A little over a year ago the Chicago Bears signed outside linebacker Pernell McPhee to the the centerpiece of their brand new 3-4 defense. He came in after being very productive in a rotational role with the Baltimore Ravens, and the question surrounding his game for the Bears was if he could thrive as a starter.
Even though he missed time in 2015 due to injury, I'd say his first year in Chicago was a success. As far as thriving as a starter, I think he'll need to prove he can stay on the field before we can make that statement. In 2014, while in Baltimore, he came off the bench in all 16 games, playing in 515 defensive snaps. Last year for the Bears he started 12 of the 14 games he appeared in, playing 594 defensive snaps.
The Bears would have rotated him with the other OLBs on the roster regardless of injury, but he would have been on the field more than the 42.4 snaps per game he had last year. Even with a balky knee slowing him down, he still finished the year with 53 tackles, 6 sacks, 9 tackles for loss, 18 quarterback hits, 1 interception, 3 passes defended and a forced fumble.
Pro Football Focus graded his pass rush productivity as tops among all edge defenders in the NFL last year when they ranked him as the 66th best player in the league. They also had him at #41 in their Best Players In The NFL Right Now list. McPhee also was picked in the top 100 of CBSSports' Top Players of the 2016 Season list.
If McPhee can accomplish all that on a bad wheel, imagine what he can do when he's healthy. If he's picking up postseason accolades playing on a defense devoid of playmakers, imagine what he can do with a revamped front seven. Last year he was The Guy on that D, whereas this year opposing offenses will have other concerns as well.
If McPhee can stay healthy this year, I think his versatility will have him pushing for a Pro Bowl spot. Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio uses him as his rover, lining him up all over his front seven. McPhee is just as comfortable rushing the passer off the edge as he is standing up over the nose ready to shoot the A gaps.
So far I've only touched on his on field merits, but McPhee brought an attitude to Chicago's defense last year that was sorely lacking. He was voted a team captain in his first season in Chicago, partly because of his talent, but also because of the leadership he displayed from day one. He talked about playing violent and then he went out and did it.
His leadership, his swagger and his talent make him my 6th Most Important Bear for the 2016 season.