Yes, it’s way too early to make starting lineup predictions. Yes, an injury here or there could throw a wrench into the starting eleven on either side of the ball. And yes, a late free agent addition (à la Josh Sitton) could alter plans too, but as of right now, here’s how I see the 2017 starting line up for the Chicago Bears shaping up.
For comparisons sake, I’ll use the predictions from ESPNs Jeff Dickerson, who gave his projections for the Bears earlier today as a part of their NFL Nation’s Predicting starting lineups for all 32 NFL teams.
I’ll list Dickerson’s guess first along with what he had to say, them mine will follow in italics.
QB: Mike Glennon: The Bears paid Glennon $16 million guaranteed in 2017 to replace Jay Cutler until first-round pick Mitchell Trubisky is ready to take over.
Yep, while I’d love to see rookie Mitchell Trubisky have a great offseason and earn the starting job, I think the Bears will be cautious will him early on.
RB: Jordan Howard: Howard finished second in the NFL in rushing yards (1,313) as a rookie.
Agreed. If a viable number two emerges, we could see Howard’s attempts remain around 17 per game, but be even more effective.
WR: Cameron Meredith: Meredith -- a former college quarterback -- had a breakout year with 66 receptions for 888 yards and four touchdowns.
Meredith should surpass a thousand yards receiving now that he’s firmly entrenched as a starter.
LT: Charles Leno: A former seventh-round pick, Leno permanently took over at left tackle in 2015 and started all 16 games last season.
Unless a Sittonesque upgrade presents itself, I expect Leno to remain the blind side protector in 2017.
LG: Josh Sitton: Sitton will earn $6.25 million in the second year of the deal he signed with Chicago after the Green Bay Packers released him.
The only thing that will stop either Bears’ guard from opening up as a week one starter would be injury.
C: Cody Whitehair: The 2016 second-round choice out of Kansas State turned out to be one of the Bears’ best players on offense last season, and he has an incredibly bright future.
I’ll get this prediction out of the way right now, Whitehair will be a Pro Bowler in 2017.
RG: Kyle Long: Long is a three-time Pro Bowl selection who is recovering from an ugly ankle injury that cut short his 2016 season.
If he’s healthy, and can stay healthy, he’ll be back in the Pro Bowl.
RT: Bobby Massie: Chicago signed Massie in free agency last offseason and will pay him over $5 million to anchor the right side of the line.
The drop off from Massie to Mike Adams last year was very noticeable. He’s a serviceable player on the right side and as the roster is constructed right now, their best option at right tackle.
TE: Dion Sims: The Bears paid Sims good money ($6 million guaranteed in 2017) to spearhead a revamped tight end group that also includes Adam Shaheen and Zach Miller.
Do not be surprised to see Sims be more than a blocker. He has sneaky athleticism. The Bears will also run a lot of double tight end stuff this year with Sims as the #1 and Miller or Shaheen as the move-TE.
WR: Markus Wheaton: The Bears hope Wheaton can recapture the form he showed in 2015 when he caught 44 passes for 749 yards (17.0 yards per reception) and five touchdowns for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
I finally disagree with Dickerson!
If we’re talking the number three, slot wide out, I think Kendall Wright wins that job. He has experience with Dowell Loggains from their time in Tennessee, where he had 94 receptions for 1,079 yards in 2013
WR: Kevin White: The seventh overall pick in 2015, White has played in just four regular-season games because of leg injuries.
A healthy White would be a huge part of the offense. He and Meredith could be a formidable duo.
DE: Akiem Hicks: Hicks set career highs in sacks (seven), tackles (50), forced fumbles (two) and pass breakups (three) in his first year in Chicago.
I think Hicks is due for a contract extension asap.
NT: Eddie Goldman: Goldman is a difference-maker when healthy (seven career sacks), but he appeared in only six games last year.
I predicted a Pro Bowl for him last year, so if he’s healthy, I see no reason why he shouldn't make a push for that honor this year.
DE: Jonathan Bullard: Bullard -- chosen in the third round in 2016 -- needs to make a big jump in Year 2, and if not, the Bears can always turn to veteran Mitch Unrein.
I really hope Bullard takes a jump in play, but I think the newly signed Jaye Howard ends up starting at defensive end. Unrein is an ok player, but he’d be better in small spurts off the bench.
OLB: Pernell McPhee: McPhee is a big-time leader on defense, but he missed the first six games of last season because of knee surgery. Veterans Willie Young and Lamarr Houston are also squarely in the mix at the crowded position.
Health is the only thing that will keep McPhee from starting.
ILB: Danny Trevathan: There is no timetable for Trevathan to return from a torn patellar tendon, so in the meantime, the Bears can lean on second-year backer Nick Kwiatkoski.
I don’t Trevathan being ready to go week one, so it’ll be Kwiatkoski filling in.
ILB: Jerrell Freeman: The veteran tallied 127 tackles last season despite missing four games because of a PED suspension.
He’s a tackling machine and a lock to start.
OLB: Leonard Floyd: The ninth overall pick of the 2016 draft, Floyd had seven sacks as a rookie but also battled concussion issues.
Did you hear that Floyd was up to 250 pounds? This guy is in for a monster year.
CB: Prince Amukamara: The Bears agreed to pay Amukamara $7 million guaranteed on a one-year prove-it deal.
He’s a solid football player and unless a youngster really steps up, he’ll be starting.
FS: Adrian Amos: Amos was a little up and down last year, but he has started 30 games since 2015.
Amos has had 30 starts to figure out a way to intercept a pass, and he’s yet to do so. I think Eddie Jackson, the rookie from Alabama, ends up starting next to the veteran Demps.
SS: Quintin Demps: Chicago signed Demps in free agency after he intercepted six passes for the Houston Texans.
This was a really good veteran signing.
CB: Marcus Cooper: A tall cornerback at 6-foot-2, Cooper ($6 million guaranteed in 2017) picked off four passes for Arizona last year.
I think Cooper has more upside than Amukamara, so he’ll definitely be starting at one corner spot.
Dickerson didn’t give his thoughts on the nickle position, which is odd, because teams these days, spend about 50% of the time out of their base defense. I predict Bryce Callahan wins the nickle spot for the Bears, but it’ll be a neck and neck race with Cre’Von LeBlanc.
K: Connor Barth: Barth connected on 18 of 23 field goal attempts after the Bears signed him to replace Robbie Gould.
For know, it’ll be Barth, but once we see another kicker in camp I think Barth’s days are numbered. I’m interested to see UDFA Andy Phillips develop.
P: Pat O’Donnell: O’Donnell is coming off another solid season in which he averaged 44.0 yards per punt with a net average of 38.4.
He does what the Bears ask him to do with his directional punting.
KR: Deonte Thompson: Thompson averaged 23.0 yards on 35 kickoff returns with a long of 64 yards.
Is Thompson even going to make the 53 man roster? Meredith, White, Wright, and Wheaton will probably be the top 4, with Josh Bellamy sticking around as the special teamer.
If rookie Tarik Cohen can show the ability to return kicks, I think he wins this job.
PR: Eddie Jackson: Jackson returned 11 punts for 253 yards and two touchdowns before he broke his leg in his final season at Alabama.
Jackson and Cohen may split time on punt return duties.
Dickerson didn’t give any love for the long snapper, but I think it’s Patrick Scales again.
What are your thoughts on the Bears’ starters in 2017?
How do you see them opening up the season?