A deep dive into the TEs, part 3: efficiency, man vs. zone, target depth

| May 30th, 2024

This is part 3 of a 4-part series looking at Chicago TEs Cole Kmet and Gerald Everett.

  • In part one, we explored how each player has been used in the past, and how this might match up with how offensive coordinator Shane Waldron has deployed his tight ends.
  • In part two, we examined how frequently and effectively Kmet and Everett were asked to block in both the run and pass games.

Today, we’re going to switch gears to focus on the tight ends as pass catchers. We’ll look at overall efficiency, how they performed against zone and man coverage, and how frequently and effectively they were targeted at different depths of the field.

Basic Efficiency Stats

We saw in part 1 that Kmet and Everett both have starting TE volume in the passing game, but volume stats don’t tell you the whole story; we also need to look at how efficient players are with their targets. The table below shows that data for Chicago’s TEs, as well as their ranks compared to 26 TEs with at least 50 targets. Values in the top 25% are highlighted in green, while those in the bottom 25% are in red. NFL best, average, and worst values among those 26 players are also included to help contextualize the data. All data is pulled from Pro Football Reference’s Game Play Finder.

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A deep dive into the TEs, part 2: blocking

| May 29th, 2024

This is the 2nd installment of a 4-part series looking at Chicago TEs Cole Kmet and Gerald Everett. In part one, we explored how each player has been used in the past, and how this might match up with the way offensive coordinator Shane Waldron has deployed his tight ends. Today, we’re going to focus on blocking, which is an often overlooked part of a tight ends’ role.

Pass Blocking

Let’s start by looking at how frequently and effectively Chicago’s TEs pass blocked. The table below shows some basic pass blocking stats from Pro Football Focus (PFF) for Kmet and Everett in 2023, and their rank compared to 45 NFL TEs with at least 25 pass blocking snaps. Ranks in the top 25% are highlighted in green, while those in the bottom 25% are highlighted in red.

A brief explanation of some of the stats:

Side note: sorry if there are formatting issues for the tables. You can view them in full by clicking on them. 

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A deep dive into the TEs, part 1: usage

| May 28th, 2024

After handing Cole Kmet a big extension last offseason and signing Gerald Everett to a solid contract in free agency this year, the Bears have two starting-caliber tight ends on the roster. Both players were heavily utilized in the passing game in 2023, which can be seen in the table below showing their basic receiving production, with ranks compared to other NFL TEs in parentheses.

Kmet was among the top 10 TEs in every stat, while Everett generally ranked in the 15-25 range, which would put him as roughly an average to below average starter. Their pay checks also reflect the expectation that both players are expected to play starting-type roles, as they currently rank 9th (Kmet) and 21st (Everett) among TEs in average yearly salary. Since both players will be playing important roles in Chicago’s offense in 2024, this week’s series is going to take a detailed look at how each of them could be useful. We’ll split this into four parts:

  • Part 1:
    • How new OC Shane Waldron has utilized his TE in the past
    • How this compares to Kmet and Everett’s usage
  • Part 2:
    • How frequently and effectively they blocked
  • Part 3:
    • How efficient they were overall as pass catchers
    • How they performed against man and zone coverage
    • How frequently and efficiently they were targeted at different depths of the field
  • Part 4:
    • 3rd and 4th down production
    • Red zone usage
    • How frequently and efficiently they produced in the slot

Waldron TE Usage

Let’s start with a look at how new offensive coordinator Shane Waldron used his tight ends during his 3 seasons in Seattle. The table below shows information about how much his tight ends played, how frequently they were targeted in the passing game, and where they lined up. TE1-TE3 status for each season is based on total snap counts, and alignment information is pulled from Pro Football Focus (PFF).

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A Deep Dive into the WRs, Part II: Depth, Downs, and Red Zone

| May 21st, 2024

This is the 2nd part of a 2-part series exploring Chicago’s top trio of WRs, which includes accomplished NFL veterans DJ Moore and Keenan Allen to go with top 10 pick Rome Odunze.

In part one, we examined overall efficiency, production from the slot, and impact against man and zone coverage. Today, we will explore target depth, 3rd/4th down production, and usage in the red zone. Like in part one, data presented is for the NFL only, so Odunze will not be in tables, but I will try to provide context for his performance in these areas when possible.

Targets by Depth

Let’s start by examining how frequently and effectively Moore and Allen were targeted at different depths of the field. The table below shows this data split into four depths: behind the line of scrimmage, 0-9 yards downfield, 10-19 yards downfield, and 20+ yards downfield. A variety of production metrics are given in each depth, along with Moore and Allen’s ranks compared to the 54 WRs with 75+ total targets in 2023. Ranks in the top 25% are highlighted in green, while those in the bottom 25% are highlighted in red, and the high, average, and low values of the 54-player sample are shown for context. All data is from Pro Football Focus (PFF).

(Side note: sorry if the formatting is poor for the graph. You can click on it to see it in a new window in full if it’s not showing up right for you.)

A few thoughts:

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A Deep Dive into the WRs, part I: Total Usage + Man vs. Zone

| May 20th, 2024

After lacking talent at the wide receiver position for the better part of the last decade, the Bears have completely revamped the room in the last two offseasons with the additions of DJ Moore, Keenan Allen, and Rome Odunze, and they now boast what might be the best WR trio in the NFL.

This week I want to dive into the WRs, with an in-depth look at:

  • How efficient they were
  • How frequently and efficiently they played in the slot
  • How they performed against man and zone coverage
  • How frequently and efficiently they were targeted at different depths of the field
  • 3rd and 4th down production
  • Red zone usage

We’ll examine the first three areas today, with a follow-up piece tomorrow looking at the latter half of the list.

I want to note that the analysis will mostly focus on Moore and Allen, since they have NFL production that is easier to analyze and contextualize. I’ll provide some Odunze stats when relevant, but it’s hard to say for sure how college production and/or usage will translate to the NFL.

Overall Stats

Let’s start with a basic look at overall production in 2023. The table below shows how Moore and Allen ranked compared to all NFL wide receivers in the basic receiving stats.

At first glance, it is easy to see that both players were among the most productive in the NFL in 2023, and that wasn’t a one-year fluke either. Moore is currently averaging over 1000 yards per season in his career, and Allen is as well if you don’t count the season when he only played one game.

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A Closer Look at New OC Shane Waldron: Personnel and Formation

| May 7th, 2024

In addition to adding 5 new starters on offense this offseason, the Bears fired offensive coordinator Luke Getsy and replaced him with Shane Waldron, who spent the previous 3 years holding the same position in Seattle.

In order to better understand what Chicago’s offense might look like in 2024, I’ve been digging into data about Waldron’s offenses at his last stop. I looked at down and distance play calling tendencies yesterday, and today want to explore personnel and formation trends.

Today’s data comes from Sumer Sports, which only has information for 2022 and 2023, so nothing from Waldron’s 1st season in Seattle will be included.

Personnel Groupings

Let’s start by looking at common personnel groupings, which looks solely at the listed position of players on the field and not where they are lined up. These groupings are commonly listed by 2 numbers, where the 1st is the number of running backs and the 2nd is the number of tight ends. Since teams play 5 skill position players at a time, the number of wide receivers is then implied. The 2 most common groupings are 11 (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR) and 12 (1 RB, 2 TE, 2 WR).

The table below shows how frequently the Seahawks and Bears used and passed out of each grouping on 1st-2nd down in 2023, along with their ranks compared to the rest of the NFL. Values in the top 25% are highlighted in green, while those in the bottom 25% are red. Seattle’s data from 2022 is included as well for comparison.

(side note: if the table gets cut off, click on it to view the full table in a new screen)

A few thoughts:

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A Closer Look at New OC Shane Waldron: Trends Based On Down & Distance

| May 6th, 2024

The Bears have seen a massive changeover in offensive personnel this offseason. QB Justin Fields, RB D’Onta Foreman, WR Darnell Mooney, WR Equanimeous St. Brown, TE Robert Tonyan, IOL Cody Whitehair, and IOL Lucas Patrick, who combined to account for over 4100 offensive snaps in 2023, are no longer on the roster.

The Bears have replaced those players with QB Caleb Williams, RB D’Andre Swift, WR Keenan Allen, WR Rome Odunze, TE Gerald Everett, IOL Ryan Bates, and IOL Coleman Shelton. It’s safe to say these players are a significant net upgrade, and the Bears invested heavily (draft picks 1, 9, and 144 and $45M in salary cap spending on the veterans) to make sure that would be the case.

In addition to changing over the players, the Bears brought in a new offensive coaching staff, and offensive coordinator Shane Waldron will be tasked with turning this talent into a cohesive and effective unit. Since Waldron spent three years as the play caller in Seattle, this week I want to dig into his data to see what we can learn that might translate to Chicago. I am going to focus mostly on what his play calling tendencies were and less on how effective the offense was, because effectiveness will depend significantly on personnel and will be entirely different in Chicago.

We’ll start today by looking at Waldron’s down and distance trends, and will examine personnel groupings tomorrow.

1st down

Let’s start with examining what Waldron liked to do on 1st down. The table below shows how often Seattle called a passing play vs. a running play, how many of their passes went deep down the field (15+ yards past the line of scrimmage in the air), and how many of their runs were inside the tackles. A few quick notes:

  • To remove game situation as much as possible, I only looked at plays between the 20s in the first three quarters. This is a look at what Waldron liked to do in fairly neutral situations. These same criteria will apply to all data in this article.
  • I looked at Seattle for 2021, 2022, and 2023 so we could see what trends were consistent from year to year and what ones changed. This might give hints as to what Waldron will likely keep vs. what might shift depending on personnel.
  • I also showed what Chicago looked like in 2023, so we can get a general idea of how things might change compared to what we saw last year.
  • To put all these numbers in context, I provided the high, average, and low values for all 32 NFL teams in 2023, and where the 2023 Bears and Seahawks ranked in each category. Values in the top 25% are highlighted in green, while those in the bottom 25% are highlighted in red.
  • All data comes from Pro Football Reference’s game play finder.

A few thoughts:

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Lessons From Ryan Poles’ first two drafts

| April 9th, 2024

Ryan Poles is just a few days away from running his 3rd NFL draft for the Chicago Bears. Now that we have two years of draft history to go on, let’s dive in to see what lessons might apply for 2024.

Targets athletes

The first and most clear trend is that Ryan Poles likes to draft athletic players. We see this through a few different metrics:

  • Relative Athletic Scores (RAS): This scales athletes on overall athleticism from 0-10, with 5 being average, 9 being the 90th percentile, etc.
    • Through 2 seasons, the average Poles draft pick has had an RAS score of 8.6, in the 86th percentile for their position, and that increases to over 9 – top 10% of athleticism – if you look only at picks from Days 1 & 2.
    • Overall, only 1 of 13 players drafted in the first 5 rounds have had an RAS below 8, indicating they are not in the top 20% of athletes at their position.
      • Side note: S Elijah Hicks and P Trenton Gill, both 7th round picks, did not test to qualify for RAS, so they are excluded from the numbers above.
  • Athleticism Score: This athleticism metric from Next Gen Stats is less clear about how it is calculated, but generally is grouped from 50-99, with 50s being below average, 60s average, 70s + 80s above average, and 90s elite in terms of overall athleticism.
    • Of the 16 players with an athleticism score published on their NFL draft profile, 15 have a score above 70, indicating they are above average. Once again, this trend is even stronger if you look only at the higher and more meaningful picks, as all 13 players drafted in the first 5 rounds score in the 70s or 80s.
    • Overall, the average athleticism score is a 76.
      • This data set is missing a host of 6th-7th rounders: S Kendall Williamson, S Elijah Hicks, P Trenton Gill, DT Travis Bell, and C Doug Kramer

To be fair, most of the high draft picks in the NFL are athletic players. Thus, this lesson doesn’t really tell us specific names the Bears might target. But it does let us look for players at need positions the Bears might avoid.

The overwhelming majority of players projected to go in the top 2 rounds have a high RAS, but there are a few highly rated guys who aren’t super athletic, like DE Darius Robinson (3.97 RAS) or C Zach Frazier (6.46 RAS), and it seems unlikely the Bears will be interested in a player like that.

Once you start to get into the middle rounds, there are more guys who aren’t great athletes, and I will be surprised to see the Bears target anybody from this list of mid-round players at positions of need:

Not afraid to trade

Through 2 drafts, Poles has pulled off 8 trades that involved pick swaps. In 7 of those, he moved down to create extra picks, which seems to be his preference. Given that the Bears currently only have 4 draft picks for this year, I anticipate we will see him trade down at least once to pick up extra selections, and I won’t be shocked to see multiple trade downs.

The Bears’ pre-draft actions also hint that they are heavily considering trading down early in the draft. Teams are limited to bringing in 30 players for pre-draft visits, and the Bears have used several of them on players projected to go in the 20-50 range despite not currently having a pick between 9 and 75.

  • OT JC Latham (20th on consensus big board)
  • C Jackson Powers-Johnson (25th)
  • C Graham Barton (27th)
  • DE Chop Robinson (28th)
  • OT Tyler Guyton (30th)
  • WR Xavier Worthy (35th)
  • C Zach Frazier (47th)

That’s a whole lot of players – more than 20% of their allotted visits – who are projected to go in a range where the Bears have no picks, which indicates to me they are seriously considering trading back from the 9th pick.

To be fair, Chicago has also done their homework on potential fits if they stick at number 9, as they’ve brought in with players ranked 5th (WR Malik Nabers), 6th (WR Rome Odunze), 8th (Dallas Turner), and 10th (Brock Bowers) on the consensus big board. My guess is that the Bears will have 1-2 guys they would take at pick 9 if they are available, but otherwise will look to trade back a bit and pick up an extra pick or two in the draft.

It’s also worth noting that Poles also showed a willingness to move up in the draft for a guy he covets last year, when he gave up a 4th round pick to move from 61 to 56 and secure CB Tyrique Stevenson. Given the small number of picks this year, a trade up seems less likely, but Poles could get creative and look to move up with 2025 draft capital. They currently have an extra 2nd round pick for next year, and that could be packaged with pick 122 this year to get into the 2nd round (this is what the Bears did to trade up for WR Anthony Miller in 2018).

Double dipping 

Another trend we’ve seen clearly through Poles’ first two drafts is the willingness to draft 2 or even 3 players at the same position.

  • In 2022, he selected S Jaquan Brisker in the 2nd round, and then S Elijah Hicks in the 7th.
  • In 2022, he selected 3 interior offensive linemen – Zachary Thomas, Doug Kramer, and Ja’Tyre Carter – in the 6th and 7th rounds.
  • In 2023, he took DT Gervon Dexter in round 2, DT Zacch Pickens in round 3, and DT Travis Bell in round 7.
  • In 2023, he  took CB Tyrique Stevenson in round 2 and CB Terell Smith in round 5.

It’s hard to envision a double dip this year with only 4 picks, but if they pick up a few extra selections via trade down, then it could be a real possibility. The two positions I could see that most realistically happening at are DE and WR. In both cases, the Bears need another starter, which could prompt a high pick, and there’s also room for a later pick to push for a roster spot against pretty weak depth.

Once again, the Bears have already hinted at this possibility. Head coach Matt Eberflus was caught on mic telling Ryan Poles they should “take two of them” while watching defensive linemen work out at the Combine.

Defensive (over)investment

Another clear trend we see is that Poles loves to invest in defense early in the draft. Five of his seven day 1-2 picks have been spent on defenders, despite the Bears having just as many (if not more) offensive needs over the last two years. This trend has carried over to veteran signings as well, where the Bears have handed out significantly more money to the defense ($115M/year, $226M guaranteed) than offense ($58M/year, $89M guaranteed).

This is what happens when you double down on a defensive head coach who likes to run a simple scheme that requires high level players to work (rather than winning schematically), and I fully expect the trend to continue in 2024. Outside of QB, which is obviously going to be the #1 pick, Chicago has 2 clear holes in their current starting lineup: WR3 (currently Tyler Scott) and DE2 (currently DeMarcus Walker). I fully expect them to prioritize defensive end as being more important. Depending on how they view Gervon Dexter, they might also see 3-technique defensive tackle as a huge need as well.

Wrapping it up

In short, here are the four main lessons we have learned from Ryan Poles’ first two drafts:

  • He only wants to draft plus athletes.
  • He likes to trade down to accumulate more picks.
  • He likes spending multiple picks on one need.
  • He generally invests more in the defense than the offense.

The last three trends all seem to be aligning nicely, in my view. If Ryan Poles trades back from pick 9, he will be in range to invest a first round pick on a pass rusher (DEs like Jared Verse or Chop Robinson or DTs like Byron Murphy or Johnny Newton feel like possible targets), and then have extra picks he can spend to further bolster the pass rush later in the draft.

There is no saying for sure how the draft will unfold – I am sure the Bears’ ultimate action at 9 depends on what happens between picks 2 and 8 – but my read of Poles’ draft history, plus Chicago’s moves so far this offseason – makes me think that is his plan A.

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2024 Bears Offseason Primer: Rounding Out the Roster

| February 16th, 2024

The Super Bowl is behind us, and the NFL offseason has officially arrived. Now is the favorite time of year for fans of downtrodden teams like the Bears. Over the next few months, every team will magically turn their weaknesses into strengths and enter training camp with hopes of playing in next years’ Super Bowl — if you don’t believe me, just survey each fanbase in July.

The Bears might not be Super Bowl contenders in 2024, but they took a clear step forward in 2023 and have the resources to improve the roster this offseason, setting up another step in the right direction next fall. But before we get into the whirlwind of draft prep (the Combine starts February 26) and free agency (starts March 13), it’s worth taking a look at where the roster currently stands. Let’s examine:

  • What the Bears’ depth chart looks like as of today
  • Which Chicago impact players are set to hit free agency
  • What Chicago’s salary cap situation looks like
  • Bears players that could be considered for cuts or extensions

Current Depth Chart

Let’s start by looking at who the Bears currently have under contract for 2024. This is based on the 53 players currently signed as of February 7, sorted loosely into what a depth chart would look like below.

A few thoughts:

  • This looks much better than the version I did at a comparable time just a year ago, but it still needs quite a bit of work before it’s truly become a good roster.
  • The most notable weaknesses that jump out are WR2, WR3, and C, where the current ‘starting’ players are clearly not starting-caliber.
    • I would also argue CB needs some work, as I would feel a lot better about Terell Smith as the top backup than a starter.
    • Still, this is a much shorter list than last year, when I said the Bears needed to add 11 starters.
  • Beyond that, improved competition for starters and/or rotational depth is needed at RB, TE, interior OL (G/C),  DE, DT, and S.
  • The Bears still lack in top-level players. Their only All-Pro from a year ago, Jaylon Johnson, is slated to be a free agent, and they lack difference makers. I count DJ Moore, Teven Jenkins, and Montez Sweat as high-level players, with the Bears hoping youngsters like Darnell Wright, Gervon Dexter, Tyrique Stevenson, Kyler Gordon, and Jaquan Brisker can rise to that level in due time.

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Bears Should Move on from Matt Eberflus

| January 3rd, 2024

Chicago’s season will come to a close in Green Bay on Sunday, when the Bears will finish without a winning record for the 5th season in a row and 10th time in the last 11 years. Since the Bears are already out of the playoff race, the game itself is fairly inconsequential for them, but the offseason that follows it will be hugely important, as Chicago will have to decide whether to stay the course or make a change at both head coach and quarterback.

I already examined Chicago’s decision about Fields yesterday, so today I want to take a look at head coach Matt Eberflus. The decision on Eberflus will actually come first, as the Bears will likely officially announce whether he is fired or returning for 2024 in the 1st half of next week.

In-season turnaround

Through the 1st four weeks of the season, the Bears were 0-4, had been outscored by 62 points, and looked like one of the worst teams in the NFL. Since then, they are 7-5, have outscored their opponents by 57 points, and look like a dangerous team. It’s a real credit to Eberflus that he kept the team focused and resilient so they could bounce back from their disastrous start to the season.

However, there are 2 points to consider here:

  1. If Eberflus deserves praise for the Bears’ good stretch starting in week 5, then he also deserves significant blame for their 0-4 start. Why did it take a month for his team to look like they belonged in the NFL?
  2. It’s also worth noting that Chicago has faced a remarkably easy schedule this year.
    • Their opponents cumulatively have a win % of 0.461, which is the 4th easiest schedule in the NFL.
    • When the Bears have played decent teams, they have really struggled, posting a 1-7 record against teams who are currently .500 or better.
    • To be fair, 4 of those games were the 0-4 stretch to start the season (though 3 of those 4 teams are exactly .500 right now, so not exactly stellar), but the Bears are still 1-3 against .500 or better teams since then, compared to 6-2 against sub-.500 teams in the same stretch.

Defensive Improvement

The other main point in Eberflus’ favor is that Chicago’s defense has gotten really good since he took over calling plays. It took a few weeks for him to find his footing, as Eberflus took control of the defense in week 2 but the turnaround didn’t start until week 5. From weeks 1-4, Chicago’s defense gave up 29 points/game (which would be 31st in the NFL over the full season) and ranked 31st in expected points added (EPA) and 26th in success rate. Since week 5, Chicago’s defense has given up 17.4 points/game (which would be 3rd in the NFL over the full season) and ranked 3rd in EPA and 6th in success rate.

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