An undertone of uncertainty dogs the 2020 Chicago Bears draft class.
In some ways they're going out on a limb with some picks.
Their two cornerback picks had careers altered to some extent by injuries, while tight end Cole Kmet really never developed as a player until his final season.
It raises the question whether they actually provided enough of an indication of their skills, although the Bears seem convinced they've received a sufficient education on each player.
Notre Dame's Kmet enjoyed a strong final season with 43 receptions, while playing nine games the previous year and making just 15 receptions. He had two catches in four games in his first season, 2017.
"I think that that's a big part of his value is that we really feel like he's getting better," general manager Ryan Pace said. "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."
The reason they see him ascending is he finally stopped being a two-sport athlete in his last year, ending a baseball career good enough to have attracted the attention of the White Sox.
"So out of high school I was still playing baseball and baseball was an important part of my life at that point," Kmet said. "And I had a really good junior season and then senior season I did really well and started talking to some MLB scouts and the White Sox reached out and I was able to do a workout there at U.S. Cellular (Field) at the time. And, yeah, that was just a really cool experience."
He entertained a baseball career but wanted too much to play football and go to Notre Dame. It didn't keep him from playing baseball there.
"Really, with Cole splitting time between baseball and football early in his college career, he's still a young player with a lot of upside," Pace said.
It's a good explanation for why his statistics were low until the final year, but the question Kmet and the Bears have to answer is whether he can live up to that second-round status and position as the draft's top tight end based only on one season of productivity.
Cornerbacks and Injuries
The cornerback concern with second-round pick Jaylon Johnson isn't so much number of games but quality. Teams scouting him saw what they needed to see but he played with a shoulder injury last year before having surgery after the NFL Scouting Combine. He had a similar injury on the other shoulder in the past, which isn't a good situation for cornerbacks because they make so many plays when they hit the ground with arms extended.
"He's missed one game in two years," Pace said. "He played through an injury last year which I think says a lot about him and kind of who he is. He got it fixed and this will be something that will limit him some of the offseason program. But we feel really comfortable with our doctors and trainers and the work we did on it and we expect him to be healthy when we need him."
On one hand, the Bears have to be encouraged Johnson played well and with grit despite the injury. On the other hand, two injuries like this could indicate some kind of need for better strength training on his upper body or technique changes.
It leaves a question whether the second pick they made in Round 2 was the right one there when Alabama cornerback Trevon Diggs was available and went one pick later.
The Bears did get a good look at him at his best.
It's tougher to be certain of what they saw in cornerback Kindle Vildor from Georgia Southern, one of three fifth-round picks. He played much of his final year with an ankle injury which impacted his performance.
"It was a little bit of an issue when I hurt it back in October," Vildor said. "It was still kind of lingering the rest of the season. Now, I'm fully good, I was able to compete in the Senior Bowl fresh, ankle feeling good, went to the combine, run fast, things like that. I looked good in my drills.
"So the ankle, I'm not even worried about my ankle anymore, I forgot all about it."
The ankle most likely wouldn't be an issue now, and his combine performance indicated this. His 4.44-second speed in the 40 was tied for seventh among cornerbacks and 39.5-inch vertical leap was tied for third.
Teams assessing Vildor had to decide whether they had a good enough look at a healthy player last year to make an assessment. He had two interceptions last year and four when he was healthy as a junior. In the Bears' case, Pace said he saw plenty of tape on his junior year when he was far more effective.
It's the last year that lingers, though, because 2018 was a long time ago.
2-Point or 3-Point
Finally, there is also an issue with Trevis Gipson, their pass rusher chosen in Round 5 after trading away a 2021 Round 4 pick.
The Tulsa product didn't really play a position like he'll play in Chicago. He played like a 5-technique, a defensive end in a 3-4 where Akiem Hicks is at or Bilal Nichols.
"I feel like I can stand up two-point or put my hand in the dirt," Gipson said. "I feel like I play with relentless effort."
He made 13 1/2 sacks and 25 1/2 tackles for loss playing like an interior lineman, but the Bears are using him as an edge rusher, an outside linebacker.
"We see him as an outside linebacker in our defense," Pace said. "One of the things he can do, in sub, he can put his hand down and rush inside. He has the ability to do that. But his first position will be outside linebacker."
The Bears are doing plenty of projecting with all four of those draft picks. It's that way with all drafts for all teams.
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