Every list has to have an end. For the Bears, this is a pretty good ending because the top of their roster is actually pretty good.
Last year I ranked Jay Cutler as the best player on the team largely because there weren’t many options. Who was their franchise player? A guard who just struggled at tackle? A wide receiver who couldn’t stay on the field? A pass rusher who began the year on the PUP list? No. No. And No. They didn’t have a player to build around. They didn’t have anyone who ranked among the truly elite at their position.
That isn’t the case anymore. I finished the list by ranking the top 10 players on the team and I think it can be argued that the top four are among the very best at what they do.
10. Cam Meredith, WR. There may not have been a more underrated player on the team last year. A superb athlete who keeps improving. Statistics may not be as great next year because the team likely won’t throw as often, but he’s shown the ability to consistently get open and make plays with the ball in his hands. Also threw a touchdown pass. So there’s that.
(Jeff’s Note: Watching Cam Meredith develop in 2017 is one of the things I’m most excited about. I think the kid has star potential.)
9. Eddie Goldman, DL. Missed most of last season because of injuries, but still had 2.5 sacks and 12 tackles in just 198 snaps. Not bad for a guy who many thought was just a lane clogger. Powerful and athletic, Goldman allows the Bears to play small with just two down linemen. Really could be a cornerstone of their defense going forward.
8. Cody Whitehair, C. A key to the team’s future as the anchor of their line. He isn’t the top-ranked offensive lineman but I wouldn’t be surprised if he ended up being their best this year. Struggled with consistency early last year, especially with his run blocking, but improved as the season went along and was downright dominant at times. Leader.
(Jeff’s Note: When Andrew makes this list next year, I’ll be surprised if Cody Whitehair isn’t 1 or 2. I think he’s that talented and that important.)
7. Leonard Floyd, Edge. Two concussions in one year are certainly concerning, but there were times when Floyd was just ruining game plans. Watch what he did against the Packers. Or the Lions. They just couldn’t keep up with him. He did it using mostly athleticism, if he can learn a few more moves he could be unstoppable.
6. Pernell McPhee, Edge. Despite playing just 25 percent of the team’s snaps last year, McPhee was fourth on the team with four sacks and first with eight other QB hits. Given his knee issues, I’m not sure he’s ever going to be the every down dominant force we saw early in his first year with the team, but he might be even more dangerous in spot duty. I’d like to see the team use him the way Baltimore did. Regardless, once he got right last year, he got after quarterbacks.
(Jeff’s Note: Pernell McPhee is, in my mind, no longer expected to produce at a high level for this organization. Starting camp on PUP has solidified that for me.)
5. Kyle Long, G. Common thought is that Long won’t be available early this season, but should be before long. He’s one of the better guards in the league and never had durability issues before last year. A little lower on this list than he otherwise would’ve been only because I’m not sure on the health of his shoulder. Whether or not that will be an issue is something we’re just going to have to wait and see about.
4. Jerrell Freeman, LB. Was all over the field last year, really adding a speed element to the middle of the defense. Both assignment sure and a good tackler. Also, apparently saved some dude’s life, so he has to be in the top five.
3. Akiem Hicks, DL. The biggest surprise of the 2016 season for me. I didn’t know he could move as well as he can. A violent rusher who usually delivers a blow when he gets to the quarterback. Probably was the team’s best defensive player last year. You don’t see many 330-pound guys who can get seven sacks. Also had 14 hurries and six hits despite being the only defensive lineman who was worth a damn for most of last year.
2. Josh Sitton, OG. Maybe not as good as he once was, but that only speaks to how good he was then. Allowed just two quarterback hits and five hurries all of last season. Allowed just one more “bad run” than Long did despite playing nearly 300 more snaps. Only real negative is that he was called for six penalties last year; understandable for a guy who was learning the playbook on the fly.
1. Jordan Howard, RB. Here is a list of players who have run for 1,300 yards with an average of five yards per carry since 2010: Jamaal Charles, Marshawn Lynch, Adrian Peterson, LeSean McCoy, Ezekial Elliott and Jordan Howard. Not bad company, huh? It’s been generally thought that Howard had a good rookie season. That’s crazy. He had a GREAT rookie season. The common thought was that he’d be a pounder for the Bears, but he’s so much more than that, proven by his 20 rushes of 20 or more yards, third most in the league. After breaking into the starting lineup in Week Four, Howard averaged 96 rushing yards per game and showed the ability to catch the ball with 29 catches for 298 yards last year. Has great vision and acceleration and finishes every run with a boom. This is the team’s franchise player right now.