A couple weeks ago, I wrote an article titled, “The Chicago Bears are right to move on from Mitchell Trubisky, but Nick Foles can’t make up for the team’s defensive deficiencies.”
Let's just say the city of Chicago did not take kindly to the “defensive deficiencies” descriptor.
“Defensive deficiencies!? They’ve been a top-10 defense in each of the last two years and we have Khalil Mack and Robert Quinn now — we aren’t going to be anything worse than a top-10 defense in 2020!”
Well, let me explain what I mean when I said defensive deficiencies and why this is a bigger issue than many seem (or want) to believe. First, PFF’s research and development team has proven that coverage players are far more valuable than those in the pass rush — by a lot actually.
While the Bears pass-rush is up there as one of the best in the league, their secondary has taken a massive hit over the last couple of seasons. Their 2018 12-4 campaign featured an elite secondary that forced an outlier number of turnovers and was never going to be replicated in 2019. Regression was inevitable, and losing marquee guys in the secondary only made things worse.
Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio left after that historic year to be the head coach of the Denver Broncos and took with him the 12th-most valuable slot corner in the NFL, Bryce Callahan. For the Bears in 2018, Callahan allowed 25 yards or less in eight of his 13 games played and ranked sixth in slot coverage grade.
To replace him, the Bears brought in Buster Skrine, who has been the least valuable cornerback in the NFL since coming into the league in PFF WAR (minimum 4,000 snaps since 2011). His first season in Chicago was really no different — he finished the season ranked 74th of 118 qualifying cornerbacks in PFF coverage grade.
Callahan wasn’t the only departure Chicago saw in its secondary that offseason — the Bears also lost safety Adrian Amos, who was coming off back-to-back seasons as one of the 10 highest-graded safeties in the NFL. They did bring in a great replacement for Amos in Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. In his lone season with the Bears, Clinton-Dix produced a PFF grade that ranked 19th of 91 qualifying safeties — he was the most valuable player on the Bears’ defense in 2019. But instead of re-signing him in free agency, they let him walk to the Dallas Cowboys for a one-year, $4 million deal. As of now, they're rolling with Deon Bush, who has played only 363 snaps in total over the last three years, along with Eddie Jackson at safety.
And last, but certainly not least, the Bears cut their starting outside cornerback, Prince Amukamara, to clean up their cap situation prior to the start of free agency this offseason. Amukamara has ranked 25th in PFF coverage grade at outside corner since joining the Bears three seasons ago and was the second-most-valuable player on their defense last year behind Clinton-Dix.
There are currently three candidates to replace Amukamara on the outside. The most likely option is moving Skrine from the slot to the outside, but that doesn't seem like it would really bode well for Chicago. If they don’t move Skrine, they’ll have a competition between 2018 UDFA Kevin Toliver II and Artie Burns, whom they signed to a one-year deal. Toliver has only logged 203 coverage snaps in his two seasons in Chicago and has posted a poor 48.7 coverage grade on those reps. As for Burns, he showed some promise in 2016 and 2017 but was benched in 2018 after posting a 57.4 coverage grade, allowing 19 catches on 26 targets (four of which were touchdowns) and being called for five penalties on his 202 coverage snaps.
Eddie Jackson and Kyle Fuller are top-tier players, but they can’t do it all themselves. Defensive backs are the most valuable players on the defensive side of the ball — right now, the Bears have massive risks at outside corner, in the slot and at safety.
The Bears don’t own a first-round pick and have only two picks within the top 160, at 43 and 50 overall. Many experts (and Bears fans) seem to think Chicago could and should use one of those two second-round picks on an interior offensive lineman to compete with Germain Ifedi and Rashaad Coward for the starting right guard job after Kyle Long’s retirement.
This, however, is the absolute worst scenario that could occur. Using PFF’s brand new mock draft simulator, let’s take a look at some of the best potential outcomes and what the Chicago Bears should do with their two second-round picks: