Why Aren't Our Young Players Improving?


Eddie Goldman was supposed to be a star by now

Something that occurred to me lately, and I figure there might be other Bears fans who might want to discuss this. Lovie Smith used to say, and I think it is fairly widely accepted, that "a player makes his biggest jump between Year 1 and Year 2."

If you think about all the new Bears brought in the past 3 years, I think there’s an astoundingly long list of guys who:

· Fans were highly optimistic about after their rookie seasons.

· Were expected to reach that "next level" by Year 3 or so, and therefore…

· Were expected to take a substantial step towards that in Year 2.

What happened to all of these players who fit that description? There are injuries and there is coaching, but I’ll argue the Number 1 reason the Bears are still a last place, below .500 team is because not one of these 13 players took a substantial step forward in Year 2 and very few of the first 5 players took a step forward in Year 3.


Expectations after Year 1


Kevin White

Solid starting WR, maybe a No. 1

Injured, never developed

Eddie Goldman

Pro Bowl type by Year 2 or 3

Injured Year 2, a few injuries Year 3, not better than Year 1 IMO

Hroniss Grasu

Long term starting C

Injured Year 2, poor showing in Year 3 IMO, probably on his way out

Jeremy Langford

Long term starting RB

Never really improved, out of the NFL

Adrian Amos

Long term starting SS, potential Pro Bowl type

Playing his best in Year 3 after going backwards in Year 2, still not an impact player

Leonard Floyd

Pro Bowl type by Year 2 or 3

Showed incremental improvement in Year 2 before getting injured again

Cody Whitehair

Pro Bowl type by Year 2 or 3

Actually went backwards in Year 2, playing better lately

Jonathan Bullard

Will supplant Unrein and make an impact

After being given increasing snaps, now starts, not really an impact player

Deiondre Hall

Impact rotational player at CB or S

Injured Year 2

Nick Kwiatkowski

Long term starting ILB

Starting due to injury, undistinguished so far

Deon Bush

Rotational S

Hasn’t shown up Year 2

Jordan Howard

A better pass catcher and one of the best RBs in football

Has avoided sophomore slump but hasn’t progressed as a pass-catcher

DeAndre Houston-Carson

Rotational S and impact Special Teamer of the future

Has been solid on STs, doesn’t play S

I’ve left out Tayo Fabulujeh and Daniel Braverman because I don’t remember much hype following their rookie years, or much belief that they’d ever be good, just maybe. I should probably add Cam Meredith to the list after last year, another guy whose Year 2 was lost to injury, an all too common theme. I left him off because he wasn't a "promising rookie" after Year 1 the way all of these guys were.

Now, the book isn’t written for any of these guys yet, and perhaps some of the expectations seem like hyperbole, but I think it’s fair to say that many expected better from these players, by now. For the 2015 draft class, this is the end of Year 3, when they should really be showing something and getting ready for a second contract. Even for the 2016 draft class, they say the biggest jump is between Year 1 and Year 2, so 14 games into Year 2 isn’t too early to talk about expectations. For example, both Alshon Jeffery and Kyle Long had established themselves as Pro Bowl players by this point in their careers. After the 2015 season, I think many of us figured Goldman would be a Pro Bowl caliber player by now, and that with 2 more years of development, Amos would push himself into the conversation. Many expected that White, Grasu and Langford would all put their rookie struggles behind them and settle in as long term starters for the team. Ryan Pace did a great job with the draft, many argued, as these guys would build a foundation for the future.

The future was 3-13, but similar talk followed the 2016 season. Many projected a Pro Bowl type of year for Floyd this season, with potential for double digit sacks. I personally would have bet that Whitehair would be solidifying himself as one of the top centers in the league and make the Pro Bowl. Bullard would be so good that Unrein would be cut outright, it was predicted by some. Hall and Kwiatkowski would make impact plays in their roles, maybe Bush too. Jordan Howard had Lasik surgery and was supposed to get better as a pass catcher. And of course, those guys from 2015 like White and Grasu, well 2017 would be the year where they’d show up as legit NFL starters, while Goldman would be healthy and push for that Pro Bowl.

Instead, out of the list of 13 players, the only player I can say is clearly better this season than he was in Year 1 is Amos, and it’s not by a whole lot, like he's a star or anything. Maybe Bullard improved, just because he was a complete non-factor last year, but he hasn’t made much impact this year, either, despite getting more snaps and some starts. Everyone else stood still, got injured and/or went backwards. We can probably quibble over a couple of names as to whether they’ve improved, but this team doesn’t have stars and the stars are supposed to come from this list of 13 players, plus the new guys we got this year.

Where would this team be if Kevin White was a legit No. 1 WR and Grasu was a starter and difference maker at C, with a Pro Bowler in Whitehair next to him at Guard? What if Langford and Howard were our Lightning and Thunder, so that Cohen was unnecessary and the Bears could draft another corner or OT prospect? What if Trubisky was getting added to a team with a very strong young interior o-line, strong young RB corps and strong young WR corps? On defense, what if Goldman, Floyd and Bullard were out there wrecking offensive lines and game plans on a weekly basis, and Hicks and Trevathan were just complementary players to them? And if Kwiatkowski, Hall and Bush were forcing fumbles and getting INTs in rotational roles? The reason this team isn’t good is because that list of 13 players – a subset of which Bears fans often dangle out as evidence of Pace’s drafting brilliance – isn’t developing into the list of great players it was expected to be. The team was supposed to improve as they improved. They didn’t. It didn’t.

Now, the idea is that Shaheen, Jackson, Cohen and of course, Trubisky will all get better as we go forward, but can we be sure when you see what happened to all the guys above? So, what happened?

Bears fans don’t need convincing that this coaching staff needs to go, and this is just another arrow for that quiver. It is a shame that Kevin White, Eddie Goldman, Hroniss Grasu, Leonard Floyd and Cam Meredith all have or had injuries as a fairly major factor in their Year 2/3 development, I don’t know if that’s bad luck combined with coaching, or just plain bad luck. Still, this defensive coaching staff is very good and a lot of these guys are on the defense, so it’s curious that outside of Amos, really nobody has developed. I would put a premium on player development with the new coaching staff, which is really going to come down to hiring excellent positional coaches, so we need a head coach who can do that. This was a really good staff that Fox put together in 2015 and it was still decent last year, but there was sort of an exodus of coaches last off season and I don’t think this year’s staff is nearly as good from a positional standpoint. As an example, I left out UDFAs but Cam Meredith really developed in Year 2, and it is widely believed that receivers coach Curtis Johnson had a lot to do with that, but Johnson went back to New Orleans. Bears still have Fangio and Donatell and it seems to have at least finally brought the best out of Kyle Fuller, but along with Hall and Bush, guys like LeBlanc and Callahan haven’t really developed into anything special, either.

These "promising young players" that our fans keep boasting about need to actually start taking steps forward to becoming great players, or we’re just running in place, last place. We need a new coaching staff that can make that happen. Obviously, not all of these players will be stars, but we need coaches who can find the ones who are there and get the most out of the rest.

This Fanpost was written by a Windy City Gridiron member and does not necessarily reflect the ideas or opinions of its staff or community.