Bears

Pro Football Focus gives Bears linebacker Jerrell Freeman historical 2016 grade

Pro Football Focus gives Bears linebacker Jerrell Freeman historical 2016 grade

Bears GM Ryan Pace struck gold with his signing of Jerrell Freeman last offseason.

Freeman, who signed a three-year, $12 million contract with the Bears last March, was graded as the NFL's No. 1 inside linebacker in 2016, according to Pro Football Focus.

Freeman's 93.8 overall grade was PFF's third-highest defensive grade behind Los Angeles Rams All-Pro defensive lineman Aaron Donald (95.6) and Oakland Raiders standout edge rusher Khalil Mack (93.9). 

Here's what PFF's Mike Renner had to say about Freeman's historic 2016 season:

One of the most impressive pure statistics any player amassed this season came from Bears linebacker Jerrell Freeman. He made 40 tackles in coverage while missing only one tackle attempt. That ratio is insane, and it’s the best we’ve recorded since 2012. That’s about the only exciting stat, though, as the Bears’ front-seven desperately missed a fully-healthy Pernell McPhee for a good portion of the year.

Despite Freeman's outstanding season, he was left off of PFF's All-Pro Team for 2016. Although he was ranked ahead of Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner (91.6) and Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly (92.9), PFF likely omitted Freeman due to him missing four games with a PED suspension.

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In his first season with the Bears, the 30-year-old Freeman led the team with 110 tackles (the next highest total was Harold Jones-Quartey's 78). Freeman also finished with a team-high 7 tackles for a loss. 

Check out a snapshot below of Freeman's PFF metrics from last season:

If there's any doubt about Freeman's play falling off after serving a suspension, he put that theory to rest. Freeman's second-best game grade came in Week 17 against the Minnesota Vikings (3.5). Freeman also had a positive grade (1.4) in his first game coming off the suspension against the Washington Redskins in Week 16.

"People know me," Freeman told the media after returning from suspension. "People know who I am. People know what I'm about. I wouldn't do that on purpose. I made a mistake and that's what it is. It's not like I was going out of my way to do something (illegal). But it happened. It's my fault and I take responsibility for it."

James Daniels dubbed Bears' 2020 breakout candidate

James Daniels dubbed Bears' 2020 breakout candidate

The Chicago Bears offensive line wasn't good in 2019. It was downright brutal at times. And it's because of the unit's sub-par play that both guard and tackle have been mentioned among the top offseason needs heading into free agency and the 2020 NFL Draft.

But it wasn't long ago that James Daniels was a highly decorated second-round pick out of Iowa. In fact, it was just two years ago. The second-year starter had his ups and downs in 2019, but he may have the most upside of any of the starting offensive linemen slated to return next fall.

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Daniels posted the Bears' third-highest season grade on offense from Pro Football Focus (70.3) and was the team's highest-graded starting offensive lineman. At just 22 years old, the arrow is pointing up for him.

In fact, he was dubbed the league's breakout candidate at guard in 2020:

The Bears moved Daniels to center to start 2019, switching his spot on the line with Cody Whitehair, after he had played left guard the entirety of his first season. Daniels earned a 63.2 overall grade at center, which would have been good for 22nd out of 37 qualifiers at the position. Meanwhile, his 73.9 grade at left guard would have ranked fifth among 39 qualifiers. It remains to be seen how the Bears use Daniels in 2020, but it’s clear that he performed better at guard. As talented as he is at just 22 years old, another season with position continuity could have Daniels poised to break out.

It's often difficult to recognize one offensive lineman's positive play when the group, as a whole, struggles. But Daniels was a bright spot in an otherwise dark year for the Bears' big uglies, and he remains a key cog in an offense looking to take massive strides in 2020.

Bears Season in Review: Roquan Smith

Bears Season in Review: Roquan Smith

Chicago Bears linebacker Roquan Smith was supposed to ascend into superstar status in 2019, and while he certainly had some flashes of elite play, his year will best be remembered for a strange deactivation in Week 4 and a torn pec muscle that ended his season in Week 14.

We still don't know the exact reason why Smith didn't play against the Vikings. The team called it a personal issue and refused to expand on why one of their most important defensive pieces didn't suit up. We've been left to speculate, which is never a good thing. We may never know what exactly went wrong that week, which naturally creates worry and concern about how much the team can actually rely on Smith on a week-to-week basis. 

Smith's season ended after 12 starts, 100 tackles, two starts, and one interception. He was inconsistent on the field; when he played well, he was lights out. But he had more than his fair share of missed tackles and head-scratching moments that looked nothing like the player the Bears drafted eighth overall in 2018.

Smith ended the year as one of the lowest-graded Bears on defense (24th). His 52.4 ranked 124th among qualifying linebackers on Pro Football Focus. Not good.

But analytics don't always tell the full story. Smith's sideline-to-sideline speed and missile-like penetrating skill set is and will remain an asset for the Bears defense. On pure talent alone, Smith has few peers in the NFL. He just needs to become a more consistent football player, both on and off the field.

We'll chalk up 2019 as an odd blip on Smith's career trajectory. Assuming he makes a full offseason recovery from is pec injury, he'll begin 2020 as one of the cornerstone pieces of a defense that remains one of the NFL's best.