The fifth week of the 2018 NFL season kicked off on Thursday, but we still have time to look back at the first quarter of the season – one that has gone surprisingly well for the Chicago Bears.
One thing we’ve picked up on in recent years is that players doing well despite playing for teams struggling in the standings aren’t often recognized as much as they should be. A handful of Bears standouts have been overlooked in recent years – despite their quality contributions – because the team hasn’t been good. But with the team off to a good start, the tide appears to be turning.
Three Bears are on Pro Football Focus’ All-Pro Team for the first quarter of the season.
Khalil Mack is PFF’s highest-graded pass-rusher and was a no-brainer to make the cut. Mack has four sacks, four forced fumbles, a pick-six, and has transformed the defense to the point where there is Super Bowl buzz bubbling beneath the surface.
Bryce Callahan makes the list as the team’s slot corner. PFF notes Callahan is the third-most infrequently targeted slot corner in the NFL, meaning teams are deciding not to throw in his direction. Callahan has made five coverage stops, broken up two passes, and came away with an interception during the 14 targets he has faced this season. Simply put, you’re throwing in his direction at your own risk. The same can be said about safety Eddie Jackson, who has added sure-handed tackling to already excellent coverage skills en route to making the cut.
It’s no surprise all three Bears representatives on PFF’s first-quarter All-Pro Team are on defense. What should catch your eye is each player’s path to Chicago.
Callahan signed as an undrafted free agent in May 2015, was waived in September 2015, re-signed to the practice squad days later, and eventually promoted to the active roster a month later. This is the kind of diamond-in-the-rough signing that makes a general manager look good. Of course, the same can be said about the unearthing of the gem that Jackson has become.
The Bears scooped up Jackson in the fourth-round of the 2017 NFL Draft. Jackson was a first-round talent, but injuries and questions about his ability (and in some cases, willingness) to tackle. There was a belief among some draft gurus that Jackson’s performance at Alabama was a product of the talent that surrounded him. But 20 games into his career, Jackson has four interceptions, two forced fumbles, three recoveries, and two defensive touchdowns. Jackson looks like the playmaker he was for the Crimson Tide – one who probably should have been drafted earlier.
We all know about Mack’s story by now, but it’s worth repeating that it took some major gumption for GM Ryan Pace to throw his hat in the ring, sacrifice valuable first-round picks, and pull the trigger on what appears to be a franchise-altering deal.
Having three players on PFF’s All-Pro team says a lot about why the Bears are where they are right now. But how Pace and the front office went about landing each talented player says a ton about the team’s ability to identify talent, scout it, and develop it. Pace has taken his fair share of heat since replacing Phil Emery, but he should probably start getting some more love for what he has built so far.