If you allow yourself to dig deep enough, you might be able to find a glimmer of hope along the Chicago Bears’ front seven.
Defensive lineman Akiem Hicks is coming off a stellar season and is expected to play inspired as he seeks a long-term extension from Chicago or a big money deal in free agency from another franchise. Jerrell Freeman and Danny Trevathan provided stability among inside linebackers – when they were on the field, of course. And the edge rushers talk a big game, with Pernell McPhee and Leonard Floyd potentially primed for breakout seasons.
However, hope will only take you so far … especially in Pro Football Focus’ preseason position group rankings. Louie Benjamin ranks each team’s front seven, and the Bears rank 28th in the 32-team league. Ouch.
“LB Jerrell Freeman might as well have been an added defensive back for the Bears in 2016. His coverage grade of 94.9 was the highest among any defensive position last season, all the while grading out as the best LB in the NFL last year. One player along your front seven isn’t nearly good enough to limit opposing offenses however as behind Freeman and DI Akiem Hicks, no Chicago defender finished with a grade in the top 30 of their position last season. LB Danny Trevathan was good against the run, but struggled with six combined missed tackles last season. Edge defender Leonard Floyd created a QB pressure every other 11th snap, but ranked 43rd in run stop percentage among 3-4 outside linebackers.”
The Bears ended the 2016 season with the 23rd-rated front seven, and there was a belief the team could improve in 2017. GM Ryan Pace could have dipped into free agency or the draft to possibly add a playmaker to the bunch, but the Bears didn’t add much in the form of high-upside talent. Instead, the front office plugged in a stop-gap starter at defensive end in Jaye Howard, and depth pieces at linebacker (Dan Skuta) and defensive tackle (John Jenkins). This leaves the Bears hoping that contributions from players returning from injury, as well as the natural progression of growth from some of their younger players provide a much-needed boost.
Browsing through PFF’s Bears depth chart, the front seven doesn’t feature any players who grade out as poor and only one (Floyd) as below average. So there is already some hope that the group will play better than expected. Unfortunately, it looks like they’ll be fighting an uphill battle early, if it turns out that Trevathan will miss the first six games while on the PUP list, but the healthy returns of nose tackle Eddie Goldman and linebacker Lamarr Houston will be welcome.
In the end, if Chicago can keep its front seven healthy, there is no reason not to see them finish the season rated higher than where it started.