Unlike the defense, the Bears offense is going to feature a bunch of new players expected to fill big roles. Nearly half of the club’s Week 17 starters are being replaced, some by high-profile acquisitions. But it’s the returning soldiers who figure to be essential to the team’s success this coming season.
Before getting into the list, the name you won’t see here is Tarik Cohen. Cohen is a very talented player and one they’re sure to use 12-to-15 times a game. He’s going to make big plays but the offense isn’t going to be dependent on his skill set. The guys you will see on this list are guys who are going to be more crucial to the functionality of the offense.
5. Jordan Howard
Johnathan Wood did a great job breaking down the Bears running back duo a couple of weeks ago and two of the biggest takeaways were:
- Kansas City ran between the tackles a lot more than the Bears did last year.
- Howard was terrific running between the tackles.
There is a general thought the Bears are going to be more pass-oriented in 2018 and that may very well be true. But they’re also going to have to run the ball effectively. Historically, Andy Reid’s offenses have always struggled when they failed to move the ball on the ground.
The other issue is that the Bears don’t have a true backup for Howard. Cohen is a different kind of player and not one they really want carrying the ball 20 times a game. Benny Cunningham has carried the ball a total of 30 times the last two seasons.
It’s been popular to say Howard is overrated, but before he came into the lineup in 2016, the Bears couldn’t run the ball and there’s no real reason to think they could without him two years later.
4. Trey Burton
Making a player with just 63 career catches one of the five highest-paid tight ends in the league doesn’t make much sense unless the team knows they need his skill set. Matt Nagy made it known the Bears absolutely needed a player like Burton. Now that they have him, they absolutely need him to be good.
Tight ends have been target monsters in the offense the Bears are going to run. They need Burton to be able to destroy linebackers and make defenses give him extra attention.
3. Kyle Long/Cody Whitehair
OK, call me a cheater, but both interior linemen are crucial.
In the seven games last season Long played more than 20 snaps, the Bears averaged 138 rushing yards per game. (That includes the game against Philadelphia where they managed just SIX yards.) Without that game, they were at 192 yards per game.
The offensive line changed when Whitehair got rolling as a rookie in 2016. He took a small step backwards last year, largely due to the fact that he was switching back and forth between center and guard.
The Bears are also going to be in the gun a lot more under Matt Nagy. They need Whitehair to be precise with his snaps and being a full-time center this year should help that.
Part of what makes these two specifically so vital is that the left guard spot is still a big question mark. Ideally, James Daniels will take that spot from Day 1, but you never really know how well a rookie will do until he gets on the field. Eric Kush, Brad Sowell and Earl Watford are OK, but not ideal starters.
If the Bears were to lose either Long or Whitehair, the entire interior of their offensive line would become a question mark – not good for a team that likes to run up the middle and needs to keep a young quarterback clean.
2. Allen Robinson
With Robinson in the lineup, the Bears have an exciting group of receivers. Without him, they don’t. At least, there’s far more doubt.
Consider this: The projected top three guys outside of Robinson (Taylor Gabriel, Kevin White and Anthony Miller) have 187 fewer receptions than Kendall Wright. They have 378 fewer than the 2017 Bears Week 17 top three of Wright, Josh Bellamy and Dontrelle Inman. There are a lot of variables that go into that, but the point is the Bears don’t have a really proven receiver outside of Robinson.
When Nagy was in Kansas City, they didn’t have a receiver with Robinson’s talent, but still averaged 105 targets to their top receiver. Robinson has rare combination of size and explosiveness that make him a threat down the field and in the red zone.
Teams will have to give Robinson extra attention, opening space for the rest of the receivers and allowing Nagy to create mismatches. It will allow Gabriel to do what he did in Atlanta and give White and Miller the chance to work against single coverage.
Robinson makes everybody’s life easier. It’s why he got the big bucks.
1. Mitch Trubisky
You didn’t expect anybody else did you?
For just one second forget that Trubisky is the most important player on the team and that they spent an entire offseason trying to make sure he can be successful. His backup is going to be 32 years old in October and has one career touchdown pass.
So, yeah, Trubisky is pretty important.