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Evaluating development of Bears' 2021 draft class

The Bears' 2021 rookie class.

All seven of the players the Bears selected in the 2021 draft contributed as rookies. With their first NFL seasons in the books, here's a report card on the 2021 draft class, with insight from their position coaches.

Justin Fields, quarterback
First round (11th overall)

Fields opened the season as the Bears' No. 2 quarterback but was elevated into the No. 1 role when Andy Dalton exited a Week 2 win over the Bengals with a knee injury. Fields started the next eight games before sustaining a rib injury against the Ravens that forced him to miss two contests. He returned to make two starts but suffered an ankle injury versus the Vikings that prevented him from playing the rest of the season.

Fields appeared in 12 games with 10 starts this season, completing 58.9 percent of his passes for 1,870 yards with seven touchdowns, 10 interceptions and a 73.2 passer rating. The former Ohio State star also rushed for 420 yards—fifth among all quarterbacks and tops among all rookie QBs—and two TDs on 72 carries, been sacked 36 times and lost five of 12 fumbles.

Pass game coordinator/quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo was most impressed with Fields' decisiveness in recent games.

"His decisiveness on throwing the football, and then his decisiveness on when to take off and run," DeFilippo said. "I think you saw that the last few weeks he played where I don't say he played faster, because he's always played fast, but there was a decisiveness to his decision-making when taking off and running the football."

DeFilippo also liked what he's seen from Fields concerning his "everyday preparation and understanding what it takes to play at this level."

"Playing quarterback in this league, I've said this a lot: It's not a job; it's a lifestyle," DeFilippo said. "To coach or play quarterback in this league is a lifestyle, and if you don't buy into that lifestyle, you're going to have a really hard time. Through the course of this year, he's really come to grasp, 'Hey, I need to eat, sleep and anytime I'm awake, be thinking football.' That takes a lot of mental toughness for a young man, and I know he has that in him."

Teven Jenkins, tackle
Second round (39th)

Jenkins missed the first 11 games after undergoing back surgery in mid-August. He made his NFL debut by playing two special-teams snaps Dec. 5 against the Cardinals. A week later, he was inserted at left tackle in the first quarter versus the Packers after veteran Jason Peters suffered a high ankle sprain.

Jenkins started the next two games, exited a win in Seattle Dec. 26 with a shoulder injury and played in the final two games of the season. Penalties were an issue for the Oklahoma State product, who drew seven flags in his first two contests versus Green Bay and Minnesota.

"He had a couple of bad plays, but he had some plays in that Green Bay game," said offensive line coach Juan Castillo. "I thought he played really well in the Minnesota game … what was really good in that Minnesota game … [was] the physicality on some of the 'nakeds' and some of the run stuff. Unfortunately, some of the physicality cost him a penalty, which is unacceptable. But he showed what kind of player he is: the tenacity, the physicality that he's going to bring to the table.

"When you have to look at the video and you see all the things that are happening, he was more consistent setting square. So, I was kind of excited. It's too bad [Jenkins was injured] the other night because I was excited to see him on the road, dealing with silent counts like Green Bay. I was looking forward to him having a really, really good game."

Larry Borom, tackle
Fifth round (151st)

Borom played both tackle positions as a rookie, starting six straight games on the right side from Oct 31-Dec. 12, as well as the final two games of the season Jan. 2 and Jan. 9 and entered two contests as an injury replacement at left tackle—in Week 1 for Peters and Dec. 26 in Seattle for Jenkins.

"He had a lot of work [at left tackle] in training camp," Castillo said. "I think what ended up happening in the end, especially in pass pro, he had to stay square. He had a couple of plays [against the Seahawks] where he overset a bit. But that's understandable. But he ended up playing square. He's a good athlete. Usually when you stay between the defender and the quarterback, you've got a good chance when you're an athlete."

Khalil Herbert, running back
Sixth round (217th)

Herbert produced on offense and special teams as a rookie. In four games as the Bears' featured back when David Montgomery was injured, Herbert rushed for 344 yards, the fourth most in the NFL during that span. The Virginia Tech product appeared in all 17 contests this year, running for 433 yards and two TDs on 103 carries and catching 14 passes for 96 yards. Herbert also averaged 24.1 yards on 27 kickoff returns with a long return of 50 yards. His 650 kick return yards was also the most by any rookie last season.

"You talk about the longevity of an NFL season and how he hasn't hit that rookie wall," said running backs coach Michael Pitre. "He prepares like a pro, he prepares like a starter every single week, and just being ready for when his number is called, be it special teams, be it offense, be it pass protection. Just him having that approach has allowed him to have success and take advantage of his opportunities when he gets them."

Dazz Newsome, receiver
Sixth round (221st)

Newsome spent the first 14 weeks of the season on the practice squad before making his NFL debut Dec. 20 against the Vikings. Starting Dec. 26 in Seattle, he recorded his first pro reception, turning a short pass into a 10-yard gain and a first down by breaking a tackle by eight-time Pro Bowl linebacker Bobby Wagner. Newsome also returned a punt 28 yards to set up a touchdown.

"I would say he's one of the most improved players that we have and I've seen that throughout the season on scout team," said receivers coach Mike Furrey. "His confidence of playing the game, his savviness of playing the game, he's a football player. I talked to him three or four weeks ago and I was telling him, I said, 'Listen Dazz, you've improved tremendously,' and a lot of it's just that knowledge and that understanding of he belongs and can play at this level. And then it was really, as we all know, just waiting for that opportunity to get a chance to go in."

Thomas Graham Jr., cornerback
Sixth round (228th)

After spending the first 14 weeks of the season on the practice squad, Graham made a splash in his NFL debut versus Minnesota, registering seven tackles and three pass breakups while playing all 64 snaps. In Seattle, he got beat by receiver D.K. Metcalf for a 41-yard touchdown but rebounded to break up a key pass later in the game. He finished the season with four pass breakups in four games.

"It's always great for guys to learn from others and then also find that point where you can be humbled, then see if you're hungry after you get humbled," said defensive backs coach Deshea Townsend. "In his case, he wasn't defeated after [the Metcalf TD] happened.

"He comes to work, he asks great questions, he wants to be a player in the league, he wants to have a career in the league; not just a one-year thing. And that's the thing that you love about him. His questions that he asks, his eagerness to learn, and then what you tell him, he's able to take it on the field and repeat it and give you the picture that you want. Especially for a young guy, that's important. I think his journey to get to this point has made him be strong-minded and tough and resilient and hungry and have some fun when he's out there playing with us."

Khyiris Tonga, nose tackle
Seventh round (250th)

Tonga was part of the defensive line rotation throughout the season, appearing in 15 games with two starts. He has compiled 24 tackles and one tackle-for-loss.

"I'm really impressed by him," said defensive line coach Chris Rumph. "I mess with him all the time and tell him, 'Man, I messed your evaluation up because I didn't grade you as high as you've been playing.' I'm excited for him just for the person he is and the energy he brings and the willingness to learn. I think this guy can really do some good things for us."

Check out the best photos of the season—taken by Bears photographers—featuring the 2021 rookie class.

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