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2021 Team Report: Chicago Bears
Last updated: Wed, May 19
Offensive PhilosophyThe Bears did not turn around their offense in the first year that head coach Matt Nagy joined forces with offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, mostly because of Mitchell Trubisky. The team moved on from him this offseason and added Andy Dalton, who had experience with Lazor in Cincinnati. Dalton was reasonably successful with Lazor, but 2016-2018 were far from his best years. He still represented an upgrade from Trubisky, but not as much as the potential upgrade that Justin Fields does. After the Bears traded up for Fields, the main question became when will Fields start? His downfield passing prowess and top-end running ability will change the complexion of the offense. Nagy and Lazor both coached Michael Vick in Philadelphia, Nagy under Andy Reid and Lazor under Chip Kelly. The Bears should change the offense to a large degree for Fields, but if they don't plan on starting him until late in the season if at all, as the staff that Nagy was part of did with Patrick Mahomes in Kansas City, then we shouldn't expect a big difference this year. If Dalton falters or Fields impresses enough in practice to win the job, then Fields could revitalize the playcalling and offensive line play that often held this offense back. We could also learn that Fields isn't capable of turning this ship around in his rookie year and the coaching and line failings were more determinative than quarterback play. The most important decision the Bears make this year won't have anything to do with their offensive philosophy as much as it will have to do with their philosophy on starting a rookie quarterback.
QuarterbacksStarter: Andy Dalton
Backup(s): Justin Fields Starting QB: Andy Dalton is on his third NFL team, joining the Bears as a free agent in 2021. Dalton was a much-needed stopgap for the Cowboys when Dak Prescott missed more than half of last season. Dalton has largely been a baseline NFL starting quarterback during his career and 2020 was no exception. Dalton's surrounding talent takes a step back this season compared to Dallas' quality trio. Dalton has also devolved from a middling rushing option at the position to one of the sparse producers on the ground since entering his 30s. The best news for Andy Dalton's addition is the best quarterback of his career for Allen Robinson. There will be a short leash for Dalton with the Bears' first-round selection, Justin Fields, waiting in the wings in 2021. Backup QB: Justin Fields was the splash addition for the Bears in the NFL Draft, trading up from No.20 to No.11 for the Ohio State quarterback. Fields offers mobility divergent from veteran incumbents Andy Dalton and Nick Foles on the depth chart. While Fields was picked apart during the draft process, he possesses elite rushing upside and a sturdy build for the NFL. The weapons in Chicago are promising with Allen Robinson back on a franchise tag, David Montgomery coming off a career year to-date, Darnell Mooney producing a promising rookie season in 2020, and Cole Kmet entering Year 2 of note. Outside of Andy Dalton leading the team on a playoff path in the opening half-season, look for Fields to see the field and learn on the job. Fields deep ball is much better than Dalton's, which could be good for Mooney, but the passing volume will likely be lower once he takes over, which might ding Robinson slightly.
Running BacksStarter: David Montgomery
Backup(s): Tarik Cohen, Damien Williams, Khalil Herbert [R]
Fullback(s): Starting RB: David Montgomery finished his second NFL season with a flourish, the most productive running back in the league over the final month. Tarik Cohen's early-season-ending injury, missing 13 games, fueled a spike in Montgomery's snaps and passing game involvement. Montgomery's targets nearly doubled from his rookie season and the Bears had minimal secondary running back presence after Cohen was lost for the year. Montgomery's usage in the passing game will be the biggest question mark with Cohen healthy this season and Damien Williams' addition a significant upgrade to their previous depth chart iterations. Backup RBs: Tarik Cohen returns from a significant 2020 injury, limiting him to just three games. The depth chart is markedly different than Cohen's last active status, however, with David Montgomery being one of the most productive running backs in the entire NFL to close last season, the Bears signing Damien Williams as a free agent, and also drafting Khalil Herbert as a quality athlete in the 2021 class. As a sub-sized option, Cohen is unlikely to be the clear backup if Montgomery were out of the lineup. Damien Williams opted out of the 2020 season and joins Chicago for 2021. While a postseason dynamo for the Chiefs in their 2019 Super Bowl run, Williams has been a nomadic opportunity player in his six-season career to-date. Williams has been more of a receiving maven considering his 138 career receptions to only 294 carries and was optimized within the Chiefs offense as a career highlight stretch. Williams is a more likely fit as a three-down back than Cohen should David Montgomery be out of the lineup. Herbert was a sixth-round pick who could make the roster because of his special teams prowess. He has good vision and burst, but won't contribute much in the passing game. Fullback:
Wide ReceiversStarters: Allen Robinson, Darnell Mooney
Backups: Anthony Miller, Marquise Goodwin, Javon Wims, Dazz Newsome [R], Riley Ridley, Damiere Byrd Starting WRs: Allen Robinson returns to Chicago for his fourth season, now on a franchise tag. Robinson has been the prototypical WR1, outside of a lost 2017 season due to injury, in his career and 2020 was no different. Robinson amassed a balmy 151 targets while no other Chicago pass-catcher eclipsed 100 targets. Robinson has largely been a low touchdown rate receiver in his career and last season was a low mark even for Robinson at 5.9%. Robinson has also produced through middling-at-best quarterback play in his career. Andy Dalton offers the possibility of his best career quarterback connection in 2021. Dalton was very reliable at feeding his #1 receiver when he played with A.J. Green. Darnell Mooney rose from the depths of Day 3 for a promising rookie season in 2020. Mooney, in the mold of DeSean Jackson as a prospect, zoomed past incumbent Anthony Miller with Week 10 being the last week Miller had more targets than Mooney last season. With Miller trending downward and trade rumors swirling this offseason Miller could be on the move, Mooney is the clear favorite for starter snaps beside Allen Robinson. Big plays, which Mooney exhibited in college, would unlock a new level of production in Year 2. Mooney would be helped greatly by Justin Fields taking over because Fields deep ball can harness Mooney's straight line speed much better than Dalton's. Backup WRs: Anthony Miller was on the promising track through two seasons before drawing back in usage and big plays in 2020. The former second-round pick was passed in the pecking order by rookie Darnell Mooney, prompting trade speculations for Miller as a possible Chicago exit. The Bears wide receiver depth chart is thin beyond Miller, however, with Marquise Goodwin an older veteran who has been in freefall for three years between erosion of production from a 2017 peak and coming off a 2020 opt out. Goodwin's profile is that of a speed maven who has struggled to stay healthy. Javon Wims has yet to produce through three seasons as a former seventh-round draft pick, averaging a paltry 9.5 yards-per-catch in his career. Wims' most notable moment to-date is dropping a long touchdown early in the playoff game against the Saints. Ridley was a fourth round pick in 2019 who will be on the roster bubble this year.
Tight EndsStarters: Cole Kmet
Backups: Jimmy Graham Cole Kmet was the lone rookie tight end to collect more than 25 receptions in 2020. Partly speaking to the weakness of the class overall, Kmet also forced his way onto the field even with Jimmy Graham as the Bears' starter. Kmet was a good-but-not-great prospect, profiling as a two-way option but limited in his overt receiving upside. Year 1 played out as such with Kmet offering minimal downfield but rising as the season progressed out-targeting Jimmy Graham 33 to 19 over the final six games. Jimmy Graham, one of the strongest producers at the position over the past decade, has eroded over the past two seasons, surviving in utility in 2020 due to his 16% touchdown rate. Graham serves as a roadblock to Cole Kmet receiving high volume more than Graham's own usage upside in 2021.
Place KickerCairo Santos: Say the Bears have solved their kicker woes to me, Santos. Well, for 2020 they have. Santos made good on his second stint with the Bears last year, missing only 2 of 32 field goals attempts, one of which came from 50+ yards. He didn't miss a field under 40 yards and made 36-of-37 extra point attempts. They rewarded him with a five-year, $16 million dollar extension this offseason, so the team seems convinced that he is the answer. If Justin Fields takes over early, the offense could produce more scoring opportunities, giving Santos a reasonable chance to build on his 2020 that was around the top 10-12 in most kicker scoring systems. Despite that outcome, he is going undrafted in most every fantasy league. Consider him as your last round kicker pick, especially if it looks like Fields will start sooner than later.
Kick and Punt ReturnersKick Returners: Darnell Mooney, Anthony Miller, Tarik Cohen Cordarrelle Patterson led the NFL in kickoff return yardage in each of the past two seasons. All other Bears players combined for just 82 yards. So Patterson's departure naturally leaves a huge void and huge shoes to fill. Darnell Mooney and Anthony Miller will have the first chance to step into the rule, but it remains to be seen how well they'll do. Punt Returners: Tarik Cohen, Anthony Miller, Darnell Mooney Tarik Cohen and Anthony Miller have both fielded punts for the Bears in recent seasons and are capable of doing so again in 2021 if required.
Offensive LineProjected Starters: LT Teven Jenkins [R], G James Daniels, C Sam Mustipher, G/C Cody Whitehair, RT Germain Ifedi
Key Backups: OL Alex Bars, OT Elijah Wilkinson, OL Larry Borom [R] Second round rookie Teven Jenkins will start at left tackle. He will be helped by the interior, Cody Whitehair at center and James Daniels at left guard. The right side of Alex Bars and Germain Ifedi needs improvement. The team signed Elijah Wilkinson from Denver to compete. Look for Wilkinson to push Ifedi at right tackle for playing time. This line is in transition at tackle and will carry a low grade until this improves.
Team DefenseAfter Vic Fangio built and coordinated an elite defense in Chicago, there was a lot of speculation as to how Chuck Pagano would fare as the team's new defensive coordinator. Through two seasons, the defense has remained top-notch. The team has added more personnel over the last few years to start playing in nickel packages more frequently as the team adapts to a pass-heavy offensive approach. Although star pass-rushers Robert Quinn and Khalil Mack are listed as linebackers, they typically play with their hands in the dirt as edge rushers. It's very rare to see the Bears play more than two true defensive lineman at a time. Akiem Hicks is the primary tackle, but the Bears will get Eddie Goldman back after he opted out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19 concerns. 24-year-old superstar Roquan Smith and veteran Danny Trevathan play the majority of snaps as interior linebackers, respectively. Although the Bears just lost a shutdown corner in Kyle Fuller, second-year cornerback Jaylon Johnson showed a lot of promise as a rookie and will likely take over as the team's number one option, with veteran Desmond Trufant playing a relief role opposite Johnson. What the Bears lack in elite defensive backs, they make up for with great depth. The heart of the Bears defense lies in their pass-rushing linebackers and gap-stuffing interior linebackers. After explosive 2017 and 2018 seasons at free safety, Eddie Jackson has cooled down just a bit but still anchors the team's backs. Both Jackson and Tashaun Gipson Jr. are athletic enough to drop into the box, giving Pagano lots of flexibility and creativity with his blitz packages. Overall, the Bears kept opposing teams to just 4.1 yards per carry in 2020, ninth-best in the NFL. Additionally, they allowed just 6.4 yards per pass attempt, just better than the league's average mark. The Bears are great at stopping both passing and rushing attacks but their defense accounted for the eighth-most penalty yards of any team in 2020, showing a lack of discipline and aggressive tendency. After years of generating an obscene amount of turnovers, the Bears saw their turnover rate drop to 8.9%, the fifth-lowest in the league. Despite having an anemic offense that kept the defense on the field more than wanted, the Bears still kept the opposing offense from scoring on 62% of drives. Although Mack, Hicks, Trevathan, and Quinn are all aging, expect another great season of defense from this Bears squad, who have a healthy balance of youth with Smith, Jackson, Johnson, and Goldman.
Defensive LineStarters: DE Akiem Hicks, NT Eddie Goldman, DE Bilal Nichols
Backups: DE Mario Edwards Jr., DE Angelo Blackson, NT LaCale London, NT Khyiris Tonga [R] Starting DL: Although the defensive line looks very thin, the Bears have started using a 4-2-5 Nickel package as their base scheme. So Khalil Mack and Robert Quinn, who are technically listed as linebackers, play the majority of their snaps on the line and in a three-point stance. Akiem Hicks has an injury-plagued season in 2019 where he was only able to suit up for five games. In 2020, he missed just one game and played 74% of the team's snaps. At age 31, he's no longer the wrecking ball force that he was earlier in his career. Ignoring 2019's five-game season, Hicks's 3.5 sacks last year were the lowest he's accounted for since 2015 when he started just three games. He rarely came off the field from 2016 to 2018 when he amassed 163 tackles, 38 tackles for a loss, and 23 sacks. Now, as age and injuries have started to show, expect to see 27-year-old Eddie Goldman shoulder more of a workload after sitting out the 2020 campaign due to COVID-19 concerns. Although listed as a nose tackle, playing the scheme that the Bears do, Goldman can play just about anywhere on the interior line. With the heart of the Bears' defense being their edge rushers and linebackers, they will likely only field one or two interior linemen per play, allowing them to keep a shallow corps rostered. Backup DL: There isn't much depth behind Akiem Hicks and Eddie Goldman after the Bears lost Roy Robertson-Harris is free agency. Mario Edwards Jr. hits the first year of his new contract in 2021 and will likely see an increase from the 24% of the snaps he saw in 2020. Even in such a limited role, Edwards was able to rack up four sacks and six tackles for a loss. He is listed as a defensive end but will take some snaps from the interior as well, similarly to Robertson-Harris's role over the last few seasons. Barring any major injuries, Angelo Blackson and LaCale London will probably see very few snaps in 2021.
LinebackersStarters: OLB Khalil Mack, ILB Roquan Smith, ILB Danny Trevathan, OLB Robert Quinn
Backups: OLB Jeremiah Attaochu, ILB Josh Woods, ILB Joel Iyiegbuniwe, ILB Christian Jones, OLB Trevis Gipson, OLB James Vaughters, LB Ledarius Mack, OLB Charles Snowden [R] Starting LBs: The strength of this defense lies in both the elite top-end talent and the depth of their linebacking corps. Khalil Mack and Robert Quinn, who are both listed as linebackers, take almost all of their snaps with a hand in the dirt as end hybrids. Mack has been the anchor to this defense and highest-paid player on the Bears since he was brought over in a trade from the Raiders. After a dominant first year in Chicago, Mack's production has slowly dwindled and he'll now head into the 2020 season as a 30-year-old. Quinn, after securing a monster deal in free agency before 2020, was a huge disappointment for the Bears. He'll be 31 when the season kicks off and just had a career-low with two sacks on the season. He's far removed from his 2013 campaign where he amassed 19 sacks but showed he still has some in the tank with 11.5 in 2019 with Dallas. Roquan Smith, who battled through injuries throughout his first two seasons in the league, broke out in 2020 and solidified himself as one of the league's best interior linebackers. He finished sixth in tackles, fourth in tackles for losses in addition to a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, two interceptions, four sacks, and six quarterback hits. He'll look to improve on that breakout year in his fourth year in the league, still just 24 years old. Danny Trevathan rounds out the starting corps at 31 years old after racking up 113 tackles, the most in a year for him since 2013. All four of these players should see heavy snap counts and be relied on by Chuck Pagano to generate the pass rush and stuff run gaps for the Bears. Backup LBs: Jeremiah Attaochu was brought over from Denver in free agency this offseason and the 28-year-old outside linebacker is set to play a relief role for Khalil Mack. Mack has suited up for 16 games in consecutive seasons and has played 85% of his snaps over that time, so Attaochu's workload should remain small outside of an injury to Mack. Similarly, Christian Jones will play behind Robert Quinn. Of the two, Attaochu is the more talented of the two. Given Quinn's struggles last year, there's a chance that they try moving Attaochu to the strong side in an attempt to spell Quinn.
Defensive BacksStarters: CB Jaylon Johnson, CB Desmond Trufant, FS Eddie Jackson, SS Tashaun Gipson Jr.
Backups: NCB Thomas Graham Jr. [R], CB Artie Burns, CB Kindle Vildor, NCB Duke Shelley, CB Teez Tabor, SS Jordan Lucas, SS Deon Bush, FS Marqui Christian, FS DeAndre Houston-Carson, CB Tre Roberson Starting DBs: The Bears leave a massive hole in their defense heading into 2021 after the head-scratching decision to cut All-Pro cornerback Kyle Fuller, who led the league in interceptions and passes defended in just 2018. 2020 second-round rookie Jaylon Johnson impressed as a rookie but he'll have a tough assignment taking over as the team's number one corner. The Bears also lost slot cornerback Buster Skrine which leaves multiple starting positions up for grabs. Veteran Desmond Trufant was brought in as a bridge, but at 30 years old and seeing dwindling production, it's likely that the Bears address cornerback in the draft. As the Bears start to play more out of the nickel, they'll likely use their depth at cornerback to rotate players and keep them fresh. Eddie Jackson, when healthy, does not come off the field. As a rookie, he played 100% of the team's snaps and has seen 99% in back-to-back seasons. He had eight interceptions, four fumble recoveries, and five touchdowns over his first two seasons, making a name as a play-making free safety and becoming a fan favorite. Over the last two years though, he's had just two picks and two fumble recoveries, scoring once. Still, he's got the ability to rack up turnovers and has an unteachable nose for the end zone once he gets the ball in his hands. He'll be a discount in fantasy drafts due to his last two seasons but offers tremendous upside in IDP leagues. Backup DBs: Most of these backups should expect to see the field week in and week out for Chicago. The Bears have a lot of depth at cornerback with no real standout talent. With the defensive front should be locked in for the majority of snaps, expect a heavy rotation to be implemented downfield. Artie Burns was quietly brought over in free agency and could carve a role out for himself early on. He's shown the ability to play on both sides of the field and defend out wide and in the slot. If the Bears forgo the cornerback position in the draft, he could end up seeing a heavy workload. He played 99% of the snaps for the Steelers in a healthy 2017 campaign and had an interception and 13 passes defended. Deon Bush had a lot of hopes after being drafted in the fourth round of 2016 but has seen a slowly dwindling role as Eddie Jackson has locked himself in as the every-down starter. Thomas Graham was selected in the sixth round of the draft and could end up being a sneaky play for the Bears who will look to rotate defensive backs. He opted out of the 2020 season but was a cog in the Oregon Ducks defense for 39 consecutive games prior to the opt-out. He's got the talent to work his way into the rotation immediately.