It wasn't long ago that the Chicago Bears offensive line was considered a strength of the team. They were one of the best in the NFL in 2018. The Bears' starting five was a big reason why the team went 12-4 and won the NFC North that year, but that wasn't the case in 2019. Chicago's offensive line had a lot to do with the team's underwhelming 8-8 season.
As a result, the Bears' starting group isn't getting much respect entering the 2020 season. According to Pro Football Focus' recent ranking of all 32 offensive lines, Chicago checks in at No. 22.
The Bears regressed from a fringe top-10 offensive line in 2018 to the 25th-ranked unit last season despite most of the group remaining intact. Left tackle Charles Leno saw the biggest drop-off in play, as he had four straight seasons grading in the 70s from 2015 to 2018 but finished at just 58.6 overall last season, good for just 64th out of 82 qualifiers. Leno earned his worst pass-blocking grade since 2015 while posting the lowest run-blocking grade of his career, at 47.5.
While PFF's ranking isn't great, there was a bit of optimism baked in. The analytics powerhouse still believes in the o-line's potential.
The Bears have the pieces to rank among the top 10-15 offensive lines in the league, but they need the tackles to get back to their 2018 form to go with progression from at least two players on the interior.
One of the big reasons why the Bears' offensive line struggled last year was the aftermath of Kyle Long's injury. Rashaad Coward was elevated to the first team; Cody Whitehair and James Daniels swapped positions. The best offensive lines have continuity, and that was lost in 2019.
With Germain Ifedi stepping into the right guard spot in 2020, and both Whitehair and Daniels settled in at center and left guard, the Bears will begin this season in much better shape and with a much better chance to return to the level of play we saw in 2018.
The Chicago Bears have a lot of strong bounce-back candidates entering the 2020 season. Mitch Trubisky immediately comes to mind, as does Khalil Mack, whose streak of double-digit sack seasons ended at four last year.
Perhaps no player needs a bigger bounceback than running back Tarik Cohen, the pass-catching dynamo who was anything but in 2019. Cohen ended the season with a career-high 79 receptions but flipped them into just 456 yards. His 5.8 yards per catch was by far the lowest average of his career and has led to questions about whether he can truly be an offensive weapon in the NFL.
Cohen is in a contract year, so of course, he needs to boost his stock by proving he can flip the field anytime he touches the ball. According to ESPN, he's the most likely candidate to be that bounce-back player for the Bears this season.
After being one of the most dynamic receiving backs in the NFL in 2017 and 2018, Cohen took a big step backward in his third season. Combining 2017 and 2018, he ranked behind only Christian McCaffrey and Alvin Kamara in PFF receiving grade. Last season, however, he ranked 24th of 32 running backs who saw at least 40 targets. He dropped more passes, broke tackles at a lower rate and produced significantly fewer explosive plays. It was completely uncharacteristic based on what we saw from him in his first two years in the NFL, so it would be a surprise not to see him bounce back in some capacity in 2020.
The Bears are set up for Cohen to succeed in 2020. Only David Montgomery is slotted ahead of him on the running back depth chart, and Montgomery's skill set doesn't really conflict with the role Cohen plays anyway. In fact, Chicago could use Cohen and Montgomery at the same time, with Cohen lining up in the slot and playing more receiver than running back.
Regardless of how he's used, the expectations for Cohen to have a statistical resurgence are fair. His 2018 season, when he ran for 444 yards and added 725 more through the air (with eight total touchdowns), is more in-line with what we should see from him in 2020.
On Monday morning, Bears' safety Eddie Jackson went on Good Morning Football and single-handedly blew up every single identical roster projection that are appearing on the internet these days:
There's even a tiny bit of precedent here! Jackson played receiver in high school, and has actually already appeared on that side of the ball for the Bears a few times back in 2018. He's also very clearly one of the team's best playmakers. Defensive players getting offensive snaps has all the exhilaration of position players pitching, without any of the unspoken condescension. He also scores like, 75% of the time he touches the ball (honestly, it's more fun for you if you don't bother fact checking this) and after 2019's offensive performance, beggars can't be choosers. Let Eddie Jackson play offense. Let Akiem Hicks play offense. Let Khalil Mack punt the ball if Khalil Mack wants to punt the ball. It's fun and it makes things exciting and positions are stupid.
For what it's worth, it already sounds like Jackson and Nagy are on the same page about all of this:
Who's against this idea? Seriously. Remember 2018? Santa's Sleigh! Oompa Loompa! Chumbawamba! We could have that again. We could have it all.