Bears grades and needs: D-line looks set, from Akiem Hicks to Bilal Nichols

Bears grades and needs: D-line looks set, from Akiem Hicks to Bilal Nichols

2018 depth chart

1. Akiem Hicks
Usage: 16 games, 74.1 percent of defensive snaps
2019 status: $10.1 million cap hit

Hicks is one of the very best interior defensive linemen in the NFL, leading all players at his position with 34 run stops (defined by Pro Football Focus as tackles that constitute a loss for the offense) while contributing eight sacks and 53 pressures. He finally earned the Pro Bowl bid he’s deserved for years and will remain an anchor of the Bears’ defense as it transitions from Vic Fangio to Chuck Pagano. That he played nearly three-quarters of the Bears' defensive snaps, too, is a testmant to A) how tough is was to take him off the field and B) how well he conditioned himself to be able to play that much. 

2. Eddie Goldman
Usage: 16 games, 52.5 percent of defensive snaps
2019 status: $7.55 million cap hit

With so much star power highlight reel appearances surrounding him, Goldman perhaps was under-appreciated outside the walls of Halas Hall. But inside the Bears’ facility, Goldman’s impact was celebrated. His ability to absorb interior double teams allowed inside linebackers Danny Trevathan and Roquan Smith to shoot gaps and each rack up over 100 tackles, and coupled with Hicks few teams were able to effectively run the ball on the Bears. 

While Goldman indeed only played a little over half of the Bears’ defensive snaps, that was possible because of good depth behind him. Defensive line coach Jay Rodgers — the lone position coach holdover from Fangio’s staff — crafted a plan that allowed Goldman to stay healthy, fresh and effective all season. With Pagano keeping the Bears’ 3-4 base scheme, Goldman will still have a highly important role a year after signing a four-year, $42.04 million contract with $25 million guaranteed. 

3. Roy Robertson-Harris
Usage: 16 games, 33.6 percent of defensive snaps, 27.1 percent of special teams snaps
2019 status: Exclusive rights free agent

Robertson-Harris’ 28 pressures tied for fourth on the team behind the three guys you’d expect to be ahead of him (Khalil Mack, Hicks, Leonard Floyd). He was a disruptive presence able to play just about every defensive line technique, and he used his 6-foot-7 length to bat down two passes, too. 

Robertson-Harris will turn 26 in late July and could still have some untapped potential as a defensive lineman, a position he switched to only a few years ago. 

4. Bilal Nichols
Usage: 14 games, 31.2 percent of defensive snaps, 5.2 percent of special teams snaps
2019 status: $644,870 cap hit

Nichols came up with one of the biggest plays in the early part of the Bears’ season when he dropped Cardinals running back for a three-yard loss on third-and-two just after the two-minute warning, with Arizona driving in Bears territory. From there, Nichols was good for a few plays per game, immediately fitting in as an adept rotational player a few months removed from being a fifth-round pick.

Nichols tied with Robertson-Harris for fifth on the team with four sacks, and in Week 17 he thoroughly terrorized Minnesota’s offensive line: Four hurries, two hits and one sack (after the sack, he mimicked the “Viking Clap” to a largely empty U.S. Bank Stadium). Ryan Pace appears to have unearthed a solid contributor in Nichols, someone who will be a key part of the team’s defensive line rotation again in 2019. 

5. Jonathan Bullard
Usage: 16 games, 28.3 percent of defensive snaps, 15.1 percent of special teams snaps
2019 status: $1,026,630 cap hit

Bullard hasn’t quite capitalized on the potential that led Pace to draft him in the third round back in 2016, and was passed on the depth chart by Robertson-Harris and Nichols last season. He’s adequate against the run and his cap hit is low enough for him to stick on the roster in 2019. 

6. Nick Williams 
Usage: 2 games, 4.2 percent of defensive snaps
2019 status: Unrestricted free agent

Williams won a camp battle to secure a roster spot, but only appeared in two games (Week 1 and Week 9). 

7. Abdullah Anderson
Usage: Practice squad
2019 status: Reserve/future contract

The Bucknell alum and 2017 Patriot League defensive player of the year hung around the practice squad in 2018, and will get a shot at sticking in that role in 2019. 

Level of need (1-11, with 11 being the highest): 3

Between Hicks, Goldman, Robertson-Harris and Nichols, the Bears have four strong contributors to their defensive line rotation. Add Bullard in there and the “need” lessens, though defensive line is one of those positions where you can never have too many bodies. 

Previous grades and needs: QBs | RBs | WRs | TEs | OL

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Bears.


The Bears might have a big problem with drops

The Bears might have a big problem with drops

The Bears have really struggled to move the ball this season, as evidenced by their current No. 29 overall ranking in yards per game. While there are plenty of things at fault for the Bears' woeful offensive production, from Matt Nagy's playcalling to trouble establishing the run, it turns out another ugly issue has reared its ugly head: drops.

According to unofficial statistics from Fox, the Bears lead the NFL in drop percentage at 7.36%. According to the leaderboard, not only does Chicago lead the NFL in drop rate, but they are the only team in the league with a drop rate above 7%.

There are a number of factors that have led to the Bears issues with drops and they appear to be a threefold issue.

1. The Bears receiving core has to improve in this capacity, especially considering that they have two players in the top 35 in the league in drops.

And those two players (Tarik Cohen with 6 dropped passes and Allen Robinson with 3 dropped passes) are crucial parts of the offense. 

2. Mitch Trubisky has to give his receivers a chance. 

Trubisky is coming off of his best game of the season against the Detroit Lions, in which he threw for 173 yards, 3 touchdowns, and no picks in a 20-13 Bears' win. In that matchup, he had a 69.6% completion rate, his second-best single-game completion percentage of the year. He will need to string together multiple games like this to continue to dispel the narrative surrounding him, help the Bears drop woes dissipate, and thusly help the squad make a serious playoff push. 

In recent weeks, Nagy and co. have had Trubisky take fewer pass attempts, 22.0 per game over his last two weeks, and this comes after having a whopping 54 pass attempts in a Week 7 loss to the New Orleans Saints. With some adjustments from both the coaching staff and Trubisky, the third-year quarterback appears to be better positioned to be an accurate passer for the rest of the season, it's simply on him to deliver, as he did in Week 10.

3. The offensive line has to be better to give Trubisky a chance to show any real improvement 

The Bears are 22nd in the league in sacks allowed, having given up 27 through 10 weeks.

Obviously injuries have played a factor, with Kyle Long on the IR. And to Nagy's credit, he has shuffled around the assignments on the offensive line, trying to provide a spark to the group. Nagy himself stated, "We just know that making that switch, for a lot of different reasons is more beneficial." 

We will see if the changes on the O-line actually help Trubisky get more comfortable in the pocket, helping him deliver more accurate strikes to his receivers. 

The Bears need to try any and all remedies for their drop issues. An offense that is having trouble running the ball, and is trying to build confidence in their QB cannot afford to deal with these types of inconsistencies from their playmakers. 

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Bears.

Is Adam Shaheen's career with the Bears over?

USA Today

Is Adam Shaheen's career with the Bears over?

The Bears pulled the plug on the Kevin White project a year ago, effectively putting an end to the 2015 seventh overall pick’s time in Chicago halfway through the 2018 season. White was active for only two of the Bears’ final nine games, playing five special teams snaps on Thanksgiving and then getting one final shot in a largely meaningless Week 17 trip to Minnesota. 

A key difference between White and Adam Shaheen — who was a healthy scratch on Sunday for the first time in his career — is White was not expected to be a critical part of the Bears’ offense in 2018. He was the team’s fifth receiver, behind the starting core of Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel and Anthony Miller and versatile special teamer Josh Bellamy. His success or failure was never going to dictate much within the Bears’ offense. 

Shaheen, though, entered 2019 as the Bears’ top “Y” (in-line) tight end in an offense geared toward his position (the Philadelphia Eagles and Kansas City Chiefs, the two most similar offenses to the Bears, each have two tight ends on the field on about a third of their snaps). The Bears needed him to contribute as a run blocker and, at the least, be a receiving threat in the red zone. 

None of those things happened over the first eight games of 2019, with Shaheen trending from invisibility to liability. So the question for the 45th overall pick in 2017’s NFL Draft is: Where does he go from here in Chicago?

“We want all of our players to be able to be completely detailed and play hard and do everything they can to be the best player they can be,” coach Matt Nagy said, rather pointedly, when asked what Shaheen needed to do to be active on gamedays again. 

Compare what Nagy said about Shaheen to what he said about White the Monday after de-activating him last year: 

“Kevin’s worrying about doing what he can do as best as he can, and however that fits into what we do, he’ll do that. He’s been great. He really has.”

If White couldn’t get back on the field with his coach publicly praising him, what hope is there for Shaheen to get back on the field when his coach talks about the details and playing hard?

More specifically, tight ends coach Kevin Gilbride pointed to Shaheen’s issues as a run blocker in terms of footwork, pad level and finishing. Realistically, it’ll be difficult for Shaheen to show the kind of growth during practice over the next few weeks that would overcome what he put on tape in the Bears’ first eight games. 

When the Bears picked Shaheen from Division-II Ashland in the second round of 2017’s draft, general manager Ryan Pace lauded his athletic upside as a pass catcher. His run blocking skills were always going to have to be developed. But the receiving aspect of his game hasn’t come around, either — of the 136 tight ends taken in the first three rounds of the NFL Draft from 1999-2019, Shaheen’s 26 career receptions rank 111th. 

So that Shaheen was a second rounder doesn’t matter to the 2019 Bears and an offensive coaching staff that was not in place when he was picked. This team needs to get its best players on the field to fix one of the worst offenses in the NFL, and collectively coaches determined Shaheen is not one of those players. 

“I don’t ever really have that in my mind that he was a second round pick,” Gilbride said. “You’re just trying to get that guy to execute, whether he’s a second round pick, free agent, it doesn’t really matter. What does matter is he going to help your football team win games. That’s why you have him on the team. So each week we go into the gameplanning meetings try to see who best helps us fit that role to help our football team.”

The Bears only owe Shaheen a little over $600,000 in 2020, per Spotrac, so money would not be a deterrent to cutting him three years into his four-year rookie contract (he’ll have been paid $4,639,556 by the end of the year). At this point, Shaheen’s future in Chicago doesn’t look promising, though he could get back on the field if, say, Trey Burton’s calf injury rules him out of Sunday’s game against the Los Angeles Rams. 

If Shaheen does play again, he needs to take advantage of the opportunity. Because time is running out for him and the Bears to make good on the upside they saw in him two and a half years ago. 

“As a competitor, you better want to do everything you can (to play again),” Gilbride said. “If it’s up to me to motivate him that’s exactly what I’ll tell him, as far as well, you’ve gotta compete, make sure that your skillset and what you bring to the table is enough to get you a suit on Sundays.” 

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Bears.