5 rookie Chicago Bears players to watch over final 5 games

Bears return to action Dec. 10 following bye week

Chicago Bears running back Roschon Johnson runs from Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Harrison Phillips during the second half, Monday, Nov. 27, 2023, in Minneapolis.

The Bears have five games remaining on the schedule.

While maybe they aren’t technically eliminated from playoff contention (the New York Times gives them a 2% chance), the odds are stacked against them. For many Bears fans, the attention is already turning toward the offseason.

Caleb Williams or Drake Maye? Draft a QB or keeping going with Justin Fields? But before fully diving into draft talk, five contests remain on the 2023 schedule. That’s still a quarter of the season.

There’s still time for players to make a statement. This will be a valuable stretch, especially for the Bears’ younger players. Here are five rookies to keep an eye on in December and January.

1. RB Roschon Johnson

Chicago Bears running back Roschon Johnson fends off Green Bay Packers cornerback Keisean Nixon during their game Sunday, Sept. 10, 2023, at Soldier Field in Chicago.

The Bears drafted Roschon Johnson in the fourth round. He’s valuable as an all-around football player, both at running back and on special teams. But Monday’s win over Minnesota was the first time Johnson saw the majority of the work at running back.

He was on the field for a season-high 74% of offensive snaps. He had 10 carries and five receptions on offense. Veteran Khalil Herbert played only 21% of snaps, carried the ball six times and caught two passes.

If the Bears are healthy following the bye week, Johnson, Herbert and D’Onta Foreman could all be in play for snaps. Foreman, when healthy, has been the most effective. Bears fans looking toward the future should want to see Johnson continue to play a bigger role on offense. Johnson doesn’t need to be a lead back long-term, but the Bears need to know just how much he can handle.

2. DT Gervon Dexter

Defensive tackle Gervon Dexter has seven quarterback hits, and four of them have come in the last two games. The No. 53 overall draft pick is playing his best football during the second half of the season.

Dexter was always going to be a work in progress. At Florida, he played in a much different defensive system than Matt Eberflus’ 4-3 scheme. Also, he’s still only 22 years old. The Bears drafted him with the long term in mind.

Dexter played close to half the defensive snaps against Carolina and Detroit. Look for him to continue to see opportunities, even if he’s still behind starters Justin Jones and Andrew Billings on the depth chart.

3. CB Terell Smith

Rookie fifth-round pick Terell Smith missed a month with mononucleosis. He returned in a limited role last week against Detroit, splitting some reps with second-round pick Tyrique Stevenson. Against Minnesota, Stevenson missed the game with an ankle injury, paving the way for Smith to enter the starting lineup.

Smith played 95% of the defensive snaps against Minnesota. The Vikings went after him several times. Smith played pretty well and totaled eight solo tackles.

Smith will probably still be splitting time with Stevenson, if not on the bench behind Stevenson, the rest of the season. But these will be valuable snaps for him, especially if the Bears can’t find a way to work out a new contract with Jaylon Johnson in the offseason.

4. CB Tyrique Stevenson

Chicago Bears cornerback Tyrique Stevenson breaks up a pass intended for Las Vegas Raiders wide receiver Davante Adams during their game Sunday, Oct. 22, 2023, at Soldier Field in Chicago.

Stevenson continues to be a player to watch. The Bears selected him with the No. 56 overall draft pick and he had to earn his starting spot with Smith right on his heels. He has impressed his coaches with his hard-hitting style of football.

There have been both good moments and bad for Stevenson over the first 12 games. That’s to be expected form any rookie corner. It’s a tough position to play. Opponents like to pick on inexperienced rookies.

Stevenson had his first interception against Detroit and forced a fumble on special teams during that game. Ideally, rookies will be playing their best at the end of the season. That appears to be the trajectory Stevenson is on. Hopefully he can return from the ankle injury the sidelined him last week.

5. WR Tyler Scott

Chicago Bears wide receiver Tyler Scott tries to get by Las Vegas Raiders cornerback Marcus Peters during their game Sunday, Oct. 22, 2023, at Soldier Field in Chicago.

On the other hand, rookie receiver Tyler Scott is not playing his best football late in the year. He lost a fumble and dropped a key deep ball in the loss to Detroit, then saw his playing time plummet against Minnesota. Scott played only 12 snaps (17%) on offense.

Even so, he will see chances over the next five games. He’s a smart football player who understands the game at a high level and seems to be in the right position. He just has to hold onto the football. The Bears need Scott to have a positive performance his next few times out. They can’t afford for another young receiver to lose his confidence, as has been the case with Velus Jones Jr.

Sean Hammond

Sean Hammond

Sean is the Chicago Bears beat reporter for the Shaw Local News Network. He has covered the Bears since 2020. Prior to writing about the Bears, he covered high school sports for the Northwest Herald and contributed to Friday Night Drive. Sean joined Shaw Media in 2016.