With OTAs in full swing, the NFL’s offseason is truly in the rearview mirror. Sure, there will be moves made between now and the start of training camp, the beginning of the preseason, and the kickoff of the league’s regular season schedule … but all of the heavy lifting has been done, and it’s time to start narrowing our focus to the roster in front of us.
To that end, we recently looked at a Bleacher Report ranking of the various NFL’s receiving corps and the Bears’ … not-so-flattering placement on the list. And, unfortunately, as far as one other list goes, things aren’t looking too great on the other side of the ball, either.
Over at Sports On Earth, Kenneth Arthur ranks the NFL’s best secondaries … and once again, the Bears are listed near (and just barely above) the very bottom. At 31st overall, the Bears are ahead of only the Detroit Lions, and are, of course, behind both the Packers (22nd) and Vikings (5th) in the rest of the NFC North.
“It should be shocking that Chicago was only average-to-below-average in pass defense last season. I don’t think that trend can continue. Chicago declined Fuller’s fifth-year option, and signed former bust Amukamara and continuous letdown Marcus Cooper. I don’t see how John Fox can keep his job through 2018 with such little talent there.”
I guess the good news is that there is (almost) nowhere to go but up for this position group. On the other hand, this collection of defensive backs doesn’t have too far to travel to hit rock bottom – and that could be the case considering the caliber of quarterbacks the Bears will face in 2017. Remember, the Bears will play a team whose quarterback has either won a Super Bowl or played in one in seven of the first nine weeks. Best of luck to the members of the secondary who have to defend against that.
Former bust. Continuous letdown. Ouch. Those are descriptive terms you don’t want attached to your name. And yet, here we are with those names listed atop the depth chart of a revamped Bears secondary. In that vein, it’s nearly impossible to rank the Bears anywhere but the bottom. However, we must ask whether or not there is room for growth and improvement.
Using Pro Football Focus’ 2016 grades as our guide, the Bears have three “average” cornerbacks on their depth chart with Prince Amukamara, Cre’von LeBlanc, and Bryce Callahan. In that trio, the Bears have a proven (but oft-injured) starter in Amukamara, and two players just starting their careers in LeBlanc (who played the second most coverage snaps among Bears corners as a rookie in 2016) and Bryce Callahan (who was an ace in the slot while starting in 10 of the 11 games he played last year, his second season in the league).
Moving to the safety position, the Bears added Quintin Demps, a veteran starter to help stabilize and guide a secondary that will feature seven players who will be 24 or younger in 2017. Demps earned a “high quality” grade from PFF in 2016, with a career-best 85.2 mark that ranked 12th among safeties. Perhaps Demps is a late bloomer with a short peak. It’s not out of the realm of possibilities, considering that the soon-to-be 32-year-old has earned improving grades in each of the last three seasons. Father Time is undefeated in all playing fields, and the gridiron is not exempt, but having a proven starter is an upgrade over an over-matched young player.
Starting alongside Demps is Adrian Amos, a young player who has worked himself into a starting role and earned “above average” grades from PFF in each of his first two seasons. Not bad for a fifth-round pick in the 2015 draft.
So, yes, things could get better for the Bears this season, but you can also see how things could go south in a hurry (Demps ages quickly, Amukamara can’t stay healthy, Cooper doesn’t follow up on a productive season with the Arizona Cardinals, and if the handful of young players of the group don’t continue to take forward steps in their development). Perhaps their relative ranking, then, isn’t too far off.
Over the last few days, we’ve seen both the Bears’ group of receivers and secondary members rank 31st in the league. Of course this isn’t where the Bears want to be ranked, but it’s suddenly clear why the front office was aggressive in attacking these areas in the offseason with plug-and-play starters in free agency and high upside players in the draft.
We won’t know until the games are played whether or not these offseason grades are fair. But one thing is clear: the Bears identified a problem and have gone about fixing it in a proactive manner.