Hub Arkush: Which undrafted free agents have best chance to be this year’s Jack Sanborn?

Bears could still use help at edge rusher

Chicago Bears linebacker Jack Sanborn plays against the Seattle Seahawks during a preseason game against on Aug. 18, 2022, in Seattle.

I think most would agree the 2022 season wasn’t very enjoyable for the Chicago Bears. I also suspect we might agree the best story – and biggest surprise – last year was the development of linebacker Jack Sanborn.

Undrafted rookie free agents almost never become the best or most productive player on an NFL defense just nine games into their rookie campaign, but that’s exactly who Sanborn was from the time he got his first NFL start against the Dolphins. He finished the game with seven solo tackles. One week later, in his second start, he notched his first two NFL sacks against Jared Goff and the Lions.

He was the only undrafted free agent in the NFL to have a multi-sack game last season. That he played his high school ball in Lake Zurich before going on to college at Wisconsin was just an added bonus.

Had Sanborn not spent the final three games of the season on IR because of an ankle injury, it’s hard to say what his total accomplishments as a rookie could have been, but it’s exciting to imagine what his second season may produce.

And, with the Bears rookie minicamp wrapped up this past weekend and the roster still in need of multiple additions it leaves us wondering if this year’s group of undrafted rookies could deliver another Sanborn or two?

Let’s meet the candidates.

Player, CollegePositionHeightWeight
Tyson Bagent, Shepherd CollegeQB6-3213
Micah Baskerville, LSULB6-2215
Robert Burns, ConnecticutFB5-11222
Macon Clark, TulaneDB5-11203
Aron Cruikshank, RutgersWR5-10170
Jalen Harris, ArizonaDE6-5257
Robert Haskins, USCOL6-5297
Gabriel Houy, PittsburghOL6-6325
Lorenz Metz, CincinnatiOL6-9330
Thyrick Pitts, DelewareWR6-1201
Andre Szmyt, SyracuseK6-1199
D’Anthony Jones, HoustonDE6-2280
Josh Lugg, Notre DameOL6-6310
Bralen Trahan, LouisianaS6-0201

Every one of these kids was a very good college football player, but obviously none of them were great or they wouldn’t have gone undrafted.

What they all have in common is the speed and athleticism for their positions along with the belief of the Bears scouts, coaches and general manager Ryan Poles that they each have yet to reach their full potential.

Because of the Bears obvious needs at edge rusher and lack of any additions to the roster either via free agency or the draft, the two players that are likely to earn the most attention are Harris and Jones.

Harris is particularly interesting because of his unique size for the position and his blood lines. His father, Sean, was a Bears linebacker from 1995-2000. In 56 games at Arizona, Harris piled up 26 tackles for loss and 14 sacks while actually being known more for his play against the run than rushing the passer.

He is the classic example of a search for athletes with room to dramatically improve their production.

Jones really is more a defensive end body-type than an edge rusher, but he finished last season at Houston with eight sacks, 13 ½ tackles for loss and five forced fumbles.

The two things I heard most about him from scouts were his amazing toughness and workaholic attitude.

Both will be fun to watch in the preseason.

It is impossible to rate the four offensive tackles in the group until we see them play in the preseason, but it is worth noting they all have great size and all come from quality programs.

The most intriguing has to be Metz, who didn’t begin playing football until he was 18 years old and was already a chemical technician in Germany. He actually played more guard than tackle at Cincinnati. Over 45 years of covering this team, he is the biggest Bear I’ve ever seen.

Houy is another lineman worth watching because of all Poles’ boxes he checks. He played both tackle and guard at Pittsburgh, was named to the All-ACC All-Academic team and was a high honor roll student in high school and all-conference performer on the basketball team as a special athlete.

Finally, there’s the king of all long shots in Bagent. Yes, he’s a Division II quarterback, but he’s also an incredible athlete in football and basketball. He owns the record for most touchdown passes across all NCAA divisions with 159. In 2021, he won the Harlon Hill Trophy, given to D-II’s most valuable player, after throwing for 5,000 yards and 53 TDs.

Now, I’ve never heard of Shepherd College, but don’t discount that Bagent was invited to the combine and Senior Bowl, where his head coach was Bears offensive coordinator Luke Getsy.

Stranger things have happened.

Hub Arkush

Hub Arkush

Hub Arkush was the Senior Bears Analyst for Shaw Local News Network and