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The Bears Rookie Facing the Most Severe Pressure

Tight end Cole Kmet has the hometown crowd to play to and a position the Bears haven't been able to get right, but is this enough to put more pressure on him than some other rookies will face?

Draft classes with first-round draft picks clearly define which rookie will be under the most pressure when practices begin.

Of whom much is given, much is expected.

With a draft class like the Bears have this year, the picture is not so clear.

No first-round pick can mean a second-round pick is under the most pressure to succeed, but if a player is put into a position to immediately contribute then it doesn't really matter where their selection came.

Cash isn't great enough after Round 1 to heighten pressure on a player. It's the role and other extenuating circumstances affecting Rounds 2-7.

This year's draft has two players under real pressure for the Bears, but surprisingly less on their first pick Cole Kmet.

The pick with the most pressure right away is cornerback Jaylon Johnson, their second pick at No. 50 in Round 2. He's going to feel it a good deal more than Kmet will, even if Kmet has to live up to the added strain of playing in his home town and has his former coach Chip Kelly calling him read to play right away.

"What they’re getting is an athletic tight end that is going to impact their offense immediately," Kelly said in a conference call.

The fact the Bears have thrown Johnson into a starting cornerback battle already and announce it clearly is pressure enough.

Cornerback itself is a pressure position, anyway.

There might be more pressure put on Johnson from who the Bears haven't brought in to be competition than by those who have.

Facing Artie Best, Tre Roberson and Kevin Toliver in a battle for starter initially will be challenging for a rookie but not for long if he has the talent the Bears believe. It's almost as if the Bears are holding the position open for him.

There are plenty of options still in free agency they could pursue to really make his job a good deal more difficult, and even make it so he can't get on the field as a rookie.

Former Saints cornerback Eli Apple is one. At this point in free agency the asking price can't be too high. He had five interceptions, four forced fumbles and 233 tackles in his career with the Giants and Saints. His passer rating against slipped badly last year from 74.4 to 100.9, and his pass completion percentage allowed from 48.3% to 63.2%.

Still, with his history in New Orleans and great effectiveness as recently as 2018, you'd think the Bears would make a play for him.

They haven't yet.

A few others are available, as well but are much older than 25-year-old Apple.

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Trumaine Johnson and Dre Kirpatrick are both 30 and available as free agents, most likely at a low price now.

And the Bears are holding this spot for the rookie to beat out some veterans who may or may not offer much in the way of competition.

They expect much from him and the heat will be on the confident young cornerback from Utah.

The other rookie under the most heat is not Kmet but fifth-round pick Trevis Gipson.

They acknowledged after the draft the need for Gipson to learn details of NFL play. And he couldn't argue the fact he is still raw.

"I would agree with it a little bit. I don’t think I’ve reached my full potential just yet," he said.

Nevetheless, there is the fact they traded a fourth-round pick for the next year to get a pick to take him.

"I think that means that they really value me a lot," Gipson said.

There has been very little done to bring in a legitimate third pass rusher behind Khalil Mack and Robert Quinn who can come in for a few series a game to give them some rest and keep them fresh for the stretch run in fourth quarters.

Barkevious Mingo is an outside linebacker but not a pass rusher. He's made only five sacks over the last six seasons after getting five as a rookie in Cleveland in 2013. Isaiah Irving is there still but he's had plenty of opportunities to show he can ascend to the third spot in the past and hasn't done it. Former Packer and CFL player James Vaughters is on the roster but last year failed to make it and spent most of the year on the practice squad.

So by actions, they've made it pretty clear the expectation is Gipson ascending quickly even if the talk has been about development.

In Kmet's case, Pace called him still developing. That's not someone they're going to put immediate severe pressure on to produce, especially at his position. Tight ends rarely put up big numbers as rookies. Only two in the NFL over the last 17 years have had 600 receiving yards as rookies: Cam Cleeland and Evan Engram.

A Chicago Bears tight end holds the rookie receiving yards record. Mike Ditka had 1,076 yards in 1961 on 56 receptions, 12 of which went for touchdowns.

"I think that that's a big part of his value is that we really feel like he’s getting better," Pace said of Kmet. "He's just scratching the surface. And to be honest, you could see it this year on tape, when. You watched some of the early games, I think around the Virginia Tech game, and you could really feel his game taking off on all levels and Cole will say that, too. So he’s definitely an ascending player.

"I can’t imagine a two-sport athlete at a major university like Notre Dame and trying to do both and now just focusing on football."

An "ascending player," normally a sign of someone still developing, and the talk about how he also played baseball until recently was more proof the Bears don't necessarily expect the big impact as a rookie they might get from others.

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