To get you ready for the 2016 NFL season, the PFF analysis crew is assembling team “cheat sheets” to catch you up on the latest changes, grades, and rankings of note involving your NFL team.
After completing the rebuilding process of their front-seven, the Chicago Bears’ are a dark-horse contender for an NFC playoff spot. To reach the postseason, however, their offense must continue the upward trajectory started by the now-departed Adam Gase.
Three biggest things to know
1. The front-seven appears complete.
2016 additions Danny Trevathan, Jerrell Freeman, Akiem Hicks, Leonard Floyd, and Jonathan Bullard were infused with Eddie Goldman and Pernell McPhee from last year to complete a perfect mix. With the major concern of McPhee’s injury aside (he remains on the PUP list), the Bears’ appear to have an excellent blend of pass-rushers and run defenders. Freeman was our top-graded linebacker against the run last season, earning an 89.9 grade in that facet of play. He ranked fifth overall, joining he newly-arrived Trevathan in the top-10. Pushing the pocket from the interior shouldn’t be a problem with Hicks, who managed 18 pressures (seven knockdowns) a season ago, and Jonathan Bullard lined up at end. The latter’s skill-set appears well-suited to the five-technique position. Strength in the trenches will be a major advantage for the Bears in the cold-weather games of the NFC North.
2. Potential must become production for Bears’ tackles.
Tackles often develop more slowly in the NFL than other positions. The excuses are running out for Bobby Massie, however, after another poor season in 2015. He managed a pass protection-grade of only 45.8, allowing 58 combined pressures. Relative to his rookie season, Massie was only a couple of pressures better off statistically (60 allowed). After four indifferent years in Arizona, he must perform up to his undoubted potential. Teammate Charles Leno, Jr. earned a worse grade, ranking 51st overall (40.8 in pass protection). The former seventh-round pick was much better in the second half of the season, but will need to carry that form into 2016.
3. Injuries could define offense.
Adjusting to a new offensive coordinator, even if he was already in the organization a season ago, is unlikely to be seamless. The job has not been made any easier by a series of injury concerns. Continuity is key on the offensive line, and the Bears have lost starting center Hroniss Grasu for the year. News Kyle Long is suffering from a damaged labrum is unlikely to restore confidence. Grasu may not have been the best center in the league, but Long would instantly upgrade the Bears’ front with a return to guard. Chicago is also dependent on WR Kevin White complementing Alshon Jeffery, despite missing the entirety of last year. Further losses on the offensive line or at receiver could be crippling.
Key arrivals and departures
Top three draft picks: OLB Leonard Floyd (Round 1, pick No. 10 overall, Georgia), OG Cody Whitehair (Round 2, pick No. 56 overall, Kansas State), DE Jonathan Bullard (Round 3, pick No. 72 overall, Florida)
Signed in free agency: LB Danny Trevathan (Broncos), LS Aaron Brewer (Broncos), S Omar Bolden (Broncos), OT Bobby Massie (Cardinals), G Ted Larsen (Cardinals), LB Jerrell Freeman (Colts), C/G Manuel Ramirez (Lions), DT Akiem Hicks (Patriots), QB Brian Hoyer (Texans)
Left via free agency: OG Vladimir Ducasse (Ravens), OG Patrick Omameh (Jaguars), OT Jermon Bushrod (Dolphins), DE Jarvis Jenkins (Jets), OLB Shea McClellin (Patriots), S Antrel Rolle (UFA), CB Alan Ball (UFA)
Departed via trade: TE Martellus Bennett (Patriots)
Cut: OL Matt Slauson (Chargers)
Rookie to watch
Cody Whitehair, OG, Kansas State (Round 2, pick No. 56)
10th-overall pick Leonard Floyd might see more game time than anticipated because of McPhee’s injury. Whitehair, however, is already starting. Expectations are high after an excellent senior season at Kansas State. Whitehair also has big shoes to fill, taking over from our 18th-overall guard a season ago. Without Matt Slauson, the Bears are facing a major overhaul on the offensive line. Despite the loss, Whitehair is sufficiently talented to make an immediate impact in the NFL. He’s an expert technician, with the skill-set to carve huge lanes in addition to keeping Jay Cutler upright.
Highest graded player of 2015
Alshon Jeffery, WR, 91.9 overall grade
All that holds Jeffery back from entering the elite category, if he hasn’t already, is durability. The Bears’ top wideout is a matchup problem of the most egregious kind, threatening defensive backs with his ability at the catch point. There may be no better receiver when the ball is in the air; Cutler’s occasional overthrows are less of an issue with a physical freak on the other end. Overall, Jeffery managed 54 catches (just two drops) for 807 yards and four touchdowns in 2015 over just nine games. Jeffery’s dominance over the course of a season could be the difference between a playoff appearance and an early end to the year, the question is whether he can be on the field for all 16 games.
Breakout player watch
Adrian Amos, S
Another position notoriously difficult for rookies, Amos had an impressive year considering his lack of pro experience. He quietly flourished in the Bears’ defense, showing the reliability required of a player acting as the last line of defense. Although not much of a big playmaker (two pass deflections, zero interceptions in 2016), Amos made a big impact on the back end of Chicago’s stop unit. Working most effectively in the box, he managed an impressive 20 stops and an 84.7 run-defense grade (eighth-best in the league). In a highly-inexperienced secondary, Amos’ development will be key. Building off a solid rookie season, he could be primed for a breakout.
Nickel defense (2015 season grades shown)
Offense with three receivers (2015 season grades shown)