The last list that ESPN had wasn’t too kind to the Chicago Bears, so using that one as context, this latest list isn’t that bad. That other list had the Bears’ Super Bowl era QB situation ranked 32nd in the league, so in comparison this 21st ranking is all good.
Until we dive a little deeper into it...
This latest ESPN Insider list is their Pro Football Focus 2020 NFL roster rankings for all 32 teams, and while they present it as a list of the best to worst rosters in the league, they also say they do it “with an eye toward the projected starters,” which leads me to believe the list is weighted towards the first stringers.
Which makes sense...
Here’s where they had the handful of teams in front of and after the Bears.
17. Minnesota Vikings - Did you know the Vikings haven’t beaten the Bears since 2017?
18. New England Patriots - It’s weird seeing the Patriots ranked so low, but with Tom Brady gone they’ll have something to prove in 2020.
19. Detroit Lions - Detroit has only won 9 games the last two years and they haven’t beat the Bears since 2017 either.
20. Atlanta Falcons - After 2 straight playoff appearances in 2016 and 2017, the Falcons have won 7 games each of the last 2 years.
- 21. Chicago Bears - If the Bears offense doesn’t improve in 2020 that’ll likely be 9 missed postseasons in the last 10 years.
22. Los Angeles Rams - In three years under Sean McVay the Rams have never had a losing record.
23. Houston Texans - The Texans have won the last 2 AFC South titles.
24. Arizona Cardinals - Rookie of the year Kyler Murray has the Cardinals on the upswing.
25. Las Vegas Raiders - The last time Jon Gruden coached the Raiders it was in year three when it all came together for the franchise with a 12 win 2000 season after being .500 the two previous years.
Now let’s see what PFF/ESPN said about their 21st ranked team, the Bears.
Biggest strength: With the return of Akiem Hicks from injury and the upgrade from Leonard Floyd to Robert Quinn at the edge defender spot opposite Khalil Mack, the Bears should have one of the best defensive fronts in the NFL. Even in a down year by his standards in 2019, Mack still earned an overall grade of 86.2. Dating to his second season in 2015, he has graded above 80.0 as both a run defender and pass-rusher in every season. That makes him the focus for offensive lines, but there aren’t a whole lot of places to hide when facing Chicago.
No argument from me or any other Bears’ fans I’d imagine with this one. A lot is predicated on health, but on paper this group could be special. Quinn’s addition is going to be huge for their pass rush as during his nine year career he’s averaged nearly 9 sacks a season. Mack has averaged a bit over 10 in his six seasons, so this tandem could be the first pair of Bears with double digit sacks in the same year since 1993 when Trace Armstrong and Richard Dent did it.
Biggest weakness: Chicago finished the 2019 season ranked 25th in PFF’s end-of-year offensive line rankings after a year that saw it allow pressure in 2.37 seconds on average — 29th in the NFL ahead of only the Dolphins, Chargers and Falcons. Offseason acquisition Germain Ifedi is projected to move from tackle to guard in the starting lineup, but he has yet to crack an overall grade of 60.0 across four years as first the starting right guard and then the right tackle for the Seattle Seahawks.
I agree the overall play from the offensive line was a weakness last year, but more efficient quarterback play will help rectify some of that. The rest will be on new o-line coach Juan Castillo to sort out, and hopefully he sets his starting five and allows then to remain in their places. In 2018 the Bears’ offensive line was looked at as a strength, but in 2019 some injuries and shuffling of positions stunted their cohesiveness.
X factor for 2020: If Nick Foles can win the starting job at quarterback — as he is projected to here — can he provide a significant upgrade over what Chicago has got from Mitchell Trubisky over the past several seasons? Foles has had flashes of brilliance, namely back-to-back elite performances to close out the 2017 postseason, but he has also had his fair share of lows outside of Philadelphia. All in all, it comes out to a 74.8 passing grade over the past three seasons on over 600 dropbacks, 10 points higher than Trubisky’s mark of 64.6.
Foles has a chance to be a very efficient quarterback in Matt Nagy’s offense, but Trubisky won’t go down without a fight. As he has been each offseason, Trubisky is putting in the work on the field, so once camp opens up — July 21st according to Cole Kmet — we’ll see how the QB battle shakes out.
And here’s how PFF has the Bears’ projecting starters graded from a year ago.
*2018 or earlier NFL grade, **2019 college grade
Elite (90+ grade), Good/high quality (80-89.9), Average (70-79.9), Below average (0-69.9)
That Bears defense that was ranked 8th overall in 2019 according to DVOA, that was 8th in total yards allowed, 9th fewest passing yards allowed, had the 8th lowest passer rating against, the 9th fewest rushing yards allowed, the 6th lowest yards per run, and was 4th best in points allowed sure has a lot of below average graded players according to Pro Football Focus.
With the Bears’ grading so horribly on both sides of the ball, it’s a miracle they went 8-8 last season. I guess the bright side is there’s plenty of room for improvement in 2020.