The annual “Ranking the Bears” series needs to take the year off.
The process starts at the top, but the most tedious work takes place at the bottom of the roster. The problem this year, though, is that players typically considered “bottom of roster” take up half the roster.
As the Bears prepare to enter training camp, the team has 25 rookies, 17 players who have played fewer than ten games and 26 players who have appeared in fewer than 20 games. Most of the players who appeared in 20 games or fewer did so primarily on special teams. Some others played for really bad teams which eventually benched and released them.
Considering most teams typically fill the back of the roster with undrafted rookies, it isn’t necessarily alarming that the Bears have 25 rookies entering camp. What is concerning, though, is that only three were taken in the first 100 picks of the 2022 NFL draft. Having 22 rookies who are essentially crapshoots is…unsettling.
Under the last regime, the Bears could hang their hats on finding good players late or on the undrafted market. With this regime, however, we have no idea what to expect. Former director of college scouting Mark Sadowski was technically employed by the team through the draft, but he wasn’t actually involved in the process.
Players like Dazz Newsom and Charles Snowden had a difficult time finding the field on a six-win 2021 Bears team. Others like Auzoyah Alufohai, Isaiah Coulter and Not That Lamar Jackson were released by the Houston Texans and the New York Jets. There’s always the chance a change of scenery will help but it’s far more likely that they just can’t cut it.
Having young bodies at the bottom of the roster isn’t a bad thing. Perhaps the more concerning part is what the top of the team’s roster looks like. There is no shame in Roquan Smith being the best player on a team and Robert Quinn being second. Of course, that assumes Quinn will actually be on the team. But who is their third best player?
David Montgomery has yet to prove he is considerably above average. Darnell Mooney has potential, but certainly isn’t Justin Jefferson. Are we hoping Eddie Jackson or Cody Whitehair turn back the clock? Or is it Cairo Santos? Yes, a kicker might be the third-best player on the team. Is there any other player on the team that would be considered among the top ten in the league at his position right now? The answer is a definitive no.
Go further down the list. Can you compile a top ten Bears list without Lucas Patrick? I can’t. That means a cheap free agent signee who was a backup in Green Bay is one of the ten best players on the Bears roster right now.
Sure, there is hope, but it is reliant on the last three draft classes.
Four 2020 draft picks certainly have major breakout potential. Mooney exploding wouldn’t even be a surprise. Cole Kmet has been productive and is still two full years younger than 2022 pick Velus Jones Jr. Jaylon Johnson might have some lumps in the new system, but he has shown the potential to be a shutdown corner. If Trevis Gipson proves that 2021 wasn’t a fluke, the Bears will have had a really strong draft class.
Three 2021 picks are currently locked into starting positions. Thomas Graham came on strong at the end of last year and is currently penciled in as the team’s starting slot corner. Larry Borom started OTAs at left tackle and moved to right tackle, kicking Teven Jenkins to the bench. There is no question that Justin Fields is the team’s starting quarterback. Jenkins and Khyiris Tonga both figure to compete for starting jobs but success in the 2021 could very much depend on Jenkins reaching his potential.
Then there’s the 2022 draft class which has four players already working with the starters. Second round picks Kyler Gordon and Jaquan Brisker have been given rave reviews and Braxton Jones ended the offseason as the team’s starting left tackle. Trenton Gill doesn’t currently have any competition to be the team’s punter.
Velus Jones might not start, but he’ll figure into the game plans weekly. Zachary Thomas has a good shot at the right guard spot — though starting a fifth-round rookie at left tackle and a sixth-round rookie at right guard probably wouldn’t be encouraging.
The Bears coaching staff will have a tough job, but it seems like this is what they wanted. Poles and Eberflus have spoken about wanting hungry players, guys who are going to grind every day to get the most out of their ability. That’s what the Bears have a roster full of. There is talent on the Bears roster. It isn’t proven talent, but it is talent.
And then there’s Fields. If the QB can be the kind of quarterback the franchise has for so long desired, everything else will be smoother. Great quarterbacks make the players around them better. In Fields’ case, his ability to use his legs and throw deep can open up running lanes for the team’s running backs and Velus Jones. It isn’t hard to picture a scenario in which the Bears are among the best in the league at running the ball and creating explosive pass plays.
Eberflus has already shown he can have an immediate impact and make a bottom-five defense a top-10 unit in just one season. The Bears are young, but the NFL is a league dominated by great coaches and great quarterbacks. If the Bears are good at those two spots, they will be competitive in 2022