Bears' Top Rookie Sleeper Poised for 2024 NFL Breakout

Vince Carbonneau
May 28, 2024  (9:21)

Matt Eberflus coaching the Bears
Photo credit: DAZN

Austin Booker: The Chicago Bears' Under-the-Radar Rookie to Watch in 2024

Despite having just five picks in the 2024 NFL Draft, the Chicago Bears made a significant splash by securing the No. 1 and No. 9 overall selections. These picks were used to dramatically enhance their offense with the additions of quarterback Caleb Williams and wide receiver Rome Odunze. However, it's their fifth-round selection that could prove to be the most intriguing. Former Kansas defensive end Austin Booker stands out as the sleeper rookie to watch for the Bears in 2024.
Why DE Austin Booker is a Sleeper to Watch
The narrative surrounding the Bears' 2024 draft will largely revolve around the performance of Williams and Odunze. Their success will shape the franchise's future. Yet, football is a team sport, and the Bears, known for their defensive prowess, are keen on bolstering both sides of the ball.
The 2024 Bears defense is still under construction, but it boasts some promising components. General Manager Ryan Poles' acquisition of defensive end Montez Sweat, who was later secured with a substantial contract extension, signifies a commitment to fortifying the defensive line. Key veteran additions like linebacker Tremaine Edmunds and safety Kevin Byard, coupled with rising talents such as cornerback Tyrique Stevenson and linebacker Jack Sanborn, provide a solid foundation.
A critical gap in the Bears' roster is the defensive end spot opposite Sweat. Currently, veteran DeMarcus Walker fills this role. Walker, a 2017 second-round pick, has accumulated 25 career starts and 23 sacks over seven seasons. His best performance came in 2022 with the Tennessee Titans, recording 7 sacks.
Behind Walker, the Bears' pass-rushing options include Khalid Kareem, Dominique Robinson, and Jacob Martin. Combined, these players have 147 NFL games but only 23 starts and 21 sacks to show for it. This is where Austin Booker enters the picture—a potential hidden gem in the draft.
Standing at 6-foot-4 ˝ and weighing 240 pounds, Booker is an impressive physical specimen with long 33 7/8-inch arms. His athletic prowess is evident on tape, despite a less-than-stellar combine performance. What sets Booker apart is his surprising array of pass-rush moves for a relatively inexperienced player.
However, Booker's lack of extensive playing time in college is a concern. Across his stints at Minnesota and Kansas, he played a total of just 505 snaps. After redshirting his first year and seeing limited action in his second, Booker finally showcased his potential with a standout 2023 season for the Jayhawks, amassing 8 sacks, 12 tackles for loss, 56 total tackles, and 2 forced fumbles.
The Bears are banking on Booker's raw talent and physical gifts translating to the NFL, given proper coaching and development time. If he can harness his potential, Booker could be the sleeper who revitalizes the Bears' defense, potentially bringing it back to its historically dominant form. Coupled with an emerging offense, this could spell long-term success for the Bears.
Booker's journey from a fifth-round pick to a key defensive player is one to watch as the 2024 season unfolds. If he rises to the occasion, the Bears' defense might once again become a formidable force, complementing an offense that looks ready to compete at a high level.
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MAY 28   |   47 ANSWERS
Bears' Top Rookie Sleeper Poised for 2024 NFL Breakout

Will Austin Booker become a key player for the Bears' defense in 2024?

Yes3676.6 %
No1123.4 %
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