An offseason of change saw the Bears go all-in on fixing an offense that has been one of the NFL’s worst over the last three seasons. A new head coach, offensive coordinator, and system coupled with a revamped receiving corps and bolstered offensive line give Bears fans hope that a lifeless unit can grow into a team strength. Unfortunately, the Bears couldn’t cover all their bases during the offseason … and it could come back to bite them almost immediately.
Gordon McGuinness of Pro Football Focus ranks the pass rush for each of the NFL’s 32 teams, and while Chicago’s isn’t the worst, it’s awfully close. The Bears’ pass rush ranks 30th, with only the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets – a pair of Bears opponents this season – checking in behind them on the power rankings. Considering Chicago’s defense will square off against eight Pro Bowl quarterbacks (three of whom have Super Bowl rings) this is not where you’d want to see the Bears’ pass-rushers listed.
Expectations for this group can’t get much lower, which you can take in any number of ways. From where we’re seated, this just means there is nowhere to go but up … and the Bears have just the pieces to get there.
Eddie Goldman is the team’s second best defensive lineman and he’s entering a contract year. Sure, Goldman is one of the league’s top nose tackles and and is a stud against the run. But he hasn’t been asked to contribute as a pass-rusher often, though I suppose that could change this year if the Bears aren’t generating enough pressure from the edge. Of course, that’s a distinct possibility.
Leonard Floyd has yet to play a full 16-game season, but history suggests Year 3 could be a breakout campaign for the 2016 first-round pick. Defensive end Akiem Hicks seems to think the sky is the limit for Floyd, predicting a Pro Bowl season for the University of Georgia product as part of a season in which the Bears put together a top-5 defense.
Elsewhere, Sam Acho is a reliable run defender, but hasn’t brought much to the table as far as pressuring the quarterback. Aaron Lynch will be fighting for playing time to play opposite of Floyd, but he has been battered by the injury bug and a bout of poor and inconsistent play the last two years. The hope is that reuniting Lynch with Vic Fangio gets him to return to the form he had while playing as a rushing outside linebacker.
Kylie Fitts is a wild-card here. The sixth-round pick out of Utah has a ton of prospect pedigree, athleticism, and upside. You could make the case that he shouldn’t have been on the board when the Bears snagged him on Day 3 of the draft and that he was a victim of underwhelming college coaching that didn’t get the most of him.
McGuinness suggests Hicks will have to be the Bears’ top pass rusher again if the team is going to make hay in the NFC North. And McGuinness might be onto something, as Hicks’ 87.1 grade via PFF made him the group’s highest-graded player last year.
Hicks is coming off a season where he was the defense’s best pass-rusher, earning a spot among Pro Football Focus’ top 101 players in 2017 and praise as the NFL’s best 3-4 defensive end, according to Bleacher Report’s team of scouts. Coming off a career year in 2016, Hicks signed a contract extension before the 2017 season and followed up by posting a career-best 8.5 sacks playing the third-most defensive snaps (899) on the team.
But beyond Hicks, Chicago is left rolling the dice on a ton of upside and hoping some key contributors play to their potential.