4. Chicago Bears
Zach Miller may appear to be the team’s No. 1 tight end on paper, but don’t bet the mortgage on that being the case once the games start to count on Sept. 10.
Miller, who is no stranger to long-term injuries, suffered a dreaded Lisfranc fracture in his right foot after producing a healthy stat line (47/486/4) in the first 10 weeks of his 2016 campaign.
Head coach John Fox recently speculated that Miller might be ready to practice by the start of training camp, but the healing process could require more time, which could land the 32-year-old on the PUP list to start the season.
The one-time Jaguar is one of the greatest reclamation projects in recent times given how he basically fell off the face of the earth over a three-year stretch (2012-2014) before reemerging as a legitimate threat that can stretch the field.
The Bears are hoping for the best, but have insured themselves against another extended absence on the part of Miller by signing Dion Sims and drafting small-school phenom Adam Shaheen in the second round.
Even in the event of Miller recovering in time for the preseason, he’s entering the final year of his contract and the team will more than likely move on from him at season’s end.
The 262-pound Sims is the type of well-rounded player that has the tools to contribute as a serviceable replacement in the role of top dog.
No, he can’t quite run and jump like Jimmy Graham, but Sims can make tough grabs in traffic and use his size and acceleartion to tack on extra yards after the catch. He is an absolute load that can carry defenders to the first-down marker if necessary.
During his time as a Miami Dolphin, Sims routinely exhibited the ability to line up as a traditional in-line tight end while engaging defensive lineman thanks to his superior footwork and overall technique.
Much like Miller, the 5th-year veteran has dealt with his share of physical setbacks in the form of concussions in 2015 and 2016. But he’s also managed to be active in at least 13 games in each one of his seasons as an NFL pro.
And then there’s Shaheen, whose unexpected Day-2 selection sparked more than a few raised eyebrows due to his overall lack of polish as a route runner along with the level of athletes he faced at the Division-II level.
While the Bears would be foolish to expect much from the 277-pound rookie right away, he does possess the agility to reel in balls thrown outside of his frame. Furthermore, his size suggests he also has the potential to block defenders off the line of scrimmage.
Among the handful of Chicago’s end-of-roster options is Ben Braunecker. The Harvard product boasts superior athletic ability and managed to beat out Tony Moeaki, Rob Housler and Khari Lee for a spot last season.
Known to his teammates as “Bronk”, the undrafted free agent has the hands and quickness to attack the deep seams.
Daniel Brown, on the other hand, features prototypical height at 6-foot-5 and has packed on 18 pounds since entering the league as a UDFA in 2015. The 25-year-old project is a younger version of Miller in the eyes of some of cocahes.
He can line up at numerous positions both as an in-line and off-line weapon, but needs to show continued improvement if he hopes to be part of the final 53.
Former Viking MyCole Pruitt is an undersized H-back type that has struggled with injuries thus far in his two years at the pro level.