In many ways, the Bears’ 2019 season was everything 2018 was not. Injuries to key players hurt the team throughout the year, a tough midseason schedule did them no favors, and the offense took a massive step backward. One constant, though, was the steady performance of the defense. Despite their turnovers and sacks leveling off from the highs of 2018, the unit gave up just 18.6 points per game, good for 4th in the entire league. That the team finished .500 and was alive in the playoff hunt into December speaks volumes about Chuck Pagano’s group, and NBC Sports NFL analyst Chris Simms thinks Matt Nagy and his offense could benefit from leaning on that elite unit in the upcoming season.
“They gotta play through their defense, I think that’s where they messed up last year... your defense is going to be able to win you a number of games. There’s nothing not to like about the Bears defense. It’s arguably the best front seven in football. The secondary, I think, is a pretty damn good group as well. But last year, when you’re throwing the ball and your offense is off the field every three plays, I don’t give a damn who your defense is. You can bring back the ‘85 Bears, if they have to go out there every 4th play, they’re eventually going to wear down, and I think that’s what happened to the Bears defense later in the year last year; it just was too much on them on a weekly basis. So I think the offense and Matt Nagy need to figure out a formula that works for the team, not necessarily just what looks good on paper and stats for the offense.”
The formula Simms speaks of is not unfamiliar to Bears fans. A solid-not-spectacular offense supporting a great defense could be the description of many successful Bears teams over the years. However, the offense did not hold up their end of the bargain in 2019 to say the least, and the team missed the playoffs in disappointing fashion. That being said, Simms sees reasons for optimism heading into 2020, and points to the league’s final four from the 2018 season as proof that a team can win without a superstar QB if there's a great foundation around them.
I think to be successful in football, you want to build your team first… you can certainly make it happen with less than a franchise-type quarterback. Let’s not forget, three years ago we had Blake Bortles, Case Keenum, and Nick Foles in the final four of football competing against Tom Brady. You know why they were there? Not because they’re good or better than Tom Brady or franchise quarterbacks, but their team was really good around them. The Bears unfortunately don’t have that franchise guy. I’m not counting the Bears out of the mix in 2020, there’s still some things to really like if they can play and apply the right formula on the field in 2020.
Of course, Simms picked Nick Foles as his winner of the upcoming QB competition, and if the Super Bowl LII MVP can re-capture some of that magic, who knows where he might take the Bears in 2020.
Fantasy football leagues around the country are beginning to schedule their drafts, and as is the case in every league regardless of the scoring format, running backs will be a hot commodity.
The elite running backs -- Christian McCaffrey, Ezekiel Elliott, and Saquon Barkley -- are easy picks at the top of Round 1. But finding value at the position in the next couple of rounds is where league titles are won. Will David Montgomery be one of those guys?
According to the analytics experts at Pro Football Focus, he might be. PFF is projecting Montgomery to be a top-20 running back in PPR (points per reception) leagues.
Another 250-plus touches seem more than reasonable for Montgomery in 2020. This number, like most statistical thresholds, is fairly arbitrary, but there has been a strong history of success from players that manage to reach this “milestone.” Overall, only nine out of 153 RBs with at least 250 touches in a season failed to finish better than the PPR RB24. Yes, 2019 featured three of those players in Montgomery himself, Carlos Hyde and Sony Michel, but the potential for the Bears' featured back to continue to improve his efficiency and pass-game role adds a bit more of a ceiling for 2020.
This seems like a logical projection for Montgomery, who currently has an average draft position (ADP) of RB21 (49th overall). That equates to an early fifth-round pick in 12-team leagues.
Running backs who are being drafted just ahead of Montgomery are David Johnson (Texans), Melvin Gordon (Broncos), Chris Carson (Seahawks) and even Todd Gurley (Falcons).
Fantasy owners who draft Montgomery would be wise to target Tarik Cohen as his handcuff. He can be had much later in fantasy leagues; he's coming off the board as the 42nd running back and 145th player overall.
Rarely is former first-round pick Roquan Smith mentioned as a weakness on the Bears defense, but entering his third season in the league, Smith needs a breakout year to justify the Bears' decision to select him with the eighth overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.
In fact, Pro Football Focus listed Smith among 15 players entering a prove-it year in 2020.
When he came into the league, Roquan Smith looked tailor-made for the modern NFL — a linebacker who excelled in coverage in college with the athleticism, instincts and feel for the game to be a difference-maker at the next level. Yet, the player we saw at Georgia has yet to really show up in the NFL with any degree of regularity. Smith has made a lot of tackles and missed relatively few (17 in 234 attempts), but his PFF grades reflect a player still trying to find consistency, particularly in coverage where he was so special in college. A top-10 draft pick in 2018, Smith enters Year 3 needing to show the Bears he can be a difference-maker on defense — not just another body who is a relatively solid tackler.
PFF's assessment of Smith is fair. It's actually kind of generous considering how bizarre his season was in 2019. While he's considered a critical starter in the Bears' defense, he isn't a star (yet) despite the fanbase thinking he is, or at least close to being one.
This may be a product of Chicago's post-traumatic draft-bust syndrome. Bears fans are so used to the team selecting first-round busts (Kevin White, Leonard Floyd and Mitch Trubisky), that even average play from Smith will feel like a breath of fresh air.
The reality, however, is that Smith is teetering toward settling in as a slightly above-average inside linebacker. And that's fine. But if he's going to ever become a star, it has to happen in 2020.