Reviewing the Rookies: Checking In On 5 Weeks of Progress (Part 2)

| October 10th, 2023

We’ll pick up right where we left off yesterday — let’s review the rest of the Bears draft class, stopping only once we reach the players that have yet to log meaningful snaps.

Zacch Pickens:

  • Overall: Pickens has underwhelmed in the eyes of some, but I can’t help feeling like he’s better described as a player miscast within this defense — at South Carolina, Pickens was a reliable 1-gap run defender with a quick first step that flashed nuanced hand-usage when rushing the passer at the Senior Bowl. He’s a lighter defensive lineman (listed at 300lbs by Chicago) better suited for quick penetration than he for holding up against double teams… but why then have the Bears asked him to be the backup Nose Tackle? It doesn’t make sense, though I continue to hope that one day it will.
    • The weight difference between Andrew Billings (listed at 330lbs) and Zacch Pickens (listed at 300lbs) tells the whole story, especially since Billings and Pickens are likely heavier & lighter than their listings respectively. It’s no surprise Pickens is struggling, especially against double-teams, but when he’s allowed to do the job I think he better fits he flashes reps like the Tweet below.
  • Where he’s surprised me: His first step was always good in school, but I’ve been surprised at how many plays (~3 come to mind) he’s made in limited action due to his first step alone. Also, we did see Pickens anchor a few times successfully in the preseason — that was a nice surprise. Rooting for him.
  • Improvement area: A player like Pickens can always use more refinement with his hands, though he flashed a wonderful long-arm pass rush against Washington that gives me hope for the future. Pickens is often used as the ‘set up man’ within stunts for his teammates, so he doesn’t get nearly as many opportunities as teammates like Dominique Robinson, Rasheem Green, or DeMarcus Walker — I’d love to see him get more pass-rush opportunities before I attempt to grade him further.

Roschon Johnson:

  • Overall: Roschon looks like a young star. He runs hard, he catches the ball well, and he’s a reliable pass-blocker when picking up blitzes or assisting his defensive linemen. The RB position can be fairly self-evident, so I don’t know how much more there is to say — it’s a shame he’s currently injured, but he should be back soon. And as this offense gets healthier overall, he should get plenty of opportunities to create chunk plays.

  • Where he’s surprised me: I knew Roschon was a man without hesitation, but I didn’t expect him to feel so fast on an NFL football field! Johnson ran nearly the same 40-yard-dash time as former Bear David Montgomery (Roschon – 4.58, Montgomery – 4.63) but the difference between the two’s playspeed feels remarkable. Roschon hits the hole hard, lowers his pads, and blasts the first person he sees.
  • Improvement area: As much as Roschon’s outrageously physical collisions makes for great entertainment, I’d love to see Johnson manage contact just a bit better once he’s rocketed through the hole — NFL DBs can hit! If he can learn to cut at the last moment in ways that lessen the force his body endures from huge hits, I imagine he’ll be able to stay healthier long-term.

Tyler Scott:

  • Overall: Is it the chicken or is it the egg? The Bears are struggling to get any WR not named DJ Moore going thus far in 2023 (only one other WR has 100+ yards total on the season) and Scott certainly isn’t exempt from that struggle. It may be a side effect of the way his Quarterback is playing — Justin Fields, though he threw the ball much better against Denver and Washington, isn’t progressing quickly through his reads when his first read isn’t there, and in many cases his 3rd read would’ve been Tyler Scott.
    • That said, and I can’t believe I have to write this, Scott’s effort has been a question at times — he’s asked to run more than his fair share of ‘For The Love Of The Game’ routes (clear-out routes with no intention of getting the ball), but on plays like the famous Week 2 Roschon Johnson TD-that-was-not Scott seemed to waft through his route rather than show off his speed. As the Bears seemingly condense the passing offense down to 2 WRs, their TE, and their RBs, I wonder how Scott will fit into the larger picture.
  • Where he’s surprised me: Scott has actually played as-advertised — when running deep or breaking off a slant route, Scott’s speed pops. His run blocking leaves plenty to be desired, which you’d expect from a 177lb receiver. Really, until he has more than 3 total receiving yards under his belt, there’s not much to say.
  • Improvement area: Run hard on the 15 snaps/game he gets and wait for his opportunities. If the coaches see him stacking CBs on deep routes, he’ll get his chance to run deep as the primary target. From there, you hope he can build further rapport with Fields.

Terell Smith:

  • Overall: There’s nothing more fun than when a rookie DB gets called into action and performs above-expectation, but I am starting to see the Terell Smith hype train run off the rails a bit and want to temper expectations — he was the reason for this pair of articles, after all.
    • Smith looks like a natural fit in Eberflus’ defense at first glance (based on all his time in Minnesota’s zone defense), but upon closer inspection you can see that he’s still catching up to the NFL’s play-speed when sitting in zone coverage & his footwork coming out of his break can be a bit sloppy.
    • I have questions about his ability to run with NFL speed on deeper routes & stems, but Washington didn’t test this part of his game on Thursday Night so I won’t harp on things that didn’t happen. I also thought he was too soft on deeper routes (#6-8) and that got him in trouble when WRs turned his hips & then broke back on the ball. Howell didn’t throw a big dig route early (play #6, WR is open), but Howell caught Smith on a curl later in the game (#7). Something to watch for.
  • Where he’s surprised me: Smith has a great sense for spacing in zone coverage and physical hands in man coverage that showed themselves off in the red zone. If he can improve his trigger, he’ll make plays when flying downhill.
  • Improvement area: Smith needs to speed up that trigger & refine his footwork — the scheme doesn’t work if a DB can’t keep his feet when breaking out of Eberflus’ zones, but I doubt that Smith will have this issue for long.
    • He looks to me like a player that missed a healthy chunk of training camp and is just a few weeks behind Tyrique Stevenson, who made some plays on Thursday — give Smith time and he should catch up.

Bonus Stevenson reel:

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