Anchored by what was widely believed to be the NFL’s best interior blockers, the Chicago Bears’ offensive line was seen as a strength going into the 2017 season. So much so, in fact, that Pro Football Focus ranked it fifth best at this time last season.
But because the Bears’ interior trio appears to have taken a step back, the starting five has since dipped in the rankings. Michael Renner shares PFF’s offensive line rankings heading into the 2018 season, and Chicago’s starting five ranks 13th.
And yet, it doesn’t take much to envision this group breaking out and out-playing its preseason ranking. After all, his group features three of the league’s best run-blockers at their respective positions by PFF’s standards.
Cody Whitehair’s struggles could be traced to the team moving him around the line in a rather chaotic season. The Bears plan on keeping Whitehair at center, a position he played so well during his rookie year and thrived when he was placed there on a consistent basis during his second season.
Even though there is plenty of skepticism from some regarding Kyle Long’s return, there isn’t much of a reason to believe the three-time Pro Bowl lineman won’t be healthy to start 2018. In fact, the expectation is that he’ll be able to give it a full go when training camp starts next week. At this time last year, Long was planning to play through ailmaents that could have received surgical attention. However, Long had those issues taken care of during this offseason, which leaves us more optimistic about his long-term health compared to last season.
Replacing Josh Sitton isn’t going to be easy, but the Bears went about it the right way by drafting a James Daniels in the second round. The Iowa product started at center for Iowa, but is moving to left guard – a position he dabbled in during his time on campus. Daniels’ 89.0 is the fifth best college grade on PFF’s grading scale among projected rookie starters. The only rookies who graded out better than Daniels are Lions guard Frank Ragnow, 49ers tackle Mike McGlinchey, Colts guard Quenton Nelson, and Giants guard Will Hernandez. That’s pretty good company Daniels is keeping here.
I suppose this ranking could have been worse, especially if you consider Sitton’s departure, Whitehair’s sophomore slump, and Long’s injury concerns. And while falling from fifth to 13th feels like a serious drop, it’s not something I’m too concerned about when I step back and view the big picture. And even if it were accurate, checking in among the top half of the league in this area isn’t terrible by any stretch.