The Chicago Bears have taken it on the chin this offseason.
They lost out on their top free agent targets and eventually continued their course on their rebuild by restocking the roster with short-term stop-gap players who had bits of success with their previous teams, but were not retained by those clubs for one reason or another. Their draft was widely panned because they picked no immediate starters, traded up to choose a quarterback who might have been there anyway, and followed by selecting a Division II tight end in the second round, a safety coming off an injury and an undersized running back in the fourth round, as well as a second Division II player in the fifth round who will be making the move from tackle to guard starting this summer. The head coach may or may not be on the hot seat, a handful of assistants have already skipped town, and rumors are already floating potential replacements.
And yet, Pro Football Focus doesn’t see the Bears as an NFL cellar dweller in 2017.
They team already caught some attention from PFF with a top-5 offensive line, and over in an ESPN Insider piece, the site shares its initial ranking of the 2017 NFL rosters and the Bears aren’t the worst team – nor are they really that close to rock bottom. In fact, the Bears – who are 18th on this list – rank higher than the Miami Dolphins and Houston Texans – two playoff teams from last year – and the Denver Broncos, who were 9-7 last year and are only a year removed from being a Super Bowl champion.
For what it’s worth, PFF’s rankings are based off player grades from the end of last season. Even still, this is quite a leap for a team that has gone 9-23 over the last two years.
PFF cites the Bears’ biggest strength as Jerrell Freeman, who the site graded as the league’s top linebacker (93.8) despite missing four games due to a PED suspension. The weaknesses are many, as PFF believes the team has “several question marks among their starters with no clear standout at receiver or in the secondary.” Dion Sims, who signed as a free agent this offseason, is also cited as one of the team’s biggest weaknesses. Specifically, Sims is listed as the lowest-graded starter on the team. His 59.3 grade put him along the worst tight ends in the league. Moreover, his blocking grades were poor too, which could prove to be a problem considering his strengths are believed to be in his blocking more than his pass catching.
So how did the Bears get here? The overall makeup of the roster really boosts the Bears beyond what the perception of the roster construction would be. By PFF’s standards, the Bears have one starter who rates as poor on their grading scale, four players (Glennon, Kevin White, Bobby Massie, Jaye Howard, Leonard Floyd) who rank as below average, eight players (Kendall Wright, Cameron Meredith, Charles Leno Jr., Kyle Long, Pernell McPhee, Danny Trevathan, Bryce Callahan, Prince Amukamara) who grade out to be average, four (Eddie Goldman, Akiem Hicks, Jordan Howard, Adrian Amos) above average players, three players (Josh Sitton, Cody Whitehair, Quintin Demps) rated as high quality, and one player (Freeman) who graded out as elite.
Altogether, the Bears have pieced together a team that should be better than what was left after their tumble to a woeful 3-13 season.
To say Pro Football Focus does things differently feels like an understatement. The site breaks down every snap and every player’s snap en route to quantifying a player’s value. Like the result of most any evaluation process, there are some disagreements to be had along the way. But for the most part, what you see with your own eyes tends to vibe with what their calculations spit out more often than not. Still, seeing the Bears rated this high is an eyebrow raiser.