Chicago Bears: Trying to determine Kevin Toliver’s role in 2019

Chicago Bears (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
Chicago Bears (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images) /

How will the Chicago Bears use Kevin Toliver in the 2019 season?

Teams that want to have sustained success as a franchise, as the Chicago Bears do, must capitalize on their draft picks. However, in many cases, that’s not enough. Identifying talent is one thing, but developing them into NFL starters/contributors is another.

Consequently, a fair number of picks never pan out. This reality underscores the importance of maintaining a robust pipeline of undrafted free agents. In some cases, a team can find an extremely talented player after the draft due to perhaps personal issues in their past or even injury history.

One player for the Bears who fell into the former category was defensive back Kevin Toliver II. The highly talented Toliver expected to be drafted somewhere in the middle rounds of the 2018 NFL Draft. However, due to a few red flags related to his character, he went undrafted. That’s when the Bears swooped in and signed him as an UDFA, taking a chance that was well worth the risk considering the paltry $25,000 investment it took to land him.

The risk paid off, as Toliver had a very fine 2018 campaign, filling in nicely for Prince Amukamara while he was injured back in October.

Toliver never looked overwhelmed, or like the moment was too big for him. As a result, some wondered, if not called for, Toliver to get the nod to replace Bryce Callahan this year. The Bears obviously didn’t feel either Toliver or Sherrick McManis we’re ready to step into that role full-time, but still, value Toliver on this team. So what will his role look like in 2019?

For starters, he is going to be competing with Duke Shelley, the Bears sixth-round pick out of Kansas State, for a lot of the same snaps.

Last season Toliver saw 135 snaps on defense, good for almost 13 percent. On special teams, that number was 112 snaps, or 26 percent.

No doubt Shelley will be competing with Toliver for some of those same snaps, but Toliver has two distinct advantages over Shelley.

First, Toliver has the experience. While Pagano will be running a new system, he will maintain a lot of the same terminology. Moreover, Shelley has some issues with his tackling form that he will need to square away to be a serious contender to snag snaps as a cornerback — namely his tendency to lunge at the ballcarrier rather than drive through and finish.

Second, Toliver has the ability to play both in the slot and on the boundaries. He proved as much last season. Shelley’s role at the next level has yet to be determined, and won’t until he gets into training camp and demonstrates his skill set. Perhaps he has the ability to line up at different positions at the next level, but the team already knows Toliver does.

Training camp will be an awful lot of fun this year with a number of interesting position battles emerging, e.g. wide receiver.

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However, the battle between Toliver and Shelley will be on to keep an eye on for sure. The loser could be in for a long season of riding the bench. I have a feeling Toliver will prevail, but this one will be fun to watch for sure.