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Let’s Talk About the Bears’ Positions of Depth and Where Quality Exists

Analysis and Commentary

After the 2016 Chicago Bears finished their season with 19 players on injured reserve, the 2017 team will start their season with 9 players on that same list. Wonderful.

It’s not been a great start health-wise, but at least we’ll be able to quickly test the quality of depth assembled this offseason by GM Ryan Pace. But how exactly does one measure a team’s depth? While there is no precise calculation, we can take an estimated guess by evaluating the roster pieced together by Pace.

First, let’s take a look at players who aren’t listed as starters, but have relevant starting experience. Finding a common ground for “relevant starting experience” seems tricky, but let’s define that as having one season in which a player starts at least eight games – or is a starter for at least 50 percent of the games he appeared in.

There are 15 players who fit this definition:

  • QB Mark Sanchez
  • WR Markus Wheaton
  • TE Zach Miller
  • C Hroniss Grasu
  • OL Tom Compton
  • OL Brad Sowell
  • DL John Jenkins
  • LB Pernell McPhee
  • LB Christian Jones
  • LB Nick Kwiatkoski
  • LB Sam Acho
  • CB Kyle Fuller
  • CB Bryce Callahan
  • CB Cre’von LeBlanc
  • S Adrian Amos

There is a bit of variety among this group, but it’s fitting that the most depth is at positions where the Bears have recently battled serious injury concerns. After all, we’re looking at a group that features three offensive linemen, three cornerbacks, and two inside linebackers, among others. That’s probably no coincidence considering last year’s Bears lost 11 games from two starting inside linebackers, 25 games from three prominent edge rushers, and 12 games from three offensive line starters.

Having depth in the form of players who have been there and done that is important. Let’s not overlook or undersell the value of being able to plug in a player in a pinch who knows what he’s doing, where he needs to be, and how he needs to approach the situation ahead of him. HOWEVER, there is a difference between having depth with strength in numbers and having quality depth.

There are six players listed as second-stringers on the Bears depth chart who earned average or better grades from Pro Football Focus last season*:

  • LB Pernell McPhee
  • S Adrian Amos
  • CB Bryce Callahan
  • CB Cre’von LeBlanc
  • CB Kyle Fuller*
  • TE Zach Miller

*We included cornerback Kyle Fuller, who missed the entire 2016 season with a knee injury but earned a 77.3 grade when he was last healthy in 2015.

In this group, we have six players who were primary starters for the Bears at some point within the last two seasons. The fact that each of these players graded out as average or better by PFF is encouraging in case any of them needs to fill in and play an increased number of snaps in 2017. Unfortunately, this kind of depth really seems to be isolated in the secondary. But to be fair, a team that faces Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford twice a year needs as much quality depth in the defensive backfield as it can get.

(Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)

Even after preseason injuries and cuts, the Bears still have a surprisingly well-rounded roster. We touched upon it during the offseason when we learned the Bears pieced together the NFC North’s “best” starting lineup, and it’s worth sharing the team still has many of these players still in important roles.

In fact, there are 22 players who graded out to be average or better listed as starters on PFF’s base or nickel depth charts. This includes six players who earned grades among the upper echelon of their position. Linebacker Jerrell Freeman is the one elite player on the Bears, while running back Jordan Howard, center Cody Whitehair, right guard Josh Sitton, defensive end Akiem Hicks, and safety Quintin Demps slotted as high quality players according to PFF’s grading standards.

To Pace’s credit, he has assembled a team that shouldn’t crumble the way last year’s team did when it was dealt injury related adversity. However, the limited quality of depth – particularly at the wide receiver position – is something that could come back and haunt the Bears early (and possibly often) in 2017.


Luis Medina

Luis is the Lead Writer at The Ten-Yard Line, and you can find him on Twitter at @lcm1986.