Things are going to get worse before they get better … at least according to a group of football analysts who took a shot at predicting where teams will be picking when the 2019 NFL Draft rolls around.
In a collaborative effort between ESPN and Football Outsiders, the Chicago Bears project to own the draft’s No. 1 overall pick in 2019. This would come despite a mean forecast of 6.3 wins, which would be the most for a Bears team since 2015 – yeesh, it’s been a rough couple of years, eh?
Here’s part of their reasoning: “Chicago probably won’t be the worst team in the league, but the Bears have ranked 25th in DVOA for two straight years and this forecast doesn’t see anything changing,” writes Aaron Schultz of Football Outsiders. “The defense and special teams are generally average, so the questions are mostly about the offense. Bears fans can have hope that Matt Nagy will come in and transform the offense, but overall, offenses tend to take a step back with a new coordinator and new system.”
That’s not quite what you want to read if you’re a Bears fan latching onto a bandwagon fueled by hope and change.
HOWEVA, I’m not sure I buy the Bears’ poor showing in Football Outsiders’ Defense-adjusted Value Over Average the last two seasons carrying forward or even the idea that the offense will take a step back despite a coaching change. Not that I want to tempt the Football Gods, but I feel as though it’d be nearly impossible for an offense that was described as basic and predictable to be any worse in 2018 than it was in 2017 or 2016.
But what about Mitch Trubisky? Can’t he take a second-year leap and keep the Bears out of the NFL cellar? Nope! At least not according to Schultz: “Bears fans also can have hope that Mitchell Trubisky will improve in his second season, but they shouldn’t expect a Carson Wentz-size step forward in 2018,” Schultz writes. “For every Wentz or Jared Goff who improves significantly, there’s a Blake Bortles or Blaine Gabbert who makes only small improvements in his second season.” Gulp.
For what it’s worth, Bortles’ second season as a starter was a mixed bag, but had more positives than negatives. Even though he threw a league-leading 18 interceptions, his interception rate dropped by more than half a percentage point (tiny victories are still victories). He also improved his touchdown percentage rate from 2.3% to 5.8%, threw for 4,428 yards, 35 touchdowns, and improved his passer rating from a not-all-that-nice 69.5 to a pretty solid 88.2. In fact, if Trubisky made the same sort of improvements, I think we’d all be quite pleased – thought that’s not to say Schultz’s point isn’t well taken.
Consider that, if Trubisky increases his TD% by 3.5 percentage points and passer rating by 18.7 points while dropping his already low INT% from 2.1% in the same manner Bortles did in his second season, that would easily result in a net positive for the Bears’ overall offensive numbers. Would that be enough to save them from the dubious distinction of owning the first overall pick? It all depends on what else happens around him, but it would certainly help.
To be fair, the Bears are on their fourth coach in seven years, haven’t made the playoffs since 2010, and have posted four straight years with double-digit losses. Finding analytics or projection that will predict an overnight turnaround should be hard. But to project the Bears landing the first pick in 2019 before the 2018 offseason even begins? Well, that just seems a bit outrageous.