2021 Rookie Class Superlatives

Image by Zachary Rosenbaum – https://www.instagram.com/zacharyrosenbaumdesign/

 Ah, summer. There used to be a time when it was my favorite season. School lets out, the days grow blissfully long, that kid down the block with a pool becomes popular again, and the coming of August happily feels like it will take an eternity. But now, as an adult with a serious passion for the Chicago Bears, the next 107 days (as of writing this) and 15 Sundays until week one will be made only slightly less agonizing with the help of BBQs, beers, and watching my kids absolutely lose their minds over a simple sprinkler. Honorable mention goes out to a dancing-and-guitar-playing-Hawaiian-style-Aaron Rodgers, who is also very much helping (who knew he would be one of the highlights of this off-season for Bears fans?). So, with rookie mini-camp behind us, and a long couple of months until training camp, what better time is there than now to take a deep dive into our rookies? This draft class is objectively the best we’ve seen in recent memory and has brought about a much-needed feeling of excitement for fans. So sit back, crack open a cold one, and join me as I present my 2021 Rookie Class Superlatives (with a very Chicago twist):

Most likely to be spotted at the Bean: OL Teven Jenkins #76

     From the second this guy got drafted, he went on a bona fide Twitter rampage showing his love for the City of Chicago. From asking fans for their best pizza recommendations, to petitioning the Blackhawks to send him a jersey, it’s clear that his instant love for this city is just as big as his presence on the O-line. Just when I thought he couldn’t charm me any more than he had already, he let this gem slide to reporters: “I’ve never seen a skyscraper in person”. Well, Teven, you were absolutely drafted to the right city if you want to take in the sights tourist-style. May I suggest the architectural tour on the river? All joking aside, we scored an absolute beast in the second round of the draft to beef up our QB coverage, allowing only 2 sacks on 1,129 pass-blocking-snaps while playing at Oklahoma State. His mind-set is just as impressive as his physical prowess which he proved during a zoom call with Bears media: “Number one thing I’ve always learned is you keep your quarterback clean and you always keep him upright no matter what you have to do… if anybody hits my quarterback after the play, that’s my problem and not his.” Rumor has it he’ll be starting at left tackle, which may prove to be somewhat of a learning curve given his collegiate career at right tackle. But at 6’ 6’’, 320 lbs, and an obvious determination to master his position, I don’t think I’ll have any problem with him protecting our QB’s blind side. Does anybody have a direct number to Eric on 101.9 The Mix? Jenkins is a shoe-in to replace the “Leno On The Line” spot.

Most likely to score an endorsement deal with Al’s Beef: WR Dazz Newsome #83

     By now I’m sure you’ve heard all about how Newsome “Dazz”led reporters during one of his interviews when he requested that they recommend a Chicago take-out restaurant after asking their question. He even gave an update a couple of weeks later when speaking with “The Parkins & Spiegel Show”: “I’ve actually had Harold’s Chicken now. It was bussin’”. As notorious as he is for his love of take-out (and Waffle House), it’s his passion for football that he’s looking to make known through his performance. After starting all 12 games at the University of North Carolina as wide receiver and punt-returner during his senior year, he finished second on the team with 54 receptions, 684 receiving yards, and six receiving touchdowns. Falling to the sixth round when the Bears drafted him at the 221st spot overall, he’s not shy about pointing out that he’s got something to prove: “I’ve absolutely got a chip on my shoulder. Man, I saw a kicker go before me.” He’ll have some stiff competition with the likes of Allen Robinson, Darnell Mooney, Anthony Miller and Marquise Goodwin rounding out our receiving corps, but he demonstrated that he’s certainly up for the challenge when he caught the first long ball thrown by Justin Fields at mini-camp. With Cordarelle Patterson out (can I hear just one more “how ‘bout dem Bears?” Pretty please?) I think we’re most likely to see Newsome explode on special teams, having led the ACC in punt return average with 9.9 yards per return. He’s fast, he’s focused, he’s gregarious, and I can’t wait to see how he competes against the veterans. And Dazz, trust me, Pizano’s thin crust is where it’s at.

Most likely to be the “Freezer” to William Perry’s “Fridge”: DL Khyiris Tonga #95

     At first glance, this might seem like a tall order. But take a look at Tonga’s Twitter feed, and the first couple of tweets you’ll find show highlight reels of him making touchdowns; the first as a tight end in high school and the second during his time at BYU where he sneaks his way into the end zone, Fridge style. Given Nagy’s affinity for trick plays, I don’t think it’s inconceivable that we could one day see him running onto the field with the offense and marking himself as an eligible receiver (remember that exciting play dubbed “Santa’s Sleigh” that actually worked back in 2018?). He’s obviously versatile, and he’s also physically dominant. As a four-year-starter at BYU, Tonga had 130 tackles, 16 tackles for a loss, and 8.5 sacks. If his passion for his Polynesian culture is any indication, he’ll undoubtedly bring the same fire to the defense: “I take a lot of pride in where I come from, who I am and what I’ve been taught. From respect to loyalty to love and family … I’m grateful to be able to carry that out and to represent all Polynesians.” Make the Fridge proud, Khyiris, and you’ll have us all chanting from the stands: “TONGA! TONGA! TONGA!” (or maybe “FREEZER! FREEZER! FREEZER!”).

Most likely to make Lori Lightfoot crack a smile: RB Khalil (Juice) Herbert #24

      If there’s one word that comes to mind after learning about Herbert’s journey to the NFL and the way he handles himself as a person, it’s “heart”. Just head to his instagram page where you’ll find a video of his draft day, showing a family member reading aloud a letter that he wrote to himself in 2016 detailing his goals at the time: “Dear myself, five years from now, God will have and will still be showing his greatness through me. I want to affect and touch people’s hearts in one way or another … in five years I will be in the NFL.” You then see Herbert’s emotional reaction when he gets the call that he’s been drafted in the sixth round to the Bears. I dare you to watch that video and not at least grin (looking at you, Lightfoot). After making the decision to transfer to Virginia Tech (having felt that he was under-utilized during his four years at Kansas), Herbert made a strong argument as to why he’s NFL-grade material. In 2020 he ranked fifth in the nation with 1,183 total rushing yards, 8 rushing touchdowns, and averaged 7.6 yards per carry at VT. With speculation that Nagy could be looking at a more run-heavy offense, it’s conceivable that Herbert could get some touches this coming season, but he’s probably more likely to be battling Dazz for that coveted return man position. Regardless, I don’t think it’s a stretch when I say that we’ll be seeing big contributions from Juice, both on and off the field.

Most likely to perfect the “Peanut Punch”: CB Thomas Graham, Jr. #27

     Ranked as the 76th best player in the draft by Pro Football Focus, Graham didn’t get selected until the sixth round when the Bears drafted him at number 228. Talk about a value pick. Admittedly, I was completely gutted when the Bears released Kyle Fuller, and it remains to be seen if Jaylon Johnson can completely fill that void, but Graham looks like a solid bet to help ramp up our secondary. Before choosing to opt out of the 2020 season due to Covid, Graham had 8 interceptions, 1 pick-six, 183 tackles, 10.5 tackles for a loss, and 32 pass breakups during his 3 years as starter for Oregon. He also already has a rapport with Johnson going back to high school: “It’s been a dream of mine to play in the NFL, and now I get to do it, and I actually get to do it with somebody I actually grew up playing with … Jaylon Johnson.” Graham’s abilities paired with the natural chemistry he shares with Jaylon could prove to be a very exciting spark for our defense. He only has 1 forced fumble in his career under his belt, but that just means the sky’s the limit to study and perfect the infamous “Peanut Punch”. 

Most likely to be seen sitting courtside at the United Center: OL Larry Borom #75    

     It’s hard to imagine this staggering 6’ 6’’, 333 pound offensive lineman playing basketball, but that’s exactly what Larry Borom wanted to be while growing up, hoping to take after his 6’ 8’’ hoop-playing father. When talking to Lauren Screeden of the Bears, he recalled that it wasn’t until Junior year of high school that he quit basketball and started focusing on football in a more serious manner. His hard work paid off and he committed to the University of Missouri, where he shined as one of the top OT’s. During his tenure at Mizzou, he boasted a 0% pressure rate, which ranked first in the nation. We likely won’t see him starting this up-coming season as he’ll be backing up and studying current RT Germain Ifedi. Offensive line coach, Juan Castillo, who’s renowned for developing talent, wasn’t timid about boasting Borom’s skills when talking to Bears media: “I know Germain’s going to get mad at me, but Borom is a better athlete than Germain… [Borom is] a big man who’s athletic, who played good competition. We’re excited. We’re going to put him over there behind Germain and let him compete with Germain.” I have no doubt Borom will be up for that kind of competition. And don’t worry, Chicago, when Screeden asked who the GOAT is, Borom replied without hesitation: “Jordan”. 

Most likely to make that one Packer friend you have ugly cry into their Spotted Cow and choke on their cheese curds while torching their Aaron Rodgers jersey in an open trash can and lamenting the days of Favre: QB Justin Fields #1

     Ok, admittedly, this one got away from me. And technically it remains to be seen if the hype on this guy is deserved. After all, we’ve been here before: I can tell you exactly where I was standing when news broke that we traded for Cutler. And by all intents and purposes, Trubisky should have fared better than he did (we made it to the Super Bowl with Sexy Rexy here, people!). But I have to admit that something feels different about Fields, and I became an instant fan when I saw his reaction to being drafted 11th overall: “there’s been too much talking lately. I’m just ready to work. That’s it.” Sure, his stats at Ohio State are obviously impressive: 20-2 record as starting QB, threw for 5,373 yards and 63 TDs in just 2 seasons, rushed for 867 yards and 15 TDs, poised when on a big stage, and the list goes on and on. But what struck me more than anything was his score on the NFL mental aptitude test: 130, which is the highest rating ever recorded (Mahomes’ score? 108). With those career stats, acutely obvious mental acumen, and a 4.44 40, I can even forgive this guy for being vegan (Dazz, a little help here?). Speculation abounds over when we’re likely to see Fields make his NFL debut, but he’s made it clear that while he’s here to compete, he also trusts our leadership explicitly (whether for better or worse): “I’m going to do everything I can to get that starting job, [but] it’s not up to me. Coach Nagy has a set plan on my development … I’m just gonna work hard and keep my head down.” We’ve been burned before, Bears fans, so we’ll all be holding our collective breath when he steps onto that field for the first time. But by all accounts, drafting Justin Fields was the big, delicious, franchise QB sundae we’ve all been waiting for, and the shake-up going on in Green Bay right now is the cherry on top.

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