Bears

Accolades keep pouring in for Bears' 2016 rookie class

Accolades keep pouring in for Bears' 2016 rookie class

The 2016 NFL Draft could be one that will define Ryan Pace's tenure as GM of the Bears.

Just last week, Jordan Howard became the second rookie running back in Bears franchise history to be named to the Pro Bowl since Gale Sayers in 1965.

The PFWA released their 2016 All-Rookie Team on Tuesday, and Bears center Cody Whitehair, linebacker Leonard Floyd and Howard all made the list.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

Howard, the Bears' fifth round selection (150th overall) out of Indiana, set the rookie franchise record with 1,313 rushing yards on 252 carries and 6 touchdowns. Howard also had 29 receptions for 298 yards and one receiving touchdown.

Floyd, the No. 9 overall selection out of Georgia, registered 33 tackles, 7 sacks and 9 quarterback hits in 12 games.

Whitehair, a second-round pick out of Kansas State, started all 16 games at center for the Bears after spending the majority of the preseason at guard.

The Bears (tied with the Chargers) had the second-highest number of selections behind the Kansas City Chiefs.

Check out the complete 2016 PFWA All-Rookie Team below:

Offense

QB – Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys
RB – Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys; Jordan Howard, Chicago Bears
WR – Sterling Shepard, New York Giants; Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints
TE – Hunter Henry, San Diego Chargers
C – Cody Whitehair, Chicago Bears
G – Joe Thuney, New England Patriots; Laremy Tunsil, Miami Dolphins
T – Jack Conklin, Tennessee Titans; Taylor Decker, Detroit Lions

Defense

DL – Joey Bosa, San Diego Chargers; DeForest Buckner, San Francisco 49ers; Chris Jones, Kansas City Chiefs; Yannick Ngakoue, Jacksonville Jaguars
LB – Jatavis Brown, San Diego Chargers; Leonard Floyd, Chicago Bears; Deion Jones, Atlanta Falcons
CB – Vernon Hargreaves III, Tampa Bay Buccaneers; Jalen Ramsey, Jacksonville Jaguars
S – Karl Joseph, Oakland Raiders; Keanu Neal, Atlanta Falcons

Special Teams

PK – Wil Lutz, New Orleans Saints
P – Riley Dixon, Denver Broncos
KR – Tyreek Hill, Kansas City Chiefs
PR – Tyreek Hill, Kansas City Chiefs
ST – Tyreek Hill, Kansas City Chiefs

(Too) Bold Predictions: Akiem Hicks' return to the Bears will be felt immediately. Literally.

(Too) Bold Predictions: Akiem Hicks' return to the Bears will be felt immediately. Literally.

(Too) Bold Predictions aims to take nuanced, well-researched information and use it to make wildly improbable predictions. Analysis! 

Cam Ellis

1. Akiem Hicks has a sack on the first series of the game
The Packers have the best pass-blocking unit in football, and Aaron Rodgers is averaging something like three seconds per dropback to throw. Still, there are going to be far more one-on-one matchups on the line because of his return, but I imagine the Packers' are still focused on stopping Khalil Mack first and foremost. With so much attention to both edges – because you'll remember Leonard Floyd is basically Khalil Mack against the Packers – Hicks is going to get some single-man looks. Hicks gets to Rodgers somewhere on the Bears' first defensive series, and the upset is off. 

2Kyle Fuller finally connects on jumping a route ... twice 
It feels like Fuller's been painfully close to a pick-six a bunch of times this season. There was the one in Denver, and in Los Angeles, and the latest came against Dak Prescott last Thursday night. I'm pretty sure I'm forgetting one or two also. At one point, he's going to connect, and the weirdest possible moment would be against a quarterback that doesn't throw interceptions that plays on a team that doesn't turn the ball over. We'll say only one goes for a touchdown, but if tomorrow gets weird, it's going to get weird. 

Rob Schaefer
1. Khail Mack logs three sacks in Akiem Hicks' return
Our long national nightmare is over. Akiem Hicks is back, and with him, could come an unleashing of Khalil Mack the likes of which we haven’t seen this season.

We’ve written about the impact of Hicks’ presence on Mack’s production before. The theory is simple: With another all-world talent eating up the inside of opponents’ offensive lines, teams have less capacity to focus extra attention on Mack. Granted, the Bears have gotten decent production along the line this season in the form of Nick Williams (six sacks), Roy Robertson-Harris (10 QB hits) and flashes of Leonard Floyd. But this week, the potential is there for their pass rush to return to its 2018 form, and that starts with Mack.

The Packers have the fourth-highest PFF pass block rating (79.4) in the NFL and Aaron Rodgers is notoriously slippery, which is what makes this prediction bold. But Mack has been trending up recently (two of his 7.5 sacks and six of his 13 QB hits have come in the Bears’ last three games). Perhaps the return of Hicks will push him to new heights.

2. David Montgomery has his 2nd 100+ yard rushing performance of the season.
If there’s a soft spot in this Packers defense, it’s in the heart of their front seven. On the outside, Preston and Za’Darius Smith are often used to edge-rush and contain — roles they’ve been effective in — but the two backers in the middle of their base 3-4, Blake Martinez and B.J. Goodson, both enter this one with average PFF grades (as do defensive ends Dean Lowry and Tyler Lancaster). Frank Clark is, admittedly, a beast, but again… Bold predictions.

As a team, the Packers allow the eighth-most rushing yards per game (122.8) in the NFL, and Matt Nagy has displayed intention in establishing the run as the season has worn on. With conditions set to be frigid and Montgomery coming off his third game with 20+ rush attempts of the season last week against Dallas, a breakout from him is plausible. 

The Packers beat a bad Bears team in Week 1. In Week 15, they'll get a totally new one.

The Packers beat a bad Bears team in Week 1. In Week 15, they'll get a totally new one.

All week, reporters at Halas Hall tried to get Matt Nagy and the Bears to compare who they were during Week 1’s game against Green Bay to where they are now. And all week at Halas Hall, Matt Nagy and the Bears wouldn't bite. 

“We're both different. They're a little bit different, we're different,” Matt Nagy said. “They did a great job both as players and their coaches, so like I said yesterday, it feels like a while ago and that's why you play. You have a 16-game season and in division you get two chances. We'll just do everything we can to put it behind us and try to be better.” 

Different might be an understatement. Gone are Kyle Long and Bobby Massie. The Starting-Center-James-Daniel experiment is over, and Mike Davis is playing in the NFC South now. Adam Shaheen and Trey Burton – though the latter didn’t play in Week 1 – are on IR, too. Normally, losing two starting tight ends, a ‘starting’ running back, and the entire right side of the offensive line means you’re spending the last month of the season scouting for 2020. Instead, the Bears head to Lambeau Field on Sunday with a path to the playoffs still in front of them. 

“I just feel like we’re kind of in a rhythm now. We’re a different team,” Mitch Trubisky said. “There were some things that we had to go through in the first game and the beginning of the season that just didn’t go our way, and there’s things we definitely learned from as an offense. 

“I just feel like we have a new-found identity of what we want to do and everybody is really locked into what they have to do within their job description on the offense.” 

Perhaps the biggest difference between Week 1 and Week 15 has been the play of Trubisky, who looked like he was headed for a clipboard in 2020 before regaining his form over the last month or so. His comfortability in the offense is night and day compared to some of the struggles he went through during the first half of the season. If you ask him – which, duh, we did – he’ll tell you he’s felt the most growth off the field. 

“I just would say mental toughness, the ability to block out things on the outside,” he said. “Adversity, obviously, early in the season with people talking on the outside and then having to play through injuries and stuff, and just coming together closer as a team. My teammates having my back, that really gives me the most confidence.” 

The 14-week turnaround isn’t all about confidence, as Nagy 202 has morphed into something not expected but effective nonetheless. The running game has stabilized and they’ve found successful plays out of 4 WR sets – even if one of those receivers is Montgomery/Tarik Cohen. In Week 1? Montgomery had six rushes and the Bears ran two plays out of 10 personnel. Nagy said that he thought something clicked on Trubisky’s touchdown pass to Ben Braunecker against the Lions. 

“There's something there,” he said. “We felt it a little bit in the Chargers game, we just weren't effective in the red zone. But because we won the [Lions] game it magnifies it a little bit more … And then we just kind of started putting things together and I think over time we've just felt like it's just started to click. I don't know if it's specifically one play or not but that's probably my best guess.” 

It couldn’t have come at a better time, as the team prepares for what Nagy calls a “cat-and-mouse” game against Packers’ defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, who perhaps knows Trubisky better than any other opposing coordinator in the game. 

“Coach Pettine has done a great job throughout his career of being almost tendency-free,” he said. “And they’re even better now with how they deploy those guys, and it’s kind of a perfect, perfect storm of scheme and talent, and the guys on the back end help them out too.” 

The Bears are playing with a looseness that might come from essentially being mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, but oddly, it continues to work for them. And when you have to go play Aaron Rodgers in Lambeau with your season on the line, you don’t question what works. 

“I love it. You want to go against the best all the time,” said Akiem Hicks, who was taken off IR and will start on Sunday. “If you’re a true competitor, you want the best competition.”