The Chicago Bears boasted a top-10 defense in 2017, in part because of a secondary that was undoubtedly the team’s biggest strength.
Adrian Amos’ play is believed to be on the edge of elite status. The arrow is pointing up for fellow safety Eddie Jackson, who was a Week 1 starter as a rookie in 2017 and a big-time playmaker, who was able to shake off injury concerns and a reputation as an unwilling tackler. Kyle Fuller and Prince Amukamara return to form one of best starting tandems among outside corners.
And then there’s Bryce Callahan, who continues to be overlooked and underrated, despite being one of the NFL’s best nickel corners. But my guess is that he won’t be underrated for much longer.
Pro Football Focus’ Eric Eager put together a list of the league’s eight best slot corners for 2018, and you can find Callahan checking in at No. 8: “While Callahan missed some time in 2017 with an injury, he performed well when healthy, generating the third-most slot coverage snaps per reception allowed,” Eager writes. “While he hasn’t offered much in terms of run defense or as a blitzer (only four career pressures), he’s allowed less than an 80.0 passer rating from the slot in each of his three pro seasons, showing a consistency that is a very valuable piece on an up-and-coming Chicago defense.”
The importance of slot corners has been on the rise for the better part of a decade. In fact, offenses are utilizing three-receiver sets at nearly a 60 percent rate. The “11” personnel package (one running back, one tight end, three receivers) is the most-used grouping in the league, coming in with a 57 percent usage rate. And with that becoming the norm in the NFL, it’s a good thing the Bears are well-equipped to defend them with Callahan in the slot.
Callahan’s excellence in the slot is nothing new. Even though he is coming off a season in which his 82.9 grade from Pro Football Focus was a career-best, let’s not forget that he did pick up what was coined as the most notable performance by a slot cornerback in 2016. That’s a pretty impressive performance, if you ask me. Indeed, there’s a reason Callahan’s playing time has increased each year since signing as an undrafted free agent out of Rice in 2016.
And yet, if not for the distinction of being an excellent slot corner, he might continue to be overlooked, because he isn’t battling the big boys on the outside.
The Bears might have dodged a bullet when no teams came calling for Callahan in the offseason. Callahan received a low-round tender as a restricted free agent, and the team could’ve faced the same fate as it did with wide receiver Cameron Meredith. Luckily for the Bears, Callahan didn’t receive the type of interest Meredith did and eventually signed his restricted free agent tender. But if he has another big year, being one of the league’s best slot corners will make him quite the hot commodity on the open market.