This offseason we’ll take a look at all 32 NFL teams’ most pressing needs heading into the 2018-19 season. Our next team plays in a windy city and hasn’t reached the playoffs since 2010: The Chicago Bears.
John Fox‘s three-year tenure in Chicago is over. Former Chiefs offensive coordinator Matt Nagy is the new man in charge, and his first move was to hire former Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich to run the Bears offense. Mastermind Vic Fangio will remain the team’s defensive coordinator. They’ll all have their hands full replacing an abundance of contributors on both sides of the ball. The potential return of pass catchers Zach Miller and Cam Meredith is filled with uncertainty due to both injury and free agency.
The good news for the Bears is that they have the league’s eighth-most cap space to work with. The are without their third-round pick, which they sent to the 49ers in last year’s Mitchell Trubisky trade, but they still have seven draft picks, and general manager Ryan Pace has proven capable of hitting on late-round picks with Jordan Howard, Adrian Amos, and Tarik Cohen. The time to win in Chicago is now, as eventually the Bears will be forced to pay Trubisky like a franchise quarterback, so it’s more vital than ever for Pace to have a sound offseason.
Need No. 1: Wide Receiver
The Bears face the prospect of overhauling their unimpressive group of receivers, as Kendall Wright and Dontrelle Inman are unrestricted free agents, and Josh Bellamy and Meredith are restricted free agents. The former three players combined for three touchdowns and one 100-yard performance in 2017, while the latter is recovering from a torn ACL. Former No. 7 overall pick Kevin White has played a combined five games in three seasons.
Each of the Bears wide receivers last season failed to average over 1.5 yards per route run, although Meredith was tied for 11th among all receivers with an average of 2.07 yards per route run in 2016. He didn’t start playing wide receiver until his junior year at Illinois State, but he did flash difference-making skills with a 66-888-4 line during his second season with the Bears.
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) July 27, 2017
The Bears haven’t had a reliable receiving core since the days of Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, but they’ve added talent this offseason with Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, and Trey Burton. Last season’s unit ranked among the league’s bottom-eight groups in average yards of separation at the quarterback’s release (Next Gen Stats). A-Rob will step in as the Bears’ undisputed WR1 in the their new-look offense, with Gabriel working out of the slot. Robinson has demonstrated a high ceiling and low floor during his career, scoring the third-most touchdowns ever by a 22-year old before becoming one of just eight wide receivers over the past 25 years to record fewer than 130 fantasy points with 150-plus targets in 2016. Both are upgrades over last season’s group, and White is at least tentatively expected to give things another go.
Telling Stat: Bears wide receivers averaged the fewest DraftKings points per game to go with bottom-eight marks in Plus/Minus and Consistency Rating last season.
Need No. 2: Cornerback
The team will next need to address a secondary that could lose starting corner Bryce Callahan to free agency, although each of Kyle Fuller and Prince Amukamara will return. All three were graded among Pro Football Focus’ 45 top corners last season, while Amukamara and Callahan were among just 20 cornerbacks to allow fewer than 0.85 yards per cover snap. Overall, the Bears ranked among the league’s three top defenses in average Plus/Minus and Consistency Rating allowed to wide receivers in 2017.
The Bears have boasted a better defense against the pass than the run in Football Outsiders’ Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA) in each of Fangio’s three seasons as defensive coordinator. Last season’s group was his most-balanced defense yet, ranking 14th in both pass and rush DVOA and finishing the year as the league’s ninth-ranked scoring unit. The presence of Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford hardly makes the NFC North a cornerback-friendly division, so maintaining what has been a strength of the team will be an integral part of the Bears’ rise to contention.
Telling Stat: Antonio Brown was the only wide receiver to eclipse 100 yards against the Bears last season. No other receiver managed to eclipse 25 DraftKings points in a single game, a mark that was surpassed on 84 separate occasions in 2017.
Need No. 3: Defensive Line
The Bears duo of Leonard Floyd and Akiem Hicks makes a formidable duo in the front seven that gives the team a chance to rank among the league’s top-eight defenses in adjusted sack rate for a third straight season. Even so, work needs to be done to ensure the unit remains a strength and doesn’t turn into a weakness. Starter Mitch Unrein and backup John Jenkins are both free agents, while former second-round pick Eddie Goldman has missed 12 games in his three-year career. Unrein led this trio with 2.5 sacks last season, and they each deserve part of the blame for the team’s 30th-ranked defense in adjusted line yards per rush. Pass-rushing linebacker Pernell McPhee was released.
Pace has used a top-100 pick on the defensive line in two of his three drafts. Investing once again in the defensive line will help build a deeper front that could eventually become a major strength with a bit more help. Hicks and Unrein were PFF’s No. 15 and No. 25 overall interior defenders last season, so ensuring the latter player stays in Chicago should be a priority. The Bears signed Aaron Lynch to boost their talent on the edge. Lynch earned PFF’s 24th-highest grade against the run among all edge defenders last season.
Telling Stat: The Bears ranked among the league’s top-12 defenses in fewest open field and second level yards allowed per rush but also among the bottom-three defenses in percentage of runs stopped at or behind the line of scrimmage and runs on third- or fourth-and-short.
- Linebacker: The Bears released talented but PED-riddled inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman, while backup John Timu is a restricted free agent. They’ve allowed an additional 4.7 points and 51.7 rushing yards in 11 games without Danny Trevathan since 2016. Having more pass rushers at outside linebacker won’t hurt, but the Bears at least need to address depth on the inside to maintain their top-14 defense in pass DVOA vs. tight ends and running backs.
- Offensive tackle: The Bears are expected to return their entire offensive line next season, but Charles Leno Jr. and Bobby Massie haven’t been the strong point of the unit. The Bears’ 23rd-ranked offensive line in adjusted sack rate was the league’s fifth-worst unit in adjusted line yards per rush last year, and the unit particularly struggled on rushes over left tackle and right end. The team hasn’t drafted a tackle before the fifth round since 2011.
Daily fantasy players should know about NFL rookies before they’ve played a down of professional football because they are among the most misvalued assets in all of DFS. People who know NFL rookies have a significant DFS edge. The draft will be held at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX, from April 26-28.
Photo via Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports