If the 2016 Bears’ depth was given a letter grade for its performance last year, it wouldn’t be a passing one. But a clean slate and a new season projects to give some players a second lease on a football life – especially as injuries pile up as the season progresses.
And, as mentioned in yesterday’s Bullets, the injury issues that nagged the Bears last year have already leaked over into 2017. Which means that even though it’s only May, the Bears’ collective health will be worth monitoring throughout the rest of the offseason. That also means we need to become familiar with the Bears depth chart.
So, let’s take a look at an updated Bears roster and depth chart and discuss some players who could be in line to take advantage of increased playing time due to injuries.
- Coming off injury: WR Kevin White
- WRs in waiting: Victor Cruz, Kendall Wright, Markus Wheaton, Rueben Randle, Jhajuan Seales, Tanner Gentry
While it would be nice to see the Bears be transparent with Kevin White’s progress, he has had two leg surgeries since being drafted, so there is no reason for the Bears to rush him back. With that said, the Bears have several able-bodied receivers waiting to be the recipient of Mike Glennon’s passes.
In fact, despite not picking one in the draft, the Bears added seven new receivers to the mix this offseason – including undrafted free agents Tanner Gentry (whose upside we discussed here) and Jhajuan Seales. Free agents Victor Cruz, Kendall Wright, and Markus Wheaton have been productive wideouts at previous stops with the New York Giants, Tennessee Titans, and Pittsburgh Steelers, respectively. However, all have seen their production decline and are in search of bounce-back seasons in Chicago.
Last year, Cameron Meredith took advantage of increased opportunities and had a breakout season, as he was a deep threat and owner of the NFL’s best double move. Perhaps another receiver breakout could be on the horizon.
- Coming off injury: LB Danny Trevathan
- LBs in waiting: Nick Kwiatkoski, Dan Skuta, Alex Scearce, Hendrick Epke, Isaiah Irving
Dan Skuta was an under-the-radar signing who provides a nice insurance piece at inside and outside linebacker. Skuta’s addition was also a necessary one after Pernell McPhee wasn’t quite ready for training camp or the 2016 season due to injuries. The team didn’t have much in place for depth to plug the hole in McPhee’s absence, but it looks like they’ve learned from that mistake with three undrafted free agents and a 2016 fourth-round pick filling the depth chart.
- Coming off injury: OLB Willie Young, OLB Pernell McPhee, OLB Lamarr Houston
- OLBs in waiting: Leonard Floyd, Dan Skuta
Leonard Floyd battled his share of injuries as a rookie in 2016, but missed only four games and didn’t end the season on injured reserve. Further, Floyd was a participant during OTAs and there were no reports of him batting prior injuries. The same couldn’t be said for Willie Young, Pernell McPhee, and Lamarr Houston, who are experienced edge rushers who have been slowed down by injuries in recent years.
As these injuries pile up, Floyd could stand to see an increase in usage and possibly production if he takes the proper steps in his development.
- Coming off an injury: LG Kyle Long
- OL in waiting: Hroniss Grasu, Eric Kush, Bradley Sowell, Tom Compton, Mitchell Kirsch, Dieugot Joseph
Kyle Long is one of the most important players on the Bears offense. If the offensive line is going to take another step forward in 2017, it will ride a healthy Long as part of the strength along the interior.
But Long ended the season on injured reserve with an ankle injury and battled a shoulder injury that could have required surgery before Long ultimately passed. The Bears added several depth pieces to the mix, including fifth-round draft pick Jordan Morgan, a Division II standout who will be making the transition to guard after being a four-year starter at left tackle. However, Morgan is admittedly a project at this point and doesn’t look to be in line for immediate playing time.
However, NFL veterans Bradley Sowell and Tom Compton could be in the mix for playing time if anything were to happen to Long on the injury front. Hroniss Grasu, the team’s third-round pick in 2015, could battle for playing time, too. A center by trade, Grasu has been displaced by Cody Whitehair, which could lead to Grasu learning a new position – something that could benefit him and the team.
Mitchell Kirsch and Dieugot Joseph are undrafted free agents who were experienced starters in college who could give some of the veterans a run for their money.
In total, the Bears have eight new offensive linemen in camp. No other position has added more pieces.
- Coming off an injury: CB Kyle Fuller
- CBs in waiting: Marcus Cooper, Cre’von LeBlanc … and Kyle Fuller
The Bears signed three new cornerbacks to the mix, and yet, Kyle Fuller still could end up taking his old job back. Fuller missed the entire 2016 season, but the team’s 2014 first-round pick could end up starting opposite of Prince Amukamara when Week 1 rolls around.
However, if Fuller isn’t healthy (or even on the team) there are others who could take his place. Cre’von LeBlanc made nine starts (and made two interceptions, including a pick-six) for the Bears last season, while free agent signee Marcus Cooper started 13 games (and hauled in four interceptions) for the Arizona Cardinals.