts compare Butt’s game to that of Miller. He models his game after Greg Olsen.

“I hope to be the same player he is some day,” Butt said of Olsen.

The Bears have drafted just two tight ends since selecting Olsen with the 31st pick in 2007 — Kellen Davis in the fifth round in 2008 and Evan Rodriguez in the fourth round in 2012. They’ve been seeking a star like Olsen ever since the mistake of trading him in 2011. Martellus Bennett was a Pro Bowl tight end whose personality eventually was viewed as disruptive enough to force a trade from Chicago.

Miller is a sure-handed receiver at tight end who can manage as a blocker, and Sims is a tough blocker who could be more in the passing game. But the Bears will likely look to find their future at tight end in this draft.

The game is changing, as safeties like Adams know well. There’s a new breed of tight end rising through football.

Now, the Bears have a chance to find a difference-maker of their own

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670 and like his Facebook page.

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