Bears Rookie Dubbed Threat to Take Job From $21 Million Starter

DeMarcus Walker, Bears

Getty Defensive end DeMarcus Walker of the Chicago Bears.

The Chicago Bears have already penciled in their two first-round rookies as starters during the upcoming season, but they may not be the only ones.

Head coach Matt Eberflus named quarterback and No. 1 pick Caleb Williams the starter shortly after the NFL draft, while ESPN lists the 9th overall selection Rome Odunze as the team’s third starting wide receiver — a job that clearly appears his to lose. Punter Tory Taylor — the best player at his position in the NCAA last season, and one who Chicago took in the fourth round — is also a good bet to start on special teams.

And while the Bears selected defensive end Austin Booker in the fifth round as a long-term project, he has a chance to press starter DeMarcus Walker for his job in one of the potentially more compelling position battles during training camp.

DeMarcus Walker Disappointed During First Season in Chicago

DeMarcus Walker

GettyDefensive end DeMarcus Walker of the Chicago Bears.

Jacob Infante of Windy City Gridiron made the case on Monday, June 3, that the fight for the second starting DE spot opposite Montez Sweat is one of the four biggest position struggles the roster will see over the summer.

At his best, Walker has been a serviceable starting EDGE, but he wasn’t that last year. He’ll have a chance to carve out a key role for himself.

The main competition for Walker right now is Booker, who the Bears gave up a 2025 fourth-round pick to acquire in Round 5 of this year’s draft. … He’s a toolsy, lengthy edge rusher with a quick first step and a high motor. The issue with Booker is that he’s raw as a processor and doesn’t always have the best plan as a pass rusher, which could limit his immediate value in Year 1. Booker has the tools to be a starter in the NFL, but there might be a learning curve that prevents him from being one right away.

Chicago signed Walker to a three-year deal worth $21 million total last offseason after one year with the Tennessee Titans, during which the DE put up a career-high 7 sacks. Walker wasn’t as successful for the Bears in 2023, tallying just 3.5 sacks in 17 games played, which included 12 starts.

Walker has never been a pass-rush specialist, though his run defense struggled as well last season, which is clear in the year-over-year drop in his Pro Football Focus (PFF) analytics score. As Infante noted, Walker’s PFF grade dipped nearly 14 points from 72.8 two years ago to 59.1 last season, while his rush grade was even lower than his pass-rush numbers.

Walker will turn 30 years old next season and carry a salary cap hit of $8.67 million.

Austin Booker Has High-End Starter Potential for Bears

Austin Booker, Bears

GettyEdge defender Austin Booker of the Chicago Bears.

Meanwhile, the Bears made a significant investment in Booker following a campaign at Kansas, during which he produced 12 tackles for loss and 8 sacks.

Chicago showed how highly it thinks of Booker’s potential by dealing a fourth-rounder in 2025 for the right to move back into the draft and select him in the fifth round in late April. Even despite that sacrifice, Dan Brugler of The Athletic still identified the Bears’ new edge defender as among the top potential steals of the class — though he added the caveat that Booker probably won’t be ready to start during his first season.

“The Bears used a 2025 fourth-round pick to trade back into this draft (at No. 144) and scoop up Booker, who easily could have been drafted on Day 2,” Brugler wrote in April. “Although he isn’t ready for a meaningful role as a rookie, Booker has the promising pass-rush savvy to be a steal when we look back at this selection in two or three years.”

Infante disagreed, however, at least to some extent. And if Booker is truly ready to contend for the starting role over the summer, he may be able to contribute to a weak Bears’ pass rush that finished 31st in the category last year once the regular season begins.

Chicago is liable to spend significantly at the position either at some point in the coming year or during next offseason. But if Booker proves himself early and often, he could end up saving the Bears a boatload in the long run.

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