For much of Bears fandom, the team’s list of needs are pretty well-defined. Obviously, there are many places where a a 5-11 team can improve beyond the obvious glaring holes. This isn’t a free agent primer or an off-season plan by any stretch. But if NFL trends are any clue, then it seems likely that a new head coach would sign a handful of players from his former team.
When the Bears first hired Matt Nagy, my first instinct was to dig up information on him. Then I wanted to see what his offense might look like and how it could fit with the current personnel. The logical next step was to look at the Chiefs roster and see which free agents might be a fit for the Bears.
There were two names that immediately jumped out to me on offense: guard Zach Fulton and wide receiver Albert Wilson. Those are both need positions for the Bears and here we find two players that would know the system while also not breaking the bank.
There was another name that I kept seeing that interests me for various reasons. De’Anthony Thomas, at first glance, doesn’t appear to be a player that the Bears need. I mean Tarik Cohen is already on the team and a similar player—Taquan Mizzell—couldn’t even find the field last year, why would there be a need for another guy like that?
First off, I think that Thomas brings a more natural element to the return game that Cohen doesn’t. The other part to this is that I think Thomas was miscast as a slot receiver in Kansas City. He was a running back in college and should be used similarly to Cohen. But the biggest part for me is that he knows the offense and terminology. In addition to potentially being another speedy weapon, he can help other players with the transition to a new offense. Well worth the meager price tag he should command.
The best way to envision these players is watch them. So let’s take a quick trip to the film vault and take a look at these three players, shall we?
Zach Fulton (Guard/Center)
Let me preface this by saying that all of these clips are of Fulton at center. He played all three interior positions with the Chiefs but the most recent examples are at center, so that’s what I rolled with.
We will start with pass blocking. Typically, the center doesn’t have a defender lined up directly across from him when playing a 40-front. So in pass protection schemes, his first read is a blitzing linebacker or an end looping around on a stunt.
In this example, the Chargers rush four without any stunts. On this play, his responsibility is making sure that no one comes up the middle, sensing the right guard getting beat inside, he slides to his right and does his job perfectly.
Here the Raiders are in a base 3-4 look, which presents a situation for all five offensive lineman to “man-up” with a defender. Fulton has a massive nose tackle directly in front of him. He initially gets pushed back but is able to re-anchor which allows Alex Smith to slide to his right and make a big play.
The Raiders again show their base 3-4 look. This is a well-designed blitz. Fulton appears to do his job here. With a man directly in front of him, he has to pass the blitz off to the back on this play. He shows solid technique in pass protection, again allowing the pocket to form for Smith.
Now let’s move onto run blocking. The Chiefs ran a fair amount of zone blocking scheme (ZBS) which is what the Bears did much of the past 3 seasons. This block is a must for a ZBS team. Double-teaming the nose tackle, then peeling off to the second level. Fulton ends up getting a piece of three defenders on this play.
Here is another key block for an interior lineman to make. This is a “down block,” which allows the left guard to “pull” into the hole vacated by the center and right guard. Fulton shows really nice technique and quickness here.
Again showing off his quick feet, here we see Fulton get to the second level to seal-off a linebacker. He ultimately allows this linebacker to disengage but had this been blocked better on the play-side, Fulton’s man would have been taken out of the play. This is win in my book.
With the nose tackle lined up in a “0” alignment (heads up on the center), Fulton needs to use pure strength to root him out of the hole for this play to be successful. He immediately wins with leverage and strength, turning the nose tackle to the side before his help is able to get there.
Look, Zach Fulton isn’t an All-Pro, but he is a very solid football player. The interior of the offensive line is all about leverage, quickness, and strength. Fulton has demonstrated all of these traits in his four season with the Chiefs. He also has the ability to play both guard positions as well as center.
I only bring up the center part because with Nagy coming in to install a new offense, it might be the time to move Cody Whitehair to left guard, if you were to make such a move. Since Fulton has experience with the offense, knows the calls, the protections, etc., it might make sense to make the switch to help Mitch Trubisky and the offensive line as a whole.
Albert Wilson (Wide Receiver)
Wide receiver has to be the single biggest bugaboo on the Bears roster heading into the off-season. This is another spot where you can add a quality player to the roster, while simultaneously adding a player with knowledge of the offense. Given that the wide receiver position is likely to have—at least—three new faces come September, Albert Wilson could be a calming presence in that room.
Wilson lined up both outside and in the slot for the Chiefs, and I would imagine that versatility would serve him well on the Bears too. On this play he is initially lined up outside as the “Z” receiver (flanker) but motions into the backfield before the snap. This play is a good example of his quickness as this is basically a triple-option with a shovel-pass built into the design.
Here we see Wilson as essentially the “Z” in a bunched alignment with trips to the right. He runs just a simple crossing route which again shows off his quickness. This will be the type of play that will be a staple of the new Bears offense. Having a player with quick feet and good speed will be a key to making it work.
This is some more of that versatility that we see in both the Chiefs offense and also in the way that Wilson is used. He initially lines up as a running back, flanking Smith in the shotgun. He motions to what is essentially the “Y” or in-line tight end position before the snap. He purposefully whiffs on the chip block to the edge rusher and quickly turns around. This is essentially a naked screen pass.
Another staple of the Chiefs offense that we will likely see a lot of are wide receiver screens (I can literally hear everyone groan as I write this). Before you do though, consider just how poorly coached the Bears offenses have been over the years. With better coaching, they should be able to execute these screens much more proficiently than in the past. Having a player like Wilson—who is successful at running screens—on the team, should help with the learning curve.
This play was lucky, yes, but Wilson was also open and I wanted to show his straight-line speed. This was a late throw by Smith but demonstrates exactly why I like Wilson in the slot. He is quick and fast, the perfect combination for exploiting match-ups with larger, slower players that typically clog up the middle of the field.
Another example of the quickness and the speed. This play is essentially mirrored bubble screens. Wilson is able to make a few defenders miss in the open field and take this short pass to the end zone.
An offense with a west coast base and spread concepts sprinkled in, will need to have some speedy and shifty receivers to pass the ball effectively. Albert Wilson isn’t a one, heck, he’s not really a two either, but he is a really nice player to have on your team. His value would extend beyond the box score but it would certainly help there as well.
De’Anthony Thomas (RB/WR/PR/KR)
Thomas is truly a man without a position. Well, perhaps a better way is to say that he is simply a weapon. With big time speed and elusiveness, this is a player that could add another dimension to this Bears team. Likely a return man and role player, this could still be a very valuable addition in free agency. He may never get past training camp, but he is certainly worth a shot.
His speed commands respect. It is easy to use him as a decoy, such as this fake jet sweep. With no other options open, he gives you a nice outlet that can make a short pass into a nice gain by a simple move. This is a perfect example of the speed and elusiveness that could make him so dangerous.
Here he is again in the open field. For the life of me, I cannot figure out why he wasn’t used more in Kansas City, but that could be a good thing for the Bears. It is obvious that he still has plenty of juice in his legs.
Again, I think he was miscast as a wide receiver. But he does show some feel for getting open against zone coverage. Despite his diminutive stature, he has no trouble going over the middle either.
I mentioned that he is a return man too. My opinion on the Bears current returner (Tarik Cohen) is that he is lacking instincts for the position. Certainly he can get better at that but adding more dynamic play-makers to your team is never a bad thing. Case in point...
Here is a kick return touchdown from college. He certainly has the ability to return kicks and at the very least, he should provide some legitimate competition for Cohen.
Speaking of Oregon, did you know that Thomas’ former offensive coordinator and head coach is now the Bears offensive coordinator? Neat, huh?
I would expect to see a little bit of these option type of plays added to the Bears playbook. Who better to run some of these on occasion than Thomas? These option plays will likely end up as a part of the offense going forward. We likely won’t see them become a huge part, but I would be shocked if the Bears didn’t run 10-15 RPO’s (Run/Pass Options) per game. With both Thomas and Cohen on the field, you can create some really beneficial match-ups and also some premature grey hairs for defensive coordinators.
This is just a simple jet sweep that Thomas takes to the house. A lot of teams run this play—or some variation of it—but nobody seemed to run it quite like Oregon. Even if we only see a handful of these per season, I am glad that the guy who helped draw this up is on my team now.
Look, none of these players are going to completely tilt the field for the Bears. I see a starting offensive lineman, a very useful wide receiver, and a complete wildcard here. But they are also going to be paid as such.
The Bears will almost assuredly target a receiver that is more commensurate with a number one. There is a near certainty that they will add another tight end, tackle, some outside linebackers, among other positions. But for somewhere around $8-10M in total for three players, you can certainly do worse than these three.
As I mentioned above, they also bring value to this team beyond what they would provide on the field. They know the system, the terminology, and they will be able to help other players adjust to said system. While it is difficult to quantify that value, I would still look at each player even if they weren’t from the Chiefs. That is just happens to be an added bonus.
So when March 14th rolls around and teams start signing free agents, which names will we hear coming to the Bears? If the past is any indicator, then I wouldn’t be surprised to hear any of these names.