If wide receiver is the number one need for the 2012 Chicago Bears, and offensive line help is a close second, then defensive end is knocking on the door. Julius Peppers is one of the best players in the NFL, but the Bears need someone opposite him that can get after the quarterback consistently. In 2011 they didn't have that guy.
In this ongoing series we'll take a look at the Bears roster with an eye towards 2012 and speculate on who stays, who goes, and some potential additions. Thanks to Pro Football Focus for allowing us access to their premium content so we can give a unique perspective on the players.
Julius Peppers - Signed through 2015 - Julius Peppers is a beast on the football field. His combination of size, speed, and strength makes hims a tough block for any offense. He's a complete football player as he plays the run, he rushes the passer, and when asked he'll drop into pass coverage. Add in all the penalties that he causes and he's an invaluable member of the team. Pro Football Focus had him graded as the 7th best DE with a +28.3. His 53 QB pressures was 2nd only to Chris Long of the Rams.
Israel Idonije - Free Agent - Izzy is a great locker room guy and he's great in the community. Unfortunately he may have maxed out his potential as a starting DE. He had a great start to 2010 and faded down the stretch, and in 2011 he had a rough start according to PFF. He only had 4 positively graded games on the season and they came in 4 of the last 5 weeks. Overall PFF gave him a -1.0 grade, good for 45th among the DEs. He was a +7.4 vs. the run, but a -9.0 as a pass rusher. On a positive note, he did have 36 stops on the year good for 4th best. It dosen't makes sense to let him walk as a free agent unless the Bears can upgrade.
Corey Wootton - Signed through 2013 - Wootton had a down year to say the least. In just 66 snaps he had a -4.1 grade. His grade was even lower than the two ends the Bears cut. He had some injury issues, and hopefully he can put them in the rear view and live up to his potential.
Chauncey Davis - Signed through 2012 - Davis was signed in November, and when he finally got in the games he showed a motor. In limited snaps he had the 2nd best DE grade on the Bears with a neutral 0.1. If he proves valuable on special teams there's a good chance he's on the roster in '12.
Thaddeus Gibson - Signed through 2013 - The Bears are Gibson's 5th team in 2 years, but the first team that plans to play him at DE. In his previous 4 stops he was working as an outside linebacker, even though he was a DE at Ohio State. The former 4th round draft choice signed a 3 year deal in December so the Bears may have some hopes for him.
2012 OUTLOOK - The Bears need a 3rd DE to put in the rotation regardless if Izzy comes back or not. They would love it if that guy was on the current roster, but it's such an unknown. Signing Mario Williams is a dream of many Bears fans, and something they could do if they were creative with some contracts, but it's unlikely. As an OLB for Houston last year he graded the best at the position for them in 225 snaps. But all his previous work was at DE, so the transition back would be seamless.
Free Agent Cliff Avril is mentioned a lot on WCG, and he had a +6.7 grade good for 29th. But he also had 11 penalties last year for the Lions. Another free agent option that isn't garnering any Bears buzz is the Colts Robert Mathis. He had a +16.8 grade according to PFF and with the huge money due Dwight Freeney, it's doubtful he returns to Indy. There's also a chance that Freeney is cut and I think he would look great as a situational pass rusher at this point in his career.
It's kind of a shame that with all the defensive linemen drafted by Jerry Angelo that the Bears are still looking for quality at the DE position. I would expect another DE to be added via the draft, and it wouldn't surprise me if he's added very early.