If the Chicago Bears are going to be competitive in 2022, they have some work to do. But it is doable.
There’s little argument that, on paper, the roster is worse right now than it was at the start of the 2021 season, but that doesn’t account for the expected leaps young players can make. The last two draft classes have produced some promising players; the most important of which is quarterback Justin Fields.
If Fields isn’t good, the Bears don’t have a chance at being competitive in 2022. Other young players like Darnell Mooney, Cole Kmet, Jaylon Johnson and Trevis Gipson could take big steps. The 2021 draft class oozes with potential (even beyond Fields) as nobody would be shocked if Teven Jenkins, Larry Borom, Khalil Herbert, Thomas Graham and Khyris Tonga were all plus players in 2022.
But the Bears still need more.
Perhaps the best thing they have going for them is a still relatively healthy cornerback market. It isn’t hard to see a scenario in which the Bears signed a player like Xavier Rhodes or Kyle Fuller as a stopgap or even Kevin King, who has good traits and could use a change of scenery. Just getting one solid starter opposite Johnson will allow Graham, Kindle Vildor and a draft pick to compete for the slot corner spot.
While depth would still be needed, the secondary — with Dane Cruikshank signed last week — wouldn’t be so bad. Certainly they’d better than they were last year.
The biggest improvement defensively should come from the coaching change. The team will go from playing man a considerable amount of time to playing zone, which should benefit the young defensive backs and could even revive the careers of players like Vildor and Duke Shelley.
Assuming improvement from Gipson, the Bears should have an adequate defense, somewhere in the middle of the pack. We’ve certainly seen Eberflus have good defenses while working with much less. Don’t forget that he took the Colts from 30th in scoring to 10th in just one season.
What is commonly ignored about the 2021 Bears is that their offense was actually explosive while Fields was the quarterback. In the games Fields played, the Bears were fifth in explosive run rate, according to Sharp Football Stats and 16th in explosive pass rate. If you took out the disastrous Cleveland game, the Bears were ninth in explosive pass rate.
If Fields is what many fans think and hope, he’ll be more consistent in 2022 and the offense has a chance to be dangerous.
The key is going to be their running game. Unless the Bears get a major steal in the draft, they aren’t going to have a good group of pass catchers and we shouldn’t expect Fields to be completely polished as a passer yet. The Bears do, however, have two good running backs, a quarterback who can run and the potential for a solid offensive line.
If the Bears have any plans to win in 2022, they’ll spend at least two day two picks on offense. Because of the Ryan Bates offer sheet, we know they want to upgrade at right guard. Their inactivity at offensive tackle should probably indicate they’re OK with Jenkins and Borom, though they’ll certainly add to that room too.
The team will also add a wide receiver, though we shouldn’t expect too much from them right away.
Of course, the schedule helps. According to Sharp Football Analysis, the Bears have the second-easiest schedule in 2022; after having the fifth most-difficult in 2021.
If the team can put together a top 15 defense to go with an explosive passing game and consistent running game, they can compete. Winning a Super Bowl isn’t realistic, but there is a path to pushing into the playoff conversation.
We’ll see what moves the new front office makes from here, but competing in 2022 isn’t out of the picture.