Even though the Chicago Bears left the 2017 NFL Draft with a small class, their rookies have taken a surprisingly bigger role than expected.
According to Pro Football Focus, the Bears’ rookie class has played on 1,412 snaps in 2017 – the 10th most in the NFL. If this pace keeps up, Bears rookies will play more than 2,500 snaps. That number is down from Chicago’s 2016 draft picks (3,399 snaps), and will pass the production from the class of 2015 (2,489).
The biggest contributions have come from safety Eddie Jackson, a fourth-round pick who has been a starter since Week 1. His 589 snaps represent 41.7 percent of those taken by this draft class. You wonder where the Bears’ secondary would be without Jackson, who is PFF’s 21st-highest-graded safety (82.3 grade) and the defense’s third-highest-graded starter.
GM Ryan Pace trading up and taking Jackson in the fourth round looks like a steal nine games into his NFL career. Ten safeties were chosen before the Bears plucked Jackson with the 112th overall pick, but only two (Marcus Maye and Jamal Adams of the New York Jets) have played more snaps than Jackson in 2017.
It’s understandable if that number comes across as unexpected because it probably should for a number of reasons. The Bears only had five picks in their most recent draft. Their first-round pick (quarterback Mitch Trubisky) didn’t start until Week 5, their second-round selection (tight end Adam Shaheen) has played on just 23.9 percent of the team’s total offensive snaps, and their fifth-round choice (offensive lineman Jordan Morgan) hasn’t played at all and has been on injured reserve since the end of the preseason with a shoulder injury.
The Bears could stand to get more from this draft class, but need to be creative on the offensive side of the ball to do so. Shaheen saw a season-high 31 snaps in Week 10 and is in line to take on a bigger role after Zach Miller’s season-ending injury – even if he’ll lose some snaps in passing situations to Daniel Brown. Running back Tarik Cohen has seen his playing time cut in recent weeks, but the coaching staff seems willing to give him an extended look … but only if he improves on his pass protection and route running.