At this point in the offseason, NFL rosters are (mostly) settled – save for some post-June 1 free agents who’ll make their way through the cracks.
With OTAs taking place and training camp in our not-too-distant future, the present provides an opportunity to step back and look at teams, roster construction, and which players will be leaned on in the season to come.
In that vein, Sports Illustrated has started to roll out a series of the most important players of each NFL division and team. A group of SI writers and staff from The MMQB was asked to rank each team’s non-quarterbacks 1 through 10, with point totals corresponding to a player’s importance. For our purposes, we’ll focus in on the Chicago Bears’ top-10 – which actually features 11 players. Go figure.
Here’s the rundown (with votes/points in parentheses):
- RB Jordan Howard (45)
- WR Kevin White (45)
- DE Akiem Hicks (28)
- OLB Leonard Floyd (28)
- LT Charles Leno Jr. (27)
- LG Kyle Long (13)
- TE Zach Miller (12)
- C Cody Whitehair (12)
- CB Kyle Fuller (10)
- ILB Danny Trevathan (10)
- OLB Pernell McPhee (10)
The list has a little bit of everything, but mostly balance between offense (six) and defense (five), with Howard being an obvious inclusion at the top of the list. It seems fitting that six of the top eight players listed are on the offensive side of the ball because Dowell Loggains’ unit has a lot to prove this season.
What makes the most sense here is that five of those six players will be working in tandem, especially with Howard running behind Leno Jr., Long., Whitehair, and Miller. I would also make the case for White being part of that mix, too, because his development as a receiver would boost the passing game and possibly allow for more running room for Howard. Further, the combination of a productive Howard in the backfield and an emerging White as a down-the-field threat on the outside could also open up the middle of the field for Miller.
And in the end, it all ties back to the quarterback position – which is the most important in the game. If the offensive line is strong up front, the running game is steady, reliable, and productive for a second straight season, and two top pass catching options stay healthy and produce, Mike Glennon – or even Mitch Trubisky – will be the beneficiaries of all these positive developments.
The questionable health of these players is an underlying theme in this top-10 grouping. White, Long, Miller, Fuller, and Trevathan are each coming off seasons the ended with a stint on injured reserve. McPhee missed the first six weeks of the season recovering from an offseason surgery stemming from a knee injury suffered in 2015. And Floyd missed four games thanks to problems with a calf muscle and concussions. The health status of those aforementioned players might be the most important angle to watch for with their inclusions on this list’s top-10.
Other players who received more than five votes include cornerback Prince Amukamara (9), guard Josh Sitton (7), and wide receiver Cameron Meredith (6). Linebacker Willie Young received four votes, while safeties Quintin Demps and Adrian Amos, as well as linebacker Lamarr Hosuton each received three.
That isn’t to say these players aren’t important, because surely each player could make a case for cracking the top part of this list. Amukamara, Demps, and Amos will be working together to shore up a secondary that will face a flurry of top-notch quarterbacks early in the season. Houston and Young are veteran linebackers who will be asked to guide a young front seven that already has high expectations. And even though White is the receiver who garnered the most votes, it was Meredith who was the most productive in 2016 and will be out to prove last year wasn’t a fluke.
All of this is to say that the Bears have a lot of players with much to prove in 2017, and limiting it to 10 simply scratches the surface of a team with various storylines to follow during training camp and into the regular season.