One of my favorite NFL offseason past times is pouring through Mike Clay’s statistical projections (at ESPN) for the upcoming season.
Clay reveals updated projections throughout the course of the offseason, but that first whiff of new data tends to give me an extra boost. Although, I’ll warn you: things are a bit different this year. Clay’s early projections not exactly on the optimistic side, when it comes to the Chicago Bears.
Rolling along with 2020 Bears #ClayProjections
(obviously hedging on the QB split, but I expect both to play) pic.twitter.com/60ghq4Z45T
— Mike Clay (@MikeClayNFL) April 7, 2020
There is a ton to chew through here, but let’s take some time to bite off some of the highlights:
A TRUBISKY-FOLES TIME SHARE
Clay expects both Mitch Trubisky and Nick Foles to get a healthy chunk of playing time in 2020. Though, that shouldn’t come as a surprise. Foles has never played a full 16-game season in his career, while Trubisky has missed time due to shoulder injuries in each of the last two seasons. Past performance isn’t always indicative of future results, but trends suggest that it is a real possibility that Trubisky and Foles will cede playing time to each other at some point or another this season (be it by production or health).
Speaking of which, from a production standpoint, Clay’s model forecasts Foles out-performing Trubisky.
Here’s a look at Foles, who’s projected to play in 10 games this season:
- 240/371 (64.7%)
- 2,577 yards (6.9 yards/attempt)
- 13 touchdowns (3.5 TD%)
- 8 interceptions (2.2 INT%)
- 87.6 rating
- Per 16 games: 4,123 yards, 20 touchdowns, 12 interceptions
And this is what Trubisky’s numbers look like in the seven games he is in:
- 142/240 (63.4%)
- 1,529 yards (6.8 yards/attempt)
- 8 touchdowns (3.6 TD%)
- 5 interceptions (2.2 INT%)
- 85.9 rating
- Per 16 games: 3,494 yards, 18 touchdowns, 11 interceptions
The peripheral numbers aren’t too dissimilar. Both QBs project to throw touchdowns and interceptions at around the same rate. Foles is marginally better from a completion percentage standpoint. Both add rushing touchdowns, through Trubisky runs it more often (20 attempts to Foles’ 17) and effectively (109 yards to Foles’ 18). But a full season of Foles projects to deliver the first 4,000-yard passing season in Bears franchise history. I’m all for seeing historic accomplishments, but this is such a low bar to clear.
As for a conclusion based on this projection, it’s simple: The Bears need one of these quarterbacks to emerge from the open competition with a full grasp of the offense and need whomever gets the nod in Week 1 to exceed expectations in 2020. No pressure, guys.
QUINN OUT-SACKS MACK
Khalil Mack sacks quarterbacks. So does Robert Quinn. Together, the plan is for them to tag team opposing signal callers and sack them into submission. However, Clay’s projections show something I don’t think anyone can easily envision.
According to this forecast, Quinn projects to snag 10.5 sacks in 2020. Meanwhile, Mack’s projections have him snagging just 8.1. By my calculations, 10.5 is a larger number than 8.1. So, yeah, our eyes aren’t deceiving us — Quinn is projected to out-sack Mack. Not only that, Quinn is expected to do it in 651 snaps — or 234 fewer plays than Mack.
On one hand, Bears fans are going to love that someone figures to take advantage of constant double-teams that are often headed toward Mack and Akiem Hicks. But just 8 sacks for Mack? That would be a disappointing development for the league’s highest-paid defensive player.
I mean, come on.
— Michael Cerami (@Michael_Cerami) April 8, 2020
GRAHAM IS AN UPGRADE (BUT EXPECTATIONS ARE LOW)
According to Clay’s unit grades, the strength of the Bears offense is at tight end.
The 1.9 grade is higher than the wide receivers (1.3), offensive line (1.0), running backs (0.8), and quarterbacks (0.4). It’s worth noting that the 1.9 is near league average for Clay’s model, which means it is also worth pointing out that the offensive line, running backs, receivers, and quarterbacks have a ways to go before they can be viewed positively.
As for Graham’s numbers, they aren’t much to write home about. A respectable 42-catch, 500-yard, 3-touchdown season would surpass what last year’s collection of defective tight ends put together. But that’s nowhere near what is expected from a player getting $9 million in 2020.
A LONE BRIGHT SPOT? ALLEN ROBINSON
Robinson projects to continue on the path of being the Bears’ best and most consistent performer on offense. Clay’s numbers have Robinson hauling in 85 catches (with a team-leading 139 targets), gaining 1,042 yards, and scoring six touchdowns. Mr. Robinson continues to be Mr. Reliable. No shocker here.
From a fantasy perspective, Robinson’s projected 224 points would rank 11th among receivers in PPR leagues. If anyone needs me, I’ll be plotting how I can draft him in my fantasy leagues. From a reality point of view: EXTENNNNND HIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIM!
THE WORST OFFENSE IN FOOTBALL?
Projections suggest disappointment from the quarterbacks, running backs, tight ends (as a group), and receivers not named Allen Robinson. It all adds up to what Clay’s projections have as the 32nd ranked offense. And in a league of 32 teams, that would make the Bears the projected worst offense in football. Yikes.
The forecast calls for Chicago’s offense to score 309 points. It doesn’t take a football genius to suggest that a 19.3 points per game average isn’t going to cut it in the modern NFL.
What’s worse is that the overall rankings have the Bears among the league’s worst teams. The projected 6.1 wins rank 27th among projected teams. Or to put it another way, the forecast calls for the Bears being the team with the sixth fewest wins in football. Ouch. There was far more optimism at this time last year for obvious reasons. But projecting six wins for the 2020 Bears is sobering and downright scary. I’m willing to go out on a limb and suggest that a six-win season would lead to quite the regime change in Chicago.
But as a reminder, projections aren’t predictions. Sometimes the two get mixed up and it causes a great amount of angst among fans, analyst, and others. So before we head for the nearest ledge to jump off, let’s calm down. For what it’s worth, last year’s Clay Projections had the Bears with a projected 9.1 wins, which was the eighth best forecast Clay’s model produced. So I suppose there is room to hold out hope that the Bears could shock the computers and out-play their projections. As of now, hope is the only thing any team has at the moment.