Browsing through the NFL’s transaction wires, you’ll see that the Chicago Bears have been one of the offseason’s most active teams. And while thumbing through their depth chart, you’ll note that there are at least seven places where the Bears will field starters who weren’t on the team in 2016.
There is no doubting the amount of roster turnover this team has gone through this offseason, but it’s worth asking how much of it has been for the better. Pro Football Focus recently gave us an idea of what that part of the equation looked like:
It's been a busy offseason for quarterback discussion in Chicago. pic.twitter.com/frN1FI80yn
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) June 20, 2017
Using PFF’s player grades as our guide, let’s try and figure out where the Bears have upgraded and downgraded:
Safety: Quintin Demps (85.2) replaces Harold Jones-Quartey (72.6)
Demps is a player who is expected to shut the revolving door at safety, at least on a short-term basis. Signed to a three-year deal, Demps is coming off a season in which he almost had as many interceptions (six) as the entire Bears secondary (eight) did as a team. Jones-Quartey played the second most coverage snaps among Bears safeties, but his PFF coverage grade ranked 69th among 82 qualifiers. Conversely, Demps’ coverage grade rated 14th.
Cornerback: Prince Amukamara (76.6) replaces Tracy Porter (40.6)
Only four qualifying cornerbacks had a grade lower than Porter’s 40.6 – and none played as many snaps as his 944. On the surface, Amukamara provides a significant upgrade, with a little more upside than Porter as he enters his age 28 season. Amukamara’s 76.6 grade ranked 41st among 111 qualifying cornerbacks, and his 76.1 coverage grade rates as the best among current Bears cornerbacks.
Defensive end: Jaye Howard (63.2) replaces Mitch Unrein (51.8)
Jaye Howard had a down season in 2016 with the Kansas City Chiefs, which ended with an injury. But Howard has more of a track record and a little more upside than Unrein, whose 436 snaps were the second most among interior defenders on the Bears last season.
Slot receiver: Kendall Wright (74.6) replaces Eddie Royal (64.3)
Royal was injured an ineffective during his Bears career, so a healthy Wright should – at minimum – provide a boost in productivity. Wright’s 74.6 grade in in 308 snaps ranked 52nd out of 115 qualifiers, and 30 spots ahead of Royal. Based on PFF’s grading scale, Wright is the best free agent receiver the Bears added this offseason, edging Victor Cruz (53.9) and Markus Wheaton (49.7).
Fullback: Michael Burton (79.3) replaces Paul Lasike (41.3)
A late addition to the mix, Burton posted a 79.3 grade that would have put him as the 10th best fullback had he played enough snaps to qualify. The Bears didn’t employ the fullback too often, as Lasike played just 76 snaps. Still, Burton graded out as a significant upgrade in just 95 snaps.
Quarterback: Mike Glennon (69.0) replaces Brian Hoyer (81.1), Matt Barkley (73.8)
The Bears lost two quarterbacks to the 49ers when Hoyer and Barkley left for San Francisco, but you probably didn’t realize both graded as well as they did. Hoyer’s 81.1 grade would have ranked him between Alex Smith (82.2) and Ryan Tannehll (80.8) and placed him favorably among the middle of the pack of starting quarterbacks. Even Barkley’s 73.8 grade was respectable.
Glennon played a grand total of 15 snaps, and recorded a not-so-nice grade of 69.0, which would rank as “below average” by PFF’s standards.
If you want to dream on some sort of upside, Glennon posted a 76.2 grade in 2014, the last season in which he garnered a significant amount of snaps.
Wide receiver: Kevin White (69.2) replaces Alshon Jeffery (77.6)
One of the biggest offseason losses is Jeffery, a receiver with a Pro Bowl pedigree and a few 1,000-yard seasons under his belt who is still young enough to be considered still in the prime of his career. White will likely get the first crack at replacing Jeffery on the outside, a position that would be the most likely to allow him to use his speed to stretch defenses. Jeffery’s grades have been inconsistent (91.9 in 2015, 79.0 in 2014, 85.4 in 2013) in recent years, but his replacement has been unfortunately unavailable for the first two years of his contract.
If the Bears’ receivers struggle, the step back from Jeffery to White might turn out to be a reason for it.
TO BE DETERMINED
Cornerback: Marcus Cooper (45.5)
Cooper was PFF’s 101st ranked cornerback, and his 45.5 grade puts him in the “poor” region of the site’s grading scale. In fact, Cooper has graded out as a “poor” player in each of his last three seasons. Further, his best season by those standards came in 2013, when he earned a 62.3 grade that put him in the “below average” category.
Even still, the Bears signed Cooper to a three-year deal and the expectation is that he will start. Cooper isn’t necessarily replacing anyone, as Kyle Fuller didn’t play a down in 2016. Cooper’s move to the outside actually could benefit the Bears’ cornerbacks as it slides Cre’von LeBlanc and Bryce Callahan into a role as slot corner where both players performed their best.
Tight end: Dion Sims (59.3)
Sims projects to start if the Bears open up in offensive sets featuring two tight ends. But if the Bears are successful in moving returning starter Zach Miller, Sims would represent a significant downgrade. PFF graded Miller as its eighth best tight end, handing him an 81.7 grade. Miller earned the site’s 13th best receiving grade, fifth best run blocking grade, and would have been the 11th ranked pass blocker had he played enough downs to qualify. On the other hand, Sims’ 59.3 overall grade ranked 38th of 63 tight ends. Sims also ranked 30th as a receiver, 41st as a run blocker, and 39th as a pass blocker.
Quarterback: Mitch Trubisky (86.0*)
Hopefully, Trubisky will be a long-term upgrade. PFF was high on him as a college quarterback, ranking him as the top draft prospect at his position, and giving him an 86.0 grade. How that translates to the pros will be determined, but perhaps not until 2018 if the best case scenario plays out.