I think most Bears fans are optimistic that the team will perform better this year than it did last year. Probably most of us are hopeful that the starting roster is better than it was last year, but even the pessimistic among us acknowledge that the Bears are likely to find some better luck when it comes to injuries and close games.
The purpose of this article is to compare the incoming 2017 roster to the roster that started 2016, not accounting for the decreases in quality that came from injuries—I specify decreases due to injuries because the injuries to Kevin White and Jeremy Langford both led to increases in performance from their eventual replacements.
Starting quarterback - worse:
I like Mike Glennon more than most, but I’m not going to say I’m as confident in him coming into the season as I would be with Cutler. I do believe Glennon can be a better QB for the Bears than Cutler. If he is able to achieve similar average performance without the Cutler highs and lows that won and broke our Bear-fan hearts time and again, that should translate to more wins in a team with strengths in the running game and defense. For the moment, I’m labeling this position as worse and sincerely hope to be proven wrong.
Quarterback depth - better:
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Starting interior offensive line - same:
Cody Whitehair will hopefully show improvement at center in his second year, but Long is coming off of an injury and switching sides might lead to some hiccups. I predict this will all add up to performance similar to last year, which would be tremendous news for the Bears.
Interior offensive line depth - worse:
Eric Kush was a loss the Bears won’t be able to replace. Hopefully Hronis Grasu is able to be a capable backup at the guard position as well as center. Beyond him, there’s 5th round project Jordan Morgan and a slew of roster-bubblers.
Starting tackles - better:
The Bears are coming out with the same two starting tackles as 2016, so why do I list this as better? Both of these tackles improved over last season. Charles Leno Jr. still has the potential to grow into an even better player, and Bobbie Massie played terribly for the first quarter and then found his stride. That “stride” is the type of performance people like to generously call serviceable, but if he can maintain it, his year will be much better without the terrible opening quarter.
Tackle depth - better:
This is not much of a compliment to Tom Compton or Bradley Sowell, but either should be an upgrade from the performance we saw from Mike Adams last year. Many of us at WCG believe (or at least hope) the final roster will involve a backup tackle that the Bears grab off waivers when the big roster trims happen.
Starting WR1 - same:
This is probably my most controversial opinion. Alshon Jeffrey has shown a lot of talent and a much higher ceiling than Cameron Meredith. But the performance the Bears got from Jeffery in 2016 was not at that ceiling. Meredith outperformed him last year in the WR2 position, and I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to assume he can put up a similar year to Alshon’s 2016 in the number one position.
Starting WR2 - worse:
As mentioned above, Meredith played beyond all expectations when he rose to take the number two—and at times number one—position in 2016. I don’t expect that level of play from Kevin White, but I do expect the Bears to keep White on the field in the number 2 slot if his play is at all competent. I still believe in White’s potential. He played better in weeks 3 and 4 of last year than he did in weeks 1 and 2, even if his stat lines are inflated by intentional offensive schemes and calls to get him the ball.
My feeling on White is that he needs to play at full speed and aggressiveness to succeed at the NFL level with his skill set—but he’s been to wary to do so. He doesn’t have the route running finesse or technical skills to beat NFL cornerbacks yet, but he does have the size, speed, and body control to win match-ups. Hopefully somebody will poke this bear and we’ll see the confident and aggressive ball-grabber that I swooned over when he was drafted.
Starting WR3/Slot - better:
I’m giving this spot to Kendall Wright because he’s my personal favorite and he started in this position in the first preseason game. He has a successful history with Dowell Loggains and despite missing significant time due to injuries and coaching decisions, he performed well on a per-snap basis over the last two years.
WR depth - better:
Markus Wheaton. Victor Cruz. Tanner Gentry? Rueben Randle? A reborn Deonte Thompson? Take your pick. They are all better than what the Bears rolled out last year.
Starting RB - same:
To be clear, I’m labeling Jordan Howard the starting RB for 2016. There are reasons for him to perform better—especially in the stats department since he will be starting from week one—but there are also factors to balance that out. I think Jo Ho is too baller to have a “sophmore slump” but I do think opposing defenses will be game planning around him more than they did last year. I also fear the Bears will face more 8-man fronts, which was not an area of strength for Howard or the Bears running game (compared to other team’s performance against 8 man fronts, not just the obvious drop off you would see when compared to their performance against 7 in the box).
RB depth - better:
Tarik Cohen is the main reason for this bump. He has consistently impressed in training camp and his performance in the preseason against the Denver Broncos’ first team defense would have been the highlight of the Bears’ offense if Trubisky hadn’t come and dropped jaws and dimes all over the place.
Starting TE - same:
There’s potential for Sims to be a better Tight End for the Bears’ offense than Zach Miller was if he’s an upgrade at blocking and can match Miller at receiving. I haven’t seen enough to say he will be able to pull that off yet. My projection is a slight increase in blocking and a slight decrease in receiving and it averages out.
TE depth - better:
Adam Shaheen is another exciting rookie who may break trends and be a solid contributor in his first year, even if he’s only brought in the red zone so a 6’6” quarterback can pop the ball over a couple heads to a 6’7” tight end and they can laugh at all the small folks and slap each others asses as they walk off the field six points richer.
Daniel Brown? Ben Braunecker? Zach Miller? The TE group was probably the least consistent in the WCG writers’ final roster projections, but that’s because there are too many good options to know who will be cut. Ultimately, I just wasted a whole two paragraphs when all I had to say is that Logan Paulsen will not be on the 2017 roster.