Putting together a 12-win season and conquering the NFC North has lifted the profile of the Chicago Bears and several of their best players – especially on the defensive side of the ball.
Last season, the Bears defense was among the top-10 in scoring and yardage, but Pro Football Focus found room for just two players on their annual Top 101 list. Fast-forward a calendar year later and the back half of the list (the rest is not out yet) features four (!) members of a defense that finished among the best in football once again.
Cornerbacks Kyle Fuller (#66), Bryce Callahan (#81), and Prince Amukamara (#100) join nose tackle Eddie Goldman (#88) in making PFF’s Top 101 from the 2018 season. Seriously, the Bears already have more representation among the site’s 101 best players than they did last year when Adrian Amos and Akiem Hicks were on the squad. And to think, the list is only half done. Wowzers!
But before we get too far down the road trying to figure out who else could be on the list, let’s give kudos to this quartet who made the cut.
Amukamara barely squeezes onto the list at No. 100 after a season in which he posted a career-best 81.0 grade. It was a career year for Amukamara, who made good on the one-year “prove it” deal he signed in 2017, turned it into a multi-year extension the next offseason, then put together a season worthy of Pro Bowl consideration. Amukamara allowed an 81.9 passer rating and owned a 90.5 run-defense grade, showing he could do it all at a high level. Not bad for a guy who was the defense’s oldest starter at age 29.
On the other side field from Amukamara is where you’ll find Fuller, whose place at No. 66 makes him the highest-ranking Bears player on this part of the list. Fuller followed a breakout 2017 by piecing together a first-team All-Pro campaign in the first year of a big-money multi-year extension. His 82.3 coverage grade is top notch, while coming away with 20 combined pass break-ups and interceptions puts him among the league’s elites.
Teams tried to pick on Fuller in 2017 and were lucky not to be burned when he batted balls away from receivers. But when they tried to do it for a second straight season, most quarterbacks weren’t as fortunate as Fuller finished the season tied with a league-leading 7 interceptions. Quarterbacks throwing Fuller’s way mustered a wimpy 66.6 passer rating, which makes me wonder if they’ll bark up that same tree for a third straight season.
Injuries shortened what was a breakout season for Callahan that could have resulted in a Pro Bowl nomination of his own, so it’s neat to see him get some love from the analytics team at Pro Football Focus. Opposing quarterbacks targeting Callahan in coverage posted a 78.9 passer rating when he was in the slot, which made him the seventh best among fellow slot corners. Now that players in that role are starting to get some real love these days, the timing is right for Callahan to cash in on a big contract as he is on the brink of hitting free agency.
Goldman is arguably the most underrated player in this group of Bears standouts. His 89.2 grade in 2018 was a career best and came months after he signed a long-term extension to stay in Chicago. Goldman is an anchor in the middle of the defense and has been one of the league’s better nose tackles for a few years. But because nose tackles don’t rack up big sack numbers or make highlight reels for roughing up quarterbacks, Goldman has slid under the radar. PFF highlights Goldman’s defense against the run as a strength. His 90.4 run-defense grade and 27 run stops in 211 run-defense snaps are as good as it gets.
Even though Fuller, Callahan, Amukamara, and Goldman were key pieces who played at a high level last year, each represents a new entry entries on this year’s team. Go figure. And save for Callahan, each of these players is under contract for at least the next two seasons. Fuller, Amukamara, and Goldman helped make the Bears defense great in 2018 and they’re not going anywhere any time soon.
I wonder who’ll make it into the top-50 …