Bears fans, you could have seen this exclusive analysis first, in your inbox, on Wednesday morning if you subscribed to PFW: Chicago. Don't miss out on in-depth analysis, without the fluff or hot takes. Subscribe today and get your first full year for only $27!
Follow the money and see why Bears rookie TE Dax Raymond is in the most lucrative spot among their UDFA class.
Follow the early returns on Adam Shaheen, the 45th overall pick in the 2017 draft, and see why Raymond is in the best position among the Bears college free agents.
We followed closely the 6-foot-5, 255-pound tight end during the Bears rookie minicamp last weekend and saw easily why he could be positioning himself to be more than merely the Bears best undrafted rookie this season.
“You saw some of that, right?” Matt Nagy replied when PFW queried Sunday about Raymond’s strong work in the red zone, where, among his multiple touchdowns, was one of the high-pointing, snatch-away-from-the-body, toe-tapping variety. “He made a catch in the back of the end zone. He has big hands, and usually when you have big hands you catch a lot of footballs, and he did that. He’s shown that on tape. He has a really good skillset. I was happy with what he did this week.”
Raymond received a team-high $45,000 guaranteed to join the Bears as a college free agent after forgoing his final year of eligibility at Utah State on the heels of a strong final two seasons in the Mountain West (combined 68-801-3 receiving). He enjoyed a strong pre-draft process, showing out Senior Bowl week and recording the fifth-fastest three-cone time (7.15 seconds) and ranking in the top 10 in the 40 (4.73) and short shuttle (4.39) among a loaded lot of tight ends at the combine, where he met with the Bears.
Raymond, who had multiple UDFA offers, said he chose the Bears in part because he grew up rooting for them. Of course, his decision, he said, also was based on seeing in Chicago’s TE room, with only one established performer in Trey Burton, and Matt Nagy's scheme his best opportunity to make an NFL club.
Raymond apparently is as astute as he is athletic.
The Bears were among the league leaders in cap space allocated toward the TE position last season — $8.8 million, No. 7 in NFL, per spotrac — yet among the six teams ahead of them, only the inept Bills offense coaxed less production from its group than Chicago. In 2019, the Bears rank in the top five in cap dollars spent on tight ends and, as their books are currently configured, they’re slated to be second overall in 2020.
Not coincidentally, the team directly in front of them in TE cap expenditures this season is the Kansas City Chiefs, led by Matt Nagy’s top mentor Andy Reid; and in 2020, it’s the Philadelphia Eagles, coached by Nagy’s closest friend Doug Pederson. The Chiefs have an All Pro and arguably the best tight end in a post-Gronk NFL, Travis Kelce. The Eagles traded up in Round 2 last year to pair Zach Ertz, who went on to set the NFL’s single-season reception record at the position, with the talented Dallas Goedert.
Burton is a nice weapon that should improve in his second season in Chicago, but he doesn’t solve the short- and long-term overall talent deficit at a position that’s clearly vital in the Nagy/Reid/Pederson offense. Shaheen enters a make-or-break Year 3 and, unlike Burton, is hardly a shoo-in to return in 2020 if he doesn’t start making good on his potential this season.
Raymond, then, can be considered the low-cost and perhaps highly valuable insurance policy in the group. And, unlike a “move” specialist in Burton, and Shaheen, who to date has contributed more as a blocker than receiver, Raymond’s blend of size and speed might make him the best two-way prospect of the bunch.
“They’re just as important as a receiver and just as important as an offensive lineman where they’ve got to be able to catch balls and they’ve got to be able to block,” Raymond said of the tight ends role in Nagy’s offense.
Raymond’s Aggies film most impressively reveals seam-splitting and RAC potential as a receiver but also all the physical tools, effort and determination required to be a blocking asset.
Though it’s his circuitous path to the NFL —including a two-year LDS church mission in Russia after high school—that might have given some teams pause over drafting an over-aged (24-year-old rookie) tight end, it gives Raymond confidence he can pick up the necessary nuances at of one of the NFL’s more difficult positions to develop.
“I learned the Russian language and I believe that gave me confidence that if I can learn the Russian language, I can pick up a playbook,” said Raymond, who picked it up in roughly six months living there.
As far as his relatively advanced age, Raymond knows that his mission might have affected his football future but again explained that’s in the eye of the beholder.
“I think [being a rookie at age 24, same as Shaheen] can also be a positive with maturity,” Raymond explained. “Serving a two-year mission I feel like I’m more mature than the average person graduating from college.”
Raymond said there was barely time to communicate with his family — never mind focus on football — on the Russia/Vladivostok Commission, where he was allowed to work out only for a half-hour daily, email once weekly and Skype back home only on Mother’s Day and Christmas.
“You commit everything you put, everything that you know, home aside and go and commit your service to the Lord,” he said.
Follow Raymond's footsteps to the eastern part of Russia at your own peril. But also choose not to follow his latest mission — bolstering a Bears TE group in need of just that — at your own jeopardy.