Four of ESPN's top football savants -- John Clayton, Mel Kiper, Louis Riddick and Mike Sando -- took part in their annual discussion on which franchises are primed for the most success moving forward in 2014, '15 and '16. They rated each team in five categories; quarterback, the roster excluding QB, the draft, front office and coaching.
When evaluating the "draft" category, since it's unknown whom each team will select in the future, the experts rated the 2014 draft class, then took into account the team's drafting reputation and number of available draft picks in 2015 and '16. The other categories are pretty cut and dried, with more emphasis on the younger players for the "roster" category.
Only the San Diego Chargers made a larger leap in their scores than the Bears. Last year the Chargers had a total score of 52.96 (out of 100) and this year they are in 9th place at 79.55.
The top three teams on their list should be no surprise. The defending champion Seattle Seahawks topped the list with an overall score of 88.40, the Green Bay Packers were number two (85.54), followed by the San Francisco 49ers (85.44).
The Bears made substantial gains in all 5 categories, helping boost last season's 56.04 all the way up to 78.3 this year.
Here's their overview on the Bears score from Mike Sando.
The Bears were one of four teams to climb in all five categories, even though Josh McCown's departure to Tampa Bay in free agency robbed the Bears of a QB with a proven, successful track record in coach Marc Trestman's offense. There's a feeling starter Jay Cutler could made additional strides, provided he can stay healthy. The offensive lineup returns pretty much intact. The gains Chicago made in overall roster ranking reflect the moves GM Phil Emery has made to shore up the defense.
I'm still amazed that Emery reworked the offense in one off season. He took them from a middling unit in 2012 to one of the best in football last year. This gives me confidence that his roster moves this off season will give the Bears defense what it needs to make drastic improvements this year and beyond.
Louis Riddick touched on the dilemma the Bears could face.
Cutler's continued development under Trestman and the improvement of a Bears' defense that was historically bad right down the middle the past season will determine this team's future success. On offense, Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Matt Forte are all under contract for the next two seasons. Defensively, the issue is whether they've acquired enough talent (Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston, Willie Young and more) to slow down the Packers' and Lions' high-octane offenses the next three years.
I'm excited to see how the defense comes together and I'm not overly concerned with Cutler's continued growth. Speaking of the Lions, the ESPN foursome had them ranked 21st.
Mel Kiper addressed the youth movement on the Bears.
While plenty got excited about Marc Trestman's offense, are we overlooking the fact that last year was probably the worst defense in Bears history? That's no exaggeration. The team ranked No. 30 in both yards and points allowed (both firsts). Kyle Fuller was brought in to help soon at CB, but a huge factor will be early returns from rookies Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton at DT. Both have more talent than they showed in their final college seasons. It starts up front for Chicago, which was absurdly weak up the middle last season, and those two could be crucial for depth early, and more later in the season.
It's funny how most people are expecting more from third round pick Sutton, than they are 2nd rounder Ferguson. Ego was obviously higher on the Bears draft board, so the Bears must expect him to show up on Sundays. If he can provide a stout presence at the nose along with a healthy Stephen Paea, the Chicago run D will see a big improvement.
What are your thoughts on the Bears, not only this season, but in 2015 and 2016 too?