If Matt Nagy believed his first NFL head coaching job was difficult up until now, he’s about to experience his first roster cutdown. A cutdown this Saturday where Nagy and his coaching staff have to decide on their team depth amidst a myriad of competitions, and essentially end the professional dreams of some of the players the Bears have gotten to know over the past six weeks.
One preseason game left against the Bills means one final opportunity for some of those guys to make a firm declaration on who’s in and who’s out for Chicago in the 2018 season. Some players are quite literally fighting for their jobs in the last exhibition. Announcements beforehand of who is featuring and who isn’t, will also give us an idea of where the Bears view certain players.
Even so with what happens against Buffalo, the Bears do admittedly have a deeper roster in more places than recent years, which can be a comforting thought. Then one notes that Chicago still possesses issues in crucial core areas, and many a collars are tugged nervously. Most of those areas acting as potential Achilles heels (hello, pass rush!), and some of them not being uncommon (a lack of even solid offensive tackles across the NFL is an epidemic).
Without further ado, here’s my final 53-man roster projection for the 2018 Bears.
Note: this doesn’t account for potential additions after rosters are finalized, as I’d have to be Nostradamus to accurately project those.
Mitchell Trubisky, Chase Daniel
As if there were any doubt. Any success the Bears enjoy in the near future rides on Trubisky’s right arm. Much of his continued development will come thanks to the mentorship of an experienced Daniel that can step in and manage the game if need be. These two present the most important player relationship Chicago has.
With apologies to Tyler Bray, the Bears don’t need anyone else at quarterback. Bray hasn’t done enough to separate himself as being worth the rare third quarterback designation. Bray was always signed to be that extra mentor for Trubisky during training camp. Perhaps if the Bears deem his mentorship to be valuable enough, they’ll find a way to keep Bray around in that capacity. It won’t be on the active roster.
Running back (4)
Jordan Howard, Tarik Cohen, Benny Cunningham, Ryan Nall
Howard, Cohen, and Cunningham were locked in when Cunningham signed a one-year deal in April. You have your offensive bell cow in Howard, your versatile runner and pass catcher in Cohen, and the reliable veteran in Cunningham. This was never in question even as Cunningham worked his way back from injury through most of the preseason.
What was up in the air was that fourth tailback. Taquan Mizzell has received every shot to impress the Bears this preseason and he’s done exactly nothing of note with it. The man affectionately called “Smoke” should be coined “Cloud”, as in three yards and a cloud of dust.
Meanwhile, Nall has averaged 5.1 yards a carry and typically run behind worse Bears offensive lines when he’s played. He’s a depth running back, and he’s definitely more capable than Mizzell.
I know there’s been discussions surrounding the Bears keeping a true fullback in Michael Burton, but when your tight ends can do that job: why keep the less versatile and limited player? It doesn’t make sense.
Wide receiver (6)
Allen Robinson, Anthony Miller, Taylor Gabriel, Kevin White, Josh Bellamy, Javon Wims
As with the running backs, the roles for Chicago’s wide receivers are ingrained. Despite easing his way in from an ACL injury, Allen Robinson is going to be the Bears’ No. 1 target. Anthony Miller will act as the No. 2, and Taylor Gabriel is the gadget No. 3. Meanwhile, Josh Bellamy is the designated special teams ace of this group, and White is the entrenched former first round pick trying to salvage his career.
Where it gets interesting is the bottom half. Up until the game against the Chiefs last Saturday, I don’t think we could’ve made a firm declaration that Javon Wims was a lock for the final roster. After torching Kansas City for over 100 yards and making several deep, clutch catches, the seventh rounder is a youthful mainstay.
Overall, this is a Bears’ receiving group that’s dramatically improved from last year’s albatross. In fact, it’s arguably Chicago’s deepest and highest caliber position overall. Quite the turnaround in one year’s time.
Tight ends (4)
Trey Burton, Adam Shaheen, Dion Sims, Daniel Brown
Adam Shaheen’s ankle and foot injury throws a wrench in what looked like the Bears’ most promising skill group through most of late July and August. Even so, Burton should have a huge year as the de facto No. 1, Sims will thrive more in an able No. 3 role, and Daniel Brown is an excellent backup at the “U”.
Once Shaheen returns in the early goings, then the fun really begins for this athletic and sizable tight end cohort.
Offensive line (8)
Cody Whitehair, Charles Leno Jr., Kyle Long, James Daniels, Bobby Massie, Eric Kush, Bradley Sowell, Rashaad Coward
Inside, the Bears are remarkably gifted and deep. Not many NFL teams can match an interior trio like Whitehair, Daniels, and Long. Throw in one of football’s best guard slash center swingmen in Kush, and you have the recipe for a formidable middle wall.
It gets dicey at tackle, which is why the Bears keep multiple. If anything should happen to Leno or Massie, Chicago is in a precarious spot. That’s why the Bears won’t be able to afford being too picky with who they keep as depth.
Sowell suffered an ankle sprain against Kansas City, and is still the Bears’ top swing tackle. Coward is a defensive line convert progressing quickly, and is likely a year away from being a major contributor. Both are unfortunately the best the Bears can do for now.
Defensive line (6)
Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman, Roy Robertson-Harris, Jonathan Bullard, Bilal Nichols, John Jenkins
Another one of the Bears’ better positions, they have tangible depth that can actually play now. Robertson-Harris looks poised for a breakout in his first year as a starter. Bullard is a solid rotational piece. The rookie Nichols may play a part in occasional special situations. And Jenkins is an experienced veteran that’s been around the block.
Add those four to one of the NFL’s best duos up front in Hicks and Goldman, and you have a recipe for disaster for opposing offenses. Hicks doesn’t have to worry about being overworked in 2018.
Outside linebacker (5)
Leonard Floyd, Sam Acho, Aaron Lynch, Isaiah Irving, Kylie Fitts
By far the Bears’ thinnest and weakest position group, everyone outside of Floyd and Acho hold on more in that Chicago doesn’t have many options to choose from. That includes Lynch, who hasn’t featured at all this preseason and might be the Bears’ second best pass rusher anyway. And it includes Irving and Fitts: two young guys with limited ceilings but are better than nothing.
Long story short: the Bears better hope and pray Floyd - who is already working with a broken hand - doesn’t miss any significant time in 2018.
Inside linebacker (5)
Roquan Smith, Danny Trevathan, Nick Kwiatkoski, Joel Iyiegbuniwe, John Timu
Smith, Trevathan, and Kwiatkoski comprise a group the Bears are very proud of and comfortable with. Should anything happen to Trevathan injury-wise, or if Smith isn’t fully prepared to play at the start of the regular season, Kwiatkoski is an excellent backup in an emergency situation. I’m don’t think any other NFL franchise can match the depth and talent Chicago possesses at inside linebacker.
Towards the bottom, Iyiegbuniwe projects as more of a contributor and starter in 2019, but should be solid enough to star on special teams early. While Timu has been one of the Bears’ valued players on the third phase for awhile. That’s enough to stick around.
Kyle Fuller, Prince Amukamara, Bryce Callahan, Cre’Von LeBlanc, Sherrick McManis, Michael Joseph
In terms of starters, Fuller, Amukamara, and Callahan are a very able-bodied trio at cornerback. No one will confuse them for elite play, but they do their jobs and more as necessary.
The Bears would do well to stay healthy on the boundary, though, as there isn’t much of any reliability or experience behind Fuller and Amukamara. If Callahan misses time in 2018, LeBlanc can step in without missing a beat. If the boundary duo misses games, Michael Joseph is a shaky prospect at best. Having a noticeably good preseason is different from being attacked by NFL receivers when the action counts.
Eddie Jackson, Adrian Amos, Deon Bush, DeAndre Houston-Carson
While Houston-Carson suffered a broken arm against the Broncos a couple weeks of ago, he isn’t going on injured reserve. That more than anything is an indication the Bears’ top backup free safety and one of their best special teams players makes the active 53-man roster to start the 2018 season.
The Bears will have slim pickings of who to put behind Jackson, Amos, and their top backup in Bush in the meantime. That’s nothing to get worked up about when there aren’t capable replacements on the roster otherwise.
Cody Parkey, Pat O’Donnell, Patrick Scales
Finally, we reach the vaunted and highly anticipated pure specialists. Parkey is the NFL’s ninth-highest paid kicker, and is expected to give the Bears a measure of stability there they haven’t enjoyed in the past two seasons. Anything less than average kicking, and watch out for the news cycle.
I know there’s also been talk of Ryan Winslow potentially supplanting O’Donnell at punter, but I don’t see it. Winslow would have to have punted like Ray Guy in August with coffin corners galore if he was going to take over for Chicago. O’Donnell doesn’t have a firm future with the Bears on a one-year deal, but he pushes on a little longer.
Robert is an editor, writer, and producer for Windy City Gridiron, The Rock River Times, The Athletic Chicago, and other fine publications. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski and reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.