Jaquan Brisker, Jack Sanborn Acing First Year – NBC Chicago

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Bears rookie report card: Brisker, Sanborn acing first year originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

On the ground floor of a rebuild, the Bears loaded their roster with young players looking to find long-term starters and depth options that fit their timeline.

General manager Ryan Poles quickly retooled the secondary with second-round picks Kyler Gordon and Jaquan Brisker. He took a swing on wide receiver Velus Jones Jr. in the third round and saw tackle Braxton Jones as a steal in the fifth round.

Poles also signed linebacker Jack Sanborn and cornerback Jaylon Jones as undrafted rookies. Sanborn and Jones made the team out of camp and have given vital contributions this season.

All in all, the Bears’ rookies have been a mixed bag. A group that has had surprises and disappointments as it has ebbed and flowed through a 3-10 season.

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With the bye week coming to a close, here’s how the first rookie class of the Poles-Eberflus era is grading out:

Note: Elijah Hicks, Ja’Tyre Carter, Josh Blackwell, and Sterling Weatherford did not receive grades due to a low number of offensive/defensive snaps.

Jaquan Brisker, S

Brisker received unanimous support from everyone in the Bears’ draft room as the pick at No. 48 overall back in April.

The Penn State product has been as advertised during his rookie season.

Brisker exemplifies what Eberflus and defensive coordinator Alan Williams want in a box safety. Brisker is an all-gas player with a nose for the football.

On the season, Brisker has 50 tackles (20 assists), three sacks, one interception, one forced fumble, and one fumble recovered.

The addition of Brisker as a downhill, hard-hitting safety also allowed Eddie Jackson to play his preferred role as a free safety. That played a big part in the renaissance year Jackson had before suffering a Lisfranc injury in Week 12.

Brisker looks like a Pro Bowl safety, and he’s just tapping into his potential.

“Starting off, we all knew he was physical and he would hit and he would run to the ball,” Williams said of Brisker on Dec. 1. “Starting off, it was just that. See ball, get ball. Now I started to see him getting to the ball with a purpose within the scope of the defense and being on the details and not just running to the football but running to the football within the scope of the defense. So you started to see him being more detailed in knowing not just…Some guys just get lined up because, hey, the coach told me to line up here. Now he’s getting lined up and knowing the whys and adding his little flair to it, so to speak, in terms of what he was doing. So we started seeing little bits and pieces of growth in that department.”

Grade: A

Jack Sanborn, LB

Anytime you find value in the undrafted-rookie market, that’s an organizational win. When you’re able to find a guy who looks like he could be a long-term starter, that’s a whole different type of scouting victory.

The trade of Roquan Smith at the deadline allowed the Bears to give Sanborn the opportunity to show what he could do as the starting MIKE linebacker.

The results have been better than anyone could have expected.

Since being inserted into the starting lineup in Week 9, Sanborn has 44 tackles, 21 stops, and two sacks, per PFF. Those 44 tackles are the second most in the NFL over that period, trailing Atlanta Falcons linebacker Rashaan Evans by one tackle.

“You know, first start. He looked like he belonged,” Williams said of Sanborn after his performance in Week 9 against the Miami Dolphins. “Didn’t have errors. Tackled well. Ran around well. So you come out of that ballgame going, OK, step forward, now let’s take one more step forward. So that’s the one that comes to mind when you have a guy that, hey, first start in the NFL and he looks like he belongs.”

Sanborn has continued to progress. He has been working on lowering his target level to be a more sure tackler. The coverage ability still needs some work, but Sanborn has shown that he has excellent instincts and his play speed is much faster than his test speed.

Not much more you can ask out of an undrafted rookie.

Grade: A

Kyler Gordon, CB

Gordon had a brutal start to his rookie season.

In Week 2, Aaron Rodgers picked on the rookie nickelback relentlessly, as Gordon surrendered 10 catches for 163 yards and two touchdowns in the 27-10 loss.

Cornerback and quarterback are the two most difficult positions to transition to in the NFL. The Bears ask Gordon to play outside in base defense and then slide into the slot in the nickel package.

That’s a heavy lift for any rookie, but it’s one Gordon met head-on.

Gordon has gotten better each week. His tacking has improved, he’s been stickier in coverage, and he has had a quicker reaction time over the last month.

A positive mindset and the Bears’ “keep chopping’ mantra have allowed Gordon to build each week.

“I just needed a little bit more experience, was really what I say,” Gordon said on Nov. 4. “Like I’ve been saying since the beginning, I’m going to keep taking every piece of information and growing, and obviously, we’ve all seen, I’m steadily picking up stuff as I go.

“That’s just the way I work. Whatever I experience, whatever information I take in, I try to apply it to the next game, next play. Like I said, just keep bettering myself every week.”

Grade: B

Braxton Jones, LT

Asking a fifth-round rookie out of Southern Utah to step in and be the Day 1 starter at left tackle was ambitious.

There were growing pains.

Jones struggled mightily out of the gate. He gave up four sacks and 20 pressures in the first six weeks. He has been open about his struggles with the bull rush and has worked in-season to get better at anchoring.

That work seems to be paying off.

Jones has only given up one sack and seven total pressures over the past five games. That pressure number has Jones ranked inside the top 20 among tackles who have played at least 200 snaps during that stretch.

The struggles are still there. Jones might be best served playing right tackle in the long run. Even if he is a swing tackle, that’s good value to find in the fifth round.

Grade: C+

Jaylon Jones, CB

An undrafted rookie out of Ole Miss, Jones has been a valuable depth piece for the Bears when Gordon, Jaylon Johnson, or Kindle Vildor have missed time.

On the season, Jones has surrendered 18 catches on 24 targets for 200 yards. He has not allowed a touchdown on the season.

Jones has improved as the season has gone on and delivered a solid performance in Week 13 against the Packers, allowing on three catches for 39 yards as the primary outside corner opposite Johnson.

Jones has given the Bears quality snaps during his rookie season after being a surprise survivor on cut-down day.

Grade: C+

Dominique Robinson, EDGE

Robinson got off to a hot start, racking up three sacks and five pressures in the first three games.

Those numbers have cooled dramatically since.

When the Bears traded Robert Quinn following their Week 7 win over the New England Patriots, Robinson was one of the players Poles cited as the reason the pass rush could succeed without its veteran leader.

That hasn’t been the case.

Starting in Week 8, Robinson has zero sacks and just six total pressures as the Bears’ defensive front has been unable to create any over the last month-and-a-half.

Robinson was drafted as a project out of Miami, Ohio. The blistering start had many accelerating the timeline for Robinson, but it’s clear he still has a lot of work to do to become more than a situational rusher.

Grade: C

Trenton Gill, P

I thought Gill was one of the early bright spots for this Bears rookie class. Things haven’t been as good over the last five games.

After subpar performances against the Dolphins, Lions, and Falcons, Gill is only averaging 46.9 yards per attempt (40.5 net). Those numbers rank 22nd and 27th in the NFL, per PFF.

Eberflus has talked about the Bears wanting Gill to improve his hang time.After 13 games, Gill’s 4.19 hangtime ranks 30th among all punters.

Work to be done.

Grade: C-

Trestan Ebner, RB

Coming out of training camp, I thought Ebner would play a more significant role as a pass-catching option in the backfield.

But he received just four targets and 13 carries during the first six weeks of the season as David Montgomery and Khalil Herbert ate up all the backfield snaps.

Things haven’t gotten better for Ebner.

Darrynton Evans passed him on the depth chart before the Bears’ Week 12 loss to the New York Jets, which is a bad sign for Ebner’s long-term roster future.

Grade: D

Velus Jones Jr., WR

Drafted to give the Bears a much-needed speed threat on the outside, Jones has struggled to find consistent offensive playing time. He battled a hamstring injury in training camp and made two critical special teams errors upon returning early in the season.

Jones’ route-running was a big question coming out of Tennessee. The 25-year-old rookie believes he has improved in that area and with his knowledge of the Bears’ offensive system.

But the addition of Chase Claypool and the return of a healthy Byron Pringle made Jones a healthy scratch in back-to-back weeks. Injuries to Khalil Herbert and Darnell Mooney have presented Jones with an opportunity to be active on game day, but he has yet to make a notable impact on the offensive side of the ball.

On the season, Jones has only caught three passes for 24 yards and is averaging just 1.09 yards per route run.

Not what the Bears needed from their third-round pick.

Grade: D

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