Akiem Hicks

Projecting what holes the Bears will have to fill on their 2018 depth chart

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USA Today

Projecting what holes the Bears will have to fill on their 2018 depth chart

On Wednesday’s edition of the Under Center Podcast, John “Moon” Mullin and I broke down the Bears’ current depth chart, and which players on it will and won’t be back in 2018. 

The genesis of the pod, which you can listen to below, was with this color-coded depth chart:

 

Instead of a deep dive into each of these units, as we did on the podcast, this will more be a look at who those players are who are locked into roster spots in 2018. This should begin to paint a picture of where the Bears’ positions of need are heading into the offseason. 

OFFENSE
 
QB: Mitchell Trubisky
RB: Jordan Howard, Tarik Cohen
FB: 
WR: Cameron Meredith, Kevin White
TE: Dion Sims, Adam Shaheen
LT: Charles Leno Jr.
LG: Josh Sitton, Eric Kush
C: Cody Whitehair
RG: Kyle Long, Eric Kush
RT: 

The first point to note with any of these projections is we don’t know what the Bears offense and defense will look like in 2018 with a potentially different coaching staff in place (i.e., if that coaching staff wants a fullback). 

The biggest need on this side of the ball, clearly, is wide receiver. Meredith and White are both coming off injuries (for White, three injuries in three years), and it’s fair to wonder if they can be as productive as the Bears expected them to be this season. 

The top five receivers currently scheduled to hit free agency are Davante Adams (744 yards, 7 TDs), Jarvis Landry (699 yards, 6 TDs), Marqise Lee (637, 3 TDs), Paul Richardson (592 yards, 5 TDs) and Sammy Watkins (528 yards, 6 TDs). Dontrelle Inman and Kendall Wright could play their way into contracts with the Bears in 2018 — both are due to hit free agency, too — with good play down the stretch. Inman, especially, has quickly developed chemistry with Trubisky since being acquired from the Los Angeles Chargers in October. 

The Bears could also potentially see an upgrade at right tackle, depending on how they’ve evaluated Bobby Massie’s season and his potential cap savings if he’s released ($5.6 million, according to Spotrac). There will be a need to add depth behind these starting linemen — though if Kush returns healthy from a training camp ACL injury, that would be a boost. 

Not all of these offensive players are "core" guys, but Trubisky, Howard, Cohen, Sitton, Whitehair and Long should fit that designation. 
 
DEFENSE

DE: Akiem Hicks, Jonathan Bullard
DT: Eddie Goldman
OLB: Leonard Floyd
ILB: Danny Trevathan, Nick Kwiatkoski
CB: 
S: Eddie Jackson, Adrian Amos

Whether the Bears’ 2018 defense is a 3-4 (as run by Vic Fangio) or a 4-3 (as run by a different defensive coordinator) remains to be seen, but these eight players would fit any scheme. 

The clear need is at cornerback, with Kyle Fuller and Prince Amukamara becoming free agents next year. Marcus Cooper hasn’t played up to his contract and would save the Bears $4.5 million in cap room if he were released (again, per Spotrac). Nickel corners Bryce Callahan (a restricted free agent) and Cre’von LeBlanc could be back, as could special teams ace Sherrick McManis (an unrestricted free agent). Finding an upgrade at this position is a definite “must-do” for the Bears’ offseason checklist.

But so is adding at least one go-to edge rusher, regardless of scheme fit. Pernell McPhee and Willie Young aren’t guaranteed to be back, given their relative lack of production (largely in McPhee’s case), their injury histories (in both players’ cases) or their age (in Young’s case). But if the Bears pencil in Hicks and Floyd as go-to pass-rushers in 2018, they still need a third. 

The good news is Jackson and Amos proved to be a solid safety duo in 2017, and that should carry over to 2018 (Quintin Demps could return, but perhaps as a backup). Goldman has been one of the Bears’ best defensive players this year and could be in line for a contract extension in the offseason. Trevathan is a rock on this defense, too, and is another player on whom a 2018 defense can be built. 

The "core" guys in this group: Hicks, Goldman, Trevathan and Floyd. 
 
SPECIAL TEAMS

PK: 
Punter: 
Long snapper: Andrew DePaola, Patrick Scales

Pat O’Donnell will be a free agent, while the Bears’ revolving door of kickers in 2017 isn’t likely to produce a long-term solution in 2018. 
 

Bears grades: Which units escape an 'F' after blowout loss in Philadelphia?

Bears grades: Which units escape an 'F' after blowout loss in Philadelphia?

QUARTERBACKS: F

Mitchell Trubisky completed 17 of 33 passes (51.5 percent), with some significant accuracy issues contributing to that poor completion percentage. He threw two interceptions and fumbled twice (though none of those fumbles were lost), and his 38.3 rating was a career low. “I didn’t play the game I set out to play or the game I’m capable of,” Trubisky said. The Bears averaged 2.9 yards per play, gained 140 total yards and had eight first downs on Sunday. And while the Eagles clearly have the better team, there’s not a curve for a last-place team facing a first-place team. 

RUNNING BACKS: F

The Eagles have one of the very best run defenses in the NFL, and Jordan Howard (seven carries, six yards), Tarik Cohen (two carries, -11 yards) and Benny Cunningham (one carry, minus-one yard) combined for 10 carries for minus-six yards, good for an average loss (not gain) of 0.6 yards per carry. On the bright side, Howard and Cohen each had two catches on two targets, but there was no way the Bears’ offense was going to have any success with its running backs averaging a loss every time they carried the ball. 

WIDE RECEIVERS: F

Dontrelle Inman caught four of his nine targets for 64 yards but had a couple of drops, while Tre McBride and Kendall Wright combined for four catches and 35 yards on 11 targets. Some of this had to do with Trubisky’s accuracy issues, but his receivers weren’t doing enough to make his Sunday easier. 

TIGHT ENDS: F

Adam Shaheen missed a run block early and only played 17 of the Bears’ 55 snaps, and caught his one target for one yard. Dion Sims returned from an illness and played 20 snaps, so it’s not like Sims was taking snaps away from Shaheen. Daniel Brown, though, played 30 snaps, which was more of a function of the Bears having to run their two-minute offense for most of the game. 

OFFENSIVE LINE: F

This group did do a halfway decent job protecting Trubisky (two sacks, five hurries) against an Eagles defense that was able to pin its ears back and do quite a bit of pass rushing against a Bears offense that had to pass quite a bit. But the six rushing yards the Bears managed are the second-lowest total in franchise history, and there’s no getting around that. 

DEFENSIVE LINE: D+

Akiem Hicks (two TFLs) and Eddie Goldman (four tackles, one hurry) both were solid at times, while Jonathan Bullard had his most disruptive game of the season (one sack, two hurries, one TFL). A depleted and ineffective linebacker corps was the bigger culprit for Philadelphia’s average of 5.3 yards per carry, but this unit didn’t have enough big, game-changing plays to prop up the rest of the defense. Worth noting: Hicks played 69.2 percent of the Bears' defensive snaps, with his only lower percentaged (69 percent) coming in that Week 2 blowout loss at Tampa. Hicks has been a workhorse on the defensive line this season, but given he was limited in practice last week, perhaps the Bears will manage his snaps a little more now that they won't be playing meaningful games in December. 

LINEBACKERS: D-

Pernell McPhee was largely invisible, only recording two sacks with no hurries, though Sam Acho had a solid game with four tackles and two hurries. Christian Jones had one pass break-up and five tackles, and Nick Kwiatkoski only had one tackle while playing 62.8 percent of the Bears’ snaps. Isaiah Irving recorded one tackle with no hurries or sacks in his first extended un in the Bears’ defense. This unit sorely missed Danny Trevathan and Leonard Floyd, to say the least. 

DEFENSIVE BACKS: D

There was a lot of bad from this group, with Eddie Jackson struggling against the pass and run and dropping an interception in the second half. Adrian Amos allowed Zach Ertz to burst free for a 17-yard touchdown in the first quarter, Philadelphia’s first of the game. Prince Amukamara committed two penalties, and Kyle Fuller had an uneven game, with the lowlight him falling down on a first down conversion to Alshon Jeffery in the first quarter. But give this group credit for Amukamara and Cre’Von LeBlanc both forcing fumbles (Amukamara was officially credited with it, though Amos, no pun intended, had a hand in it as well), while that pair each had two pass break-ups as well. And overall for the defense, no unit gets an "F" here because there were players from each unit (Goldman, Acho, LeBlanc in particular) who had decent games. It's harder to identify those guys on offense. 

SPECIAL TEAMS: F

Pat O’Donnell had some uncharacteristic struggles, with his first punt going only 34 yards to the Bears’ 44, which preceded the Eagles’ first touchdown of the game (he did rebound to have his next punt stick Philadelphia inside its own 10-yard line, and had a 58-yarder later in the game). Cairo Santos was put in a tough situation on his 54-yard field goal — his first field goal attempt since Week 3 and his subsequent groin injury — but did connect on a 38-yard field goal that ensured the Bears wouldn’t get shut out. Both Marcus Cooper and Jonathan Anderson were flagged for penalties on returns that led to the Bears starting first-half drives inside their own 10-yard line. 

COACHING: F

We’ll start here: About five and a half minutes into the second quarter, the Bears mistakenly began to send their punt team into the field on third down, then had to call timeout because only 10 men were on the field. Having Santos attempt that 54-yard field goal on fourth and four was a questionable decision — why not let Trubisky have a crack at converting a first down? The Bears were woefully undisciplined, and ended the first half with more penalty yards (36) than offensive yards (34). That the Eagles were actually the more heavily penalized team (11 for 70 yards for Philadelphia, nine for 56 for the Bears) doesn’t absolve this group, and in fact makes it look worse that the Bears managed to lose by four touchdowns against a talented, yet sloppy, opponent.

Bears grades: No rookie 'freebies' for Trubisky, mid-game lulls reflect poorly on coaches

Bears grades: No rookie 'freebies' for Trubisky, mid-game lulls reflect poorly on coaches

QUARTERBACKS: B-

Mitchell Trubisky’s final stat line was fine, and merely "fine:" 18/30 (60 percent) for 179 yards and a touchdown, and six rushes for 53 yards and a lost fumble (that turned into a Detroit Lions touchdown). There were some outstanding throws and decisions made by the rookie, like his touchdown toss to Adam Shaheen and his athletic, instinctive 19-yard scramble on fourth and 13 in the dying embers of the fourth quarter. But there were too many poor decisions and missed throws — for example, two incompletions were the result of low, inaccurate passes (to Benny Cunningham near the goal line in the first quarter and to Daniel Brown on third and six midway through the third). Trubisky was only sacked once after being dropped 16 times in his previous five games, which was an encouraging improvement. He did some good things but admitted after the game he has to be better, and being a first-year starter isn’t an excuse: “You don’t get a freebie because you’re a rookie,” Trubisky said. 

RUNNING BACKS: A

Jordan Howard sparked a big day with a 50-yard run in the first quarter, and averaged a staggering 8.3 yards per carry (15 attempts, 125 yards). Outside of that explosive run, Howard was efficient and effective, averaging 5.4 yards per carry and getting in the end zone on a well-blocked and well-executed 12-yard run. Tarik Cohen played 31 snaps — he played 31 snaps combined against the New Orleans Saints and Green Bay Packers — and was effective both with the ball in his hands and as a decoy to draw coverage toward him on others. His 15-yard touchdown run and subsequent leap into the end zone tied the game in the fourth quarter, and he caught four of six targets for 44 yards. 

WIDE RECEIVERS: D+

There weren’t any egregious mistakes from this group, but Dontrelle Inman, Kendall Wright, Tre McBride and Markus Wheaton combined for 13 targets, seven receptions and 82 yards. That fewer than half of Trubisky’s pass attempts were intended for his wide receivers is disappointing, yet it's not surprising given the struggles this group has had all year. Inman ran a good in-cut route and connected with Trubisky on it to set up Connor Barth’s missed game-tying field goal, which was the highlight of the day for this unit. 

TIGHT ENDS: B+

Shaheen caught all four of his targets for 41 yards and a touchdown, and displayed some impressive chemistry with Trubisky, his roommate when he arrived in Chicago in the offseason. The Bears need to continue to involve their second-round pick more in the offense — him not being on the field during that last-ditch drive in the fourth quarter was strange given his production, and the wide receivers' lack of production, in the game — and he blocked up Howard’s 12-yard touchdown run well. Daniel Brown caught two of his five targets for 23 yards, including a 13-yard catch on third and 10 that sprung the Bears’ opening-possession scoring drive in the first quarter. 

OFFENSIVE LINE: B+

This group kept Trubisky upright, allowing only that one sack and scattering four pressures on Trubisky’s 30 pass attempts. But it was the run blocking from this group that stood out: Beyond the explosive ground gains it set up, the Bears only had two negative running plays on Sunday. Dinging the grade here are two penalties on Kyle Long, especially an unnecessary roughness flag that negated a 15-yard Trubisky scramble right before he lost that fumble for a touchdown. 

DEFENSIVE LINE: B

Detroit wasn’t able to run the ball, with Theo Riddick, Ameer Abdullah and Jamal Agnew combining for 62 yards on 21 carries (a shade under three yards per carry). But the defensive line didn’t do enough to disrupt Matthew Stafford’s rhythm, with Mitch Unrein recording the only sack and one of two hurries (Eddie Goldman had the other) from this unit. 

LINEBACKERS: B

Nick Kwiatkoski made the biggest play of the day for the Bears’ defense with his sack-strip of Stafford in the first quarter, and Christian Jones chipped in with a sack as well (Jones’ sack was key in that it forced the Lions to kick a field goal, keeping the Bears’ deficit within one possession in the fourth quarter). Both inside linebackers played well, the outside guys didn’t make as big of an impact: Leonard Floyd had four tackles, two hurries and one tackle for a loss, Pernell McPhee had three tackles and Sam Acho had one tackle and one hurry. The lack of a pass rush from the guys expected to be pass rushers kept Stafford comfortable in the pocket, allowing him to pick apart a Bears’ secondary that didn’t have its best day on Sunday. 

DEFENSIVE BACKS: D-

Kyle Fuller missed a tackle on Detroit’s first drive and was benched for Marcus Cooper in the second quarter. Cooper struggled mightily, though, playing too soft of coverage on T.J. Jones on a third-and-15, allowing a conversion that sparked a Lions scoring drive that ended with Marvin Jones burning Cooper with a double move for a 28-yard touchdown. Prince Amukamara was flagged for a pass interference penalty for the second consecutive week, too (last week’s against Green Bay was a questionable penalty at best, to be fair). Fuller re-entered the game and dropped an interception, too. The lack of game-breaking plays and the 120.2 passer rating compiled by Stafford combine to earn this unit the lowest mark on the team from Sunday. 

SPECIAL TEAMS: D

Barth’s missed 46-yard game-tying field goal wiped out some good things Jeff Rodgers’ special teams units did on Sunday. Explosive Lions punt returner Jamal Agnew returned three of Pat O’Donnell’s four punts for only 23 yards, and he averaged 18 1/2 yards on four kick returns. But the Bears, as a team, couldn’t overcome Barth’s miss — and at the start of that drive, Cohen probably should’ve taken a knee in the end zone instead of returning the kickoff from five yards deep in his own end zone to the Bears’ 17-yard line. 

COACHING: D+

Dowell Loggains opened up the playbook for Trubisky (and Cohen), and the result was the Bears’ best offensive effort of the year. At times, this looked like a completely different offense than the one the Bears’ ran in the first 10 weeks of the season, with some zone reads, plenty of shotgun snaps and well-designed plays to spring a 24-point effort. But as John Fox said after the game, the Bears are still susceptible to “siestas,” with those mid-game lulls proving difficult to overcome. The Bears have played 10 games in 2017, and not one of them has been a complete, four-quarter effort. That bigger-picture look falls on the coaching staff, and has greater implications than some questionable personnel decisions (like why Shaheen/Howard/Cohen weren’t on the field for the two-minute drill in the fourth quarter).