The Chicago Bears are likely going to explore every single avenue at their disposal to upgrade the roster in preparation for 2019. They’ve already signed two players from the Canadian Football League. They’re eyeing up potential late round draft picks and undrafted free agents. However, those aren’t the only pipelines open to them anymore.
The Alliance of American Football (AAF) began their inaugural season on Saturday night with two opening games. Plenty of former NFL players were mixed into the four rosters on display and the football played was considerably better than people might’ve expected. It wasn’t perfect, but it was a sign that with time the league could be something.
Until then though, it’s likely the AAF will be a sort of minor league to the NFL. A place where football prospects go to keep their hopes of playing professionally afloat. If some of them are able to excel, they might even get back to the big leagues. Here are a few names whom the Bears might be wise to keep an eye on.
Akeem Hunt (RB, Orlando Apollos)
Orlando dominated their opening game of the inaugural season with a 40-6 crushing of Atlanta. Amidst many offensive heroes though, Akeem Hunt shined a bit brighter. He drove the ground attack 73 yards on just 10 carries. It’s curious why the Apollos didn’t go to him more because he was killing the Legends every time he touched the ball.
Then again this isn’t anything new. Hunt spent three years in the NFL and during his first two with Houston, he averaged 5.5 yards on his 37 total carries. Not being given a chance is something he’s used to. He never had more than 200 carries at Purdue despite always being productive and he also caught 86 passes his final two years there. The guy can play.
Ja’Quan Gardner (RB, San Diego Fleet)
The Bears have already proven they can get something out of undersized running backs that other teams might not be able to. Ask Tarik Cohen. Odds are they had an at least one eye on Ja’Quan Gardner last night. Amidst an ugly showing by the San Diego Fleet offense, he was one of their bright spots. Not only did he rush for 55 yards on eight carries, he also caught three passes for another 17.
Gardner is only 5’7, but that didn’t stop him from dominating in college. At Humboldt State, he rushed for 4,825 yards and 62 touchdowns over his final three years there. He also caught 73 passes. So there is definite versatility to his game.
Zack Sanchez (CB, San Antonio Commanders)
It came as a genuine surprise when Sanchez’s name was announced on the game-sealing interception against San Diego. He’d spent his time in the NFL with the Carolina Panthers and there had been no announcement that he’d lost his job. People seemed to merely be waiting for him to finally get an opportunity given how good he was in college with 15 interceptions in 37 games.
That chance never came through, probably due to a number of injury setbacks. It seems he didn’t lose faith in his ability. His first professional game as a starter and he gets the biggest interception of the early season. The Bears could be in the market for cornerback help if Bryce Callahan leaves in free agency.
Winston Craig (DT, San Antonio Commanders)
The Bears are always looking for additional depth for their great defense. One of their biggest areas of strength is the defensive line but that could be in danger with Roy Robertson-Harris being a free agent. They should be on the lookout for help if he decides to bolt. It would’ve been hard to miss the name Winston Craig in the San Antonio-San Diego game.
The Commanders defense dominated most of the night, collecting six sacks of the opposing quarterback. Craig was in on three of them. He was highly disruptive most of the night. Before this, he was an undrafted free agent out of Richmond who spent two years on the Philadelphia Eagles practice squad. He’s only 23-years old, so it seems he’s maturing.
Younghoe Koo (K, Atlanta Legends)
The Bears are planning to bring in competition for Cody Parkey, presuming they don’t just cut him outright at some point this year. One name they may want to watch carefully is Younghoe Koo. The Korean-native scored the first points in AAF history on Saturday night and provided the only offense of the evening for Atlanta with two field goals.
His first NFL stint didn’t go well, connecting on just 3-of-6 field goal in San Diego back in 2017 before being cut. That said, he has ability. He connected on 31-of-35 career field goals at Georgia Southern with a long of 53. This AAF stint could actually be a great seasoning for the 24-year old.