Simply put, the Bears need tight ends.
They currently have two on the roster. That’s not enough to get through OTAs, let alone an NFL regular season. Only tight ends Cole Kmet and Jesper Horsted are under contract right now.
The team is in good shape at the top with Kmet, a 2020 second-round draft pick who really stepped up his production between his rookie year and his sophomore season. That doesn’t mean he is done developing, because there’s work to be done, but Kmet should once again highlight the position.
Between now and OTAs, the Bears need to add tight ends. It’s probably not their top priority in the draft, but it wouldn’t be surprising if they used one of their six draft picks on a tight end. One tight end who is likely to be available to them when they select in the third round, or potentially even when they come up again in the fifth round, is Washington’s Cade Otton.
Otton (6-foot-5, 247 pounds) has a solid body for the position. He comes from a football family. His grandfather and his father were high school football coaches. His brother Ryan, also a tight end, is committed to Washington for next year.
Cade Otton showed good instincts as a route runner over his four years as a starter at Washington. He’s a decent blocker with room to grow in that area of his game.
“At the tight end position you are asked to do a lot, whether it’s blocking at the point of attack or out in space or running routes,” Otton said at last month’s NFL Scouting Combine. “So obviously the more you can do the more you can stay on the field. It’s all about how you provide value to a team.”
With tight end Jimmy Graham becoming a free agent, the Bears could look to add a pass-catching tight end who can line up in the slot, which would be a good compliment to Kmet, who typically lines up next to the tackles.
Otton projects as a solid route runner who can attack the defense at short, intermediate and deep range.
“My biggest thing would be my versatility,” Otton said. “My team trusts me to do a lot of different tasks whether it’s run blocking, pass blocking, running routes, short intermediate, deep and so if a team wants a lot of value out of a player, I think I can offer that.”
Otton battled a foot injury last season that limited his production and required surgery. He said he expects to be healthy for NFL training camp.
Cade Otton, TE, Washington
College career: After redshirting during his first season, Otton started the next four years at Washington. He was a first-team All-Pac 12 performer in the shortened 2020 season, catching 18 passes for 258 yards and three touchdowns in four games. His 2021 season didn’t go to plan. He missed several games due to injury and COVID-19. He finished the season with 28 catches for 250 yards and one touchdown. Otton has good height for the tight end position, but could still probably get a little bit stronger. He’s a good route runner.
They said it: “He will need to bolster his play strength and aggression levels to better execute his blocking itinerary at the next level. He’s an ascending combination tight end with starting talent.” –Lance Zierlein, NFL.com draft analyst
Draft projection: 3rd-5th round