Once Believed to be a Defensive Strength, Slot Cornerback Might be a Problem for the Bears

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Once Believed to be a Defensive Strength, Slot Cornerback Might be a Problem for the Bears

Chicago Bears

An improved effort against the pass helped push the Bears’ defense into the top-10 in 2017.

Prince Amukamara and Kyle Fuller held it down playing the outside cornerback positions, while rookie Eddie Jackson and third-year starter Adrian Amos teamed up to become one of the league’s best safety tandems. Even though the Bears came away with just eight interceptions, the quality of play was much improved.

However, the four aforementioned players weren’t expected to be the strongest members of the secondary when the season started. That distinction belonged to Bryce Callahan and Cre’von LeBlanc, the team’s slot cornerbacks. Now that the dust is settled, it’s up for debate whether the Bears need to go in a new direction as far as that position is concerned in 2018.

The NFL1000 scouting team at Bleacher Report ranked the 35 qualifying slot cornerbacks, where Bryce Callahan checked in at No. 25. LeBlanc didn’t play enough snaps to be included in the grading process.

Callahan put forth the most notable performance of any NFL slot corner in 2016 and was the Bears’ highest-graded player at Pro Football Focus in the first two weeks of 2017. It felt as if things were falling into place for a breakout season, but it never came to pass.

The 5-10, 188-pound cornerback rates as one of the fastest players at his position and he uses that speed best when deployed in zone defenses where he can cover a lot of space. However, BR’s scouting staff believes the 26-year-old corner hasn’t totally figured out to best use his speed. So while he has flashed valuable cover skills at times, there are other routes (the scouts point out “sharp-breaking routes” give him fits) that still present a problem three years into his career. That feels problematic, especially considering the increasing number of three-receiver sets NFL teams use, hence, making the abilities of the slot corner that much more important.

And yet, Pro Football Focus’ data suggests Callahan’s performance wasn’t all that bad. The Bears used Callahan on just 48.4 percent of the team’s defensive snaps, but he made the most of his limited playing time. Callahan posted an 82.9 overall grade from PFF, which falls under the “above average” designation and ranks 31st among the 121 qualifying cornerbacks. Only Kyle Fuller (84.3) had a better grade among Bears cornerbacks in 2017.

Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

Callahan hauled in the first two interceptions of his career and came up with the one highlight-worthy play in the team’s season-ending loss to the Minnesota Vikings. But Callahan struggled with consistency and availability once again. Callahan, who will be a restricted free agent this offseason, has missed 16 games in his the last three seasons.

The Rice University product has been one of GM Ryan Pace’s better finds. The Bears signed Callahan as an undrafted free agent in 2015 and became a regular contributor after a short period on the team’s practice squad. Keeping Callahan on a reasonable contract would probably be in the Bears’ best interests, especially with uncertainty at the other starting cornerback positions. Of course, the team could upgrade in free agency, the draft, or give Cre’von LeBlanc (77.0 grade in 212 snaps) an extended look if Callahan leaves for greener pastures.

Author: Luis Medina

Luis Medina is a Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at@lcm1986.