Kickers. That’s it.
Like I did last year, here’s an objective look at this Bears roster, grading each unit on a 1-10 scale. I’m scaling it such that 1 means it’s the worst in the NFL, 10 is the best in the NFL, and 5 is an average NFL grouping. I am going to try to avoid projecting too much for young players who have not yet proven it in the NFL, so some of these rankings might be a bit lower than expected.
Let’s get right down to it!
Key Players: Mitchell Trubisky, Chase Daniel
Roster Depth: Tyler Bray
Trubisky was right around average statistically as a passer in 2018, but added value as a runner. In two games when he was out hurt, Chase Daniel showed that he’s a solid backup, but also reminded us that he’s a backup. I was torn between a 5 and 6 here, but decided Trubisky’s running and Daniel as a backup warranted the higher grade.
Key Players: David Mongtomery, Mike Davis, Tarik Cohen
Roster Depth: Kerrith Whyte, Ryan Nall
This was a difficult position to grade because of Tarik Cohen. He’s a really good offensive weapon who produced almost 1200 yards of offense and 8 TDs in 2018, but he can’t handle a huge load and does more damage as a pass catcher than a runner.
Mike Davis is a solid player who fits well in this offense, but he’s probably best suited as a backup.
And while I’m hugely excited about David Montgomery and his fit in this offense, I can’t credit him for anything when he’s yet to play an NFL game. Thus I’ll give this group an average grade for now, but I think this is the position that has the highest potential to outperform its ranking in 2019.
As I got down to the top of this list, the one thing that really stood out to me was the quality here. The Bears have three players who are without question among the top two or three at their positions. In the three years I’ve done this list, I don’t know that they’ve ever even had one.
The Bears also have four all pros on this list and two other players who are 25 or younger and could easily be all pros this year.
He’s not young anymore but Long is still a mauler when he’s on the field. The Bears have only been able to get about half of their snaps with Long in recent seasons, but they’ve been significantly better when he has played.
One of the most underrated players on the Bears. Trevathan sets the tone with his leadership, while also flying around the field. Covers a lot of ground in the passing game and against the run.
According to the early camp reports, we didn’t see the real A-Rob last year. After an early season ankle injury, Robinson caught 40 passes for 612 yards in his final eight games. Expect to see more this year.
This is the meat of the rosters, players who should see the field quite a bit.
Can really be a liability against the pass, but he has good instincts and is a solid special teams player. The Bears could live with him playing on first and second downs if needed.
Has never even approached his potential, but hasn’t been awful either. Holds his own and you occasionally see his burst but not consistent enough to play on a deep defensive line.
Great for the locker room and he showed last year the Bears can win with him. He’s not capable of being a starter, but the Bears have had a lot of starting quarterbacks who were worse than Daniel.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: Never a truer, sadder statement.]
Played some special teams last year, but the hope is he can beat out Kwik this year. Didn’t have to play with much discipline in college so the NFL was a big jump. Now it’s time to see if he can play.
Hall of Fame weekend has me thinking about the big picture of the NFL over time, which makes me think about decades. Every 10 years the NFL puts out an all decade team, so we’re about one year removed from seeing what that looks like for 2010-19.
Since we’re still a little ways from Chicago’s 1st preseason game on Thursday, I thought it would be fun to pick out who I think should be on the all decade team, though there are a few spots where 2019 could end up changing the pick.
I’m going to go with the most commonly used NFL personnel groupings, which on offense is 11 (1 QB, 1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR, 5 OL) and on defense is nickel (2 DL, 2 edge rushers, 2 off-ball LBs, 3 CBs, 2 S). To keep it simple, I’m not going to worry about SS/FS, slot/outside WR, or nickel/outside CB designations.
Let’s get down to business.
Before even doing any research, I knew this was going to come down to Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, and Drew Brees. All have been really good QBs for the entire decade. Brees leads in passing yards and touchdowns, but hasn’t been 1st team all pro or won MVP in this decade. Rodgers and Brady both have 2 MVPs, 2 1st team all pros, and 1 2nd team all pro since 2010. Rodgers has slightly better individual stats, but Brady has played in 5 of the last 9 Super Bowls, winning 3 of them, while Rodgers has only played in 1. That nudges things in Brady’s direction in my book.
I went into this expecting to pick Adrian Peterson, but was surprised how difficult LeSean McCoy made this decision. Both players were 1st team all pros 2x since 2010, though Peterson has an edge in also being a 2nd teamer twice and winning an MVP. McCoy has an edge in volume statistics, however; he has about 1200 more rushing yards than Peterson, an extra 2000 receiving yards, and about 10 more total TDs. McCoy has been really good for longer, but Peterson’s peak was better, and I’ll lean in that direction. Todd Gurley is the only other RB with multiple 1st team all pro berths, but he only played in 4 of the 9 seasons and thus lags well behind the other two in volume numbers. Still, another 1st team all pro season in 2019 could put him in the discussion.
Now we return to the list of reasons the Bears might struggle to repeat 2018’s success.
New nickelback Buster Skrine was flagged 7 times for 107 yards in 2018. Those numbers were 14th and 7th highest, respectively, among all defensive backs.
Prince Amukamara also has a knack for drawing flags; he drew 8 for 90 yards (8th and 13th among DBs) in 2018, and had 2 more get declined.
And 2018 wasn’t an outlier for either player. Skrine had 11 flags for 105 yards in 2017, while Amukamara had 7 for 99.
You can live with having one penalty-prone player in your secondary, but two is a bit more of a concern. All it takes is one big penalty in a key moment to swing a close game.
I’m grouping these two together as relatively unproven young players who will be counted on for big roles in 2019. For Chicago’s offense to take the step forward that is needed to win a Super Bowl, Miller needs to supplant Taylor Gabriel as the WR2 and Montgomery needs to beat out Mike Davis as the starting RB. I think there are excellent reasons to be high on both Montgomery and Miller, but what happens if one or both of them aren’t ready?
Davis and Gabriel are both solid veterans who are capable role players, but neither is a guy who should be a main cog in a top-level offense. Miller and Montgomery are capable of doing just that, but they could hold the offense back if they fail to prove it in 2019.
Most of my writing this off-season has ended up being very positive about the Bears’ outlook for 2019. I’ve been very clear that I think Chicago should be considered one of the Super Bowl favorites this year, and most of the stats I’ve dug into have logically come to conclusions that support that notion, or at least do nothing to refute it.
However, I do think it’s important to try and remain balanced, so with that goal in mind, today I want to think about what might be legitimate reasons for concern for the Bears in 2019. Another way to think of this might be, if something goes wrong and the Bears miss the playoffs, what will be the reason(s) when we look back and figure out why?
I can think of six most likely possibilities, presented in no real order. Here are the first three.
Injuries are always the #1 cause for concern for a football team. In a salary-capped league like the NFL, even the best team can be completely undone by one or two key injuries, usually to the quarterback. The two obvious players the Bears simply cannot win a Super Bowl without are Mitchell Trubisky and Khalil Mack, but they have a number of stars whose loss would certainly be felt should they get hurt (especially in areas with questionable depth, like tight end and offensive tackle). The Bears are counting on several players with lengthy injury histories to stay healthy and produce in 2019, including Danny Trevathan, Kyle Long, Eddie Goldman, and Prince Amukamara.
And we can’t forget about the cumulative impact of a number of injuries to players who might not be as important. After years of being one of the unhealthiest teams in the NFL, the Bears were the 3rd healthiest in 2018. Given that there’s a strong relationship between health and team success, worse injury luck in 2019 could derail Chicago’s Super Bowl aspirations in a hurry.
Given how Chicago’s season ended in 2018, kicker is an obvious cause for concern in 2019. The Bears don’t have one they know they can trust with the game on the line right now, and that’s a problem for a team hoping to win a Super Bowl. The odds of running through 3-4 consecutive playoff wins without needing a kicker to come through in the clutch in any of them seem pretty low.
On this short pod, Jeff discusses Ryan Pace’s inability to get the tight end position right in his first years on the job. Shaheen’s expectations should be low, if existent at all.
The rankings continue. To read part one of this three-part exercise, CLICK HERE.
Some of these guys will be battling for the final few roster spots, but none — outside specialists — are competing for starting spots.
There really isn’t a lot to say about Bray. He knows the offense and is good for the QB room. He’s just not good on the field. He’ll get some playing time during preseason, but won’t make the roster.
The preseason hero of 2017 has made it on the team the last two years, but this is likely his last stand. Gentry has potential and should get another shot elsewhere should he fail to make the squad.
The UDFA tight end who everybody seems to like. A good athlete who looks like a natural receiver. He just could make the final cut as the fourth tight end.
Huge dude (6’9″, 328), who has played some in the league. Not an ideal third tackle, but he can play in a pinch.
I recently looked at the history of teams to make a significant improvement from one year to the next and found that many of them win fewer games the year after their breakthrough season. This suggests that the Bears might be due for a bit of a letdown from their 12-4 record in 2018 (though they do match the profile of teams that generally stay good after making the jump.)
Today, I want to look more closely at Chicago’s underlying performance in 2018 to see if there’s anything there to suggest they are a team poised for a fall. This is closely modeled after work Bill Barnwell does every off-season, where he uses three factors to identify teams who are likely to improve and likely to regress.
The first factor is called the Pythagorean expectation, and it is a measure of how many games a team is expected to win based on how many points they scored compared to how many points they allowed. The exact formula can be seen here, but the general idea is that truly good teams score a lot more points than they give up. Teams that win a lot of games without a large difference in points scored/allowed were considered more lucky than good and are likely due for a fall.
The Bears didn’t significantly outperform their Pythagorean expectation, which means they won a lot of games because they were legitimately good, not lucky. So far, there is no reason to think that significant regression is coming.
The 2nd factor looks at how well teams performed in close games, which Barnwell defines as having a final scoring margin within 7 points. I think 8 points makes a lot more sense given that’s still a one possession game, but in this case it doesn’t change anything for the Bears, so we’ll stick with 7.