Rebuilding years are a gift and a curse. And there was plenty of cursing (sorry mom and grandma) in a year when the Bears lost 14 games. However, let it be known that this season wasn’t a total loss. Because with rebuilding years come opportunities for young players to climb up the depth chart and make a name for themselves.
And three Chicago Bears rookies did just that in the eyes of Pro Football Focus.
Left tackle Braxton Jones, linebacker Jack Sanborn, and safety Jaquan Brisker represent the Bears on PFF’s All-Rookie Team. It is encouraging to see three Bears make the cut. Brisker was the second of two second-round picks and a starter from Day 1. Jones was also a starter from the jump, but took a more circuitous route as a Day 3 pick at a position where Teven Jenkins, Larry Borom, and Riley Reiff were at some point penciled in at the top of the depth chart. All in all, this is a bit of wonderful news. You love seeing rookies take advantage of playing time opportunities.
And to think, it isn’t all about performance. Although, that is important to be good enough to earn the highest praise from PFF’s grading scale. But what really amplifies this thing is that each of these players played a bunch.
PFF calls Jones “one of the steals of the draft class” to this point. Jones didn’t miss a start at left tackle and finished with the 19th-best grade among the 81 qualifiers. He was also PFF’s 12th-highest-graded rookie this year. Well done. Brisker was close to being an iron man in his own right. The only two games Brisker missed were because he was in concussion protocol. Despite missing two games, Brisker’s 28 defensive stops were the 10th most among all NFL safeties (not just rookies). Getting quality production from rookie draft picks is a major win for GM Ryan Poles and his staff.
Finally, there is Sanborn who (1) wasn’t a draft pick and (2) didn’t earn a starter’s load until midway through the season. But Sanborn totally made it worth everyone’s while, making the most of the newfound playing time by making 24 defensive stops in six games as a starter. And as PFF notes, extrapolating that over a full 17-game season would’ve put him with the second most in the league. If my math is right, that would come out to 68 stops. WHUT!? That is such a mind-blowing number. Imagine getting that type of production out of an undrafted rookie. Sensational.
Thinking ahead, having three rookies make the cut as being among the best of this draft class gives the Bears some flexibility in the roster construction process. Brisker’s rookie-year performance essentially cemented himself as a starting safety for the remainder of his first contract. Sanborn played well enough in his short stretch of starting to give him a leg up on anyone who comes shooting for that starting inside linebacker gig. As for Jones, put out enough good tape to control his own destiny as a future starter. At a minimum, he put himself in the driver’s seat to win a starting gig (if a clear upgrade isn’t available or brought in this offseason). With this in mind, Poles can attack the many other positions that need work. Giddy up! We’ve got a long offseason of moving and shaking ahead of us.