They say that an NFL players biggest jump in productivity comes in their 2nd year. It takes a year to work out the rookie jitters, to catch up with the speed of the NFL, and to fully understand what it takes to be a pro.
With that being said, Let's take a look at the eight players the Bears picked last year and their potential impact for the 2015 season.
Top draft pick Kyle Fuller was forced into a starting role last year when Charles Tillman went down early in the season. The plan was to limit Fuller to cornerback during sub packages, with Tim Jennings moving to nickelback. Plans changed and Fuller struggled as a rookie. He did gain valuable experience playing both sides of the field and, if healthy, he should see a big boost in his play.
NFL analysts are still fairly high on Fuller and in a recent re-ranking of the '14 draft class, Fuller was moved up from the 14th spot the Bears took him at.
8. Kyle Fuller, CB, Chicago Bears: Fuller winds up being the only corner on this Top 25 list. Bradley Roby came close. Some of the other top corners from this class look like success stories in the nickel role.
I would expect Fuller to be Chicago's best corner in 2015 and his shaky play as a rookie will be forgotten.
When former GM Phil Emery selected Ego Ferguson in the 2nd round of the 2014 NFL Draft, it wasn't the most popular decision. Mainly because some internet scouts had a 4th round grade on him, but most others had him tabbed as a 2nd rounder. He also left LSU with a year of eligibility remaining, causing many to think his 1st season would be a learning year.
As a rookie, Ferguson played in all 16 games and according to Pro Football Focus, he played on 314 defensive snaps. I would expect that number to increase drastically this year.
Charles Robinson of Yahoo Sports recently picked a 2nd year player on each team most in need of a sophomore reboot. His choice for the Bears was Ferguson.
Ferguson is a candidate for a sophomore reboot - but not because he played poorly in 2014. Ferguson was a solid rookie for the Bears, albeit with some room to upgrade his physique. Instead, this particular reboot comes with the Bears moving to a 3-4 defense. That is going to require some position flexibility from last season's second-round pick. And with free-agent signee Ray McDonald getting jettisoned, Ferguson will feel even more pressure to fill snaps on the defensive line. He apparently got the message this offseason, trimming 10 pounds off his frame to get closer to a more lean 300-305 pounds. That will allow Ferguson to play with a little more speed and athleticism, and it should give him an opportunity to play both nose tackle and pass rushing defensive end (known as a "five technique" end in the 3-4 defense).
I think even had McDonald still been around, the plan was to utilize Ego at defensive end in the new D.
Chicago's next pick was defensive tackle Will Sutton who was a perfect fit as a 3 Technique DT in a 4-3 scheme. With the move to a 3-4, Sutton may see his playing time regulated to pass rushing on nickel situations, but he made his mark as a penetrating interior player in college, so this could suit him. The 2014 3rd rounder has been practicing at defensive end in the base D, but I would expect him to move up and down the line.
In the 4th round last year the Bears took running back Ka'Deem Carey, but he was limited to just 100 snaps behind workhorse Matt Forte. With rookie Jeremy Langford and free agent Jacquizz Rodgers in the mix now, Carey will need to establish a presence early or risk being lost in the shuffle.
Chicago traded up for safety Brock Vereen in the back-half of the 4th round, but his skill set is comparable to this year's 5th round pick, Adrian Amos. Both have cover skills, both will be in the running at free safety and nickel or dime sub-packages, and both will be core special teamers.
In the 6th round the Bears took quarterback David Fales who was a fit for Marc Trestman's offense, but with Adam Gase running the O now, it's yet to be seen if Fales has a future in Chicago. He'll battle it out with undrafted free agent Shane Carden for the #3 job and/or a practice squad spot. Veteran Pat Devlin is also in the mix for the number 3 job.
Chicago's other 6th round pick is the only punter on their 90 man roster, so unless Pat O'Donnell really struggles he's going to be the man. I picked O'Donnell as one of the Top 5 Bears 25 years old or younger just a few weeks ago.
O'Donnell has the booming leg and the skills to be one of the top punters in the NFL. He may have to speed up his delivery a touch, but the experience he gained last year and a full off season as a professional will help his game immensely.
Chicago's final pick in the 2014 NFL Draft was offensive tackle Charles Leno. So far during OTAs, Leno has been getting reps at both right and left tackle. I can't see him pushing for a starting spot, but he could be in the mix as a 6th offensive lineman in jumbo packages, which is how he saw the field last year in five games.
Which of last year's 2014 draft class are you expecting the most from, and from which are you expecting the least?