The 2022 NFL regular season is here, and optimism for most NFL fanbases will never be higher. For a team like the Chicago Bears, many fans are entering the year with tempered expectations. Despite general manager Ryan Poles not directly calling this a “rebuild,” he turned over (65%) of the roster in his first off-season as the team’s top personnel leader.
Couple the turnover with the league’s third highest figure ($62.2 million) in dead space, and historically, you’ll have a team that isn’t likely to be competitive. The national narrative around the Bears hasn’t been a kind one. Most believe this to be one of the worst teams in the league. Some have gone as far as to say this will be the worst team in the NFL. Right now, all we can do is project. Even if we don’t agree.
With that being said, it’s hard to see how a roster full of young, hungry players looking to prove their worth can be as hard on the eyes as they were in 2021. Though, their final record may not reflect much, if any improvement on the prior year’s campaign. That doesn’t mean this season won’t be more fun to watch every week. Especially since their path is clear.
Instead of focusing on what could go wrong or what the general perception of this Bears team is, why not look at the bright side? Here are five bold predictions for the 2022 regular season.
1. By the end of Week 17, we will know that Justin Fields is the Bears’ quarterback of the future, and because of that, offensive coordinator Luke Getsy will be on the short-list of hot head coaching candidates in 2023
One of the main questions many people have asked themselves this off-season is, “How can Justin Fields show that he’s this team’s long-term answer at the quarterback position?” it’s a fair question to wonder.
As we’ve heard all off-season, the team’s new regime did little to help Fields in the personnel department. While that may be true, I believe they did just enough to give their second-year quarterback a chance to vastly improve upon his rookie campaign. Does that mean things will be perfect, or the developmental arc will be a steady line from week to week? No. Quarterback development is not linear, and there will be growing pains at times.
I believe the offensive line will eventually stabilize, and because of that, Getsy and his offensive coaches will find ways to get pass catchers open. The growth (albeit two quarters in a preseason game) that Fields was able to show in Cleveland will prove to be the first of many stepping stones throughout the season. More importantly, it will prove to be a glimpse into the future of what will be a bright career for the Ohio State product.
Regarding Getsy, I don’t expect him to get the Brian Daboll treatment. Especially in a league where young offensive minds are at a premium. If Fields shows considerable development and this offense takes a noticeable step forward, Getsy will be spending most of January on the interview trail.
2. Tight end Cole Kmet will be the team’s second leader pass catcher
It’s been no secret that I was not a big fan of the Kmet pick back in 2020. I have also been critical of his deficiencies in the red zone/end zone. With that in mind, it’s now or never for the former second-round pick.
Despite not getting into the end zone in 2021, he finished the season as a Top 10 tight end in yards and receptions. Considering the team’s lack of options at the receiver position and the work Kmet, Fields, and receiver Darnell Mooney put in this off-season together, I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Notre Dame product featured more in this offense.
Now, I’ve seen some lofty projections out there. Some going for as high as 70-80 catches for close to 1,000 yards. That’s not a feat I see him accomplishing in 2022, but if he goes for around 60 catches, 750 yards, and five touchdowns, that would likely be good enough to come in as the second most productive pass catcher in this offense. Especially if Mooney has the breakout year most are expecting.
Year 3 will be a big one for the tight end and one that could ultimately result in him an early extension or a possible replacement added next off-season (if things don’t go his way).
3. Two young Bears offensive linemen will prove to be long-term starters
As training camp and the preseason progressed, it became clear that this new regime was willing to play what he deemed their “best five.” After signing Riley Reiff, it felt like he’d be included in that group, but as of right now, it does not appear to be the case. Instead, the Bears will have three starters along the offensive line that have played less than a combined full season of football between them.
2022 fifth-round pick Braxton Jones got the opportunity at left tackle back in May and has not relinquished the job since. Larry Borom slowly but surely slid into the right tackle spot. Even ahead of the veteran in Reiff. The final piece to the puzzle has been Teven Jenkins. Who, despite a weird start to training camp, has seized the opportunity and ran with the starting right guard spot. Couple that with the waiver claim addition of 2021 Las Vegas Raiders first-round pick Alex Leatherwood and the Bears find themselves with four intriguing names along the offensive line.
Statistically and historically speaking, the likelihood of both fifth-round tackles panning out is extremely slim. It also seems as if the deck is stacked against Leatherwood, despite his draft status. Even so, the Bears may strike gold between Jones/Borom and Jenkins/Leatherwood. If I had to put money on the two that fulfill this prediction, it would be Jones at left tackle and Jenkins at right guard. If that happens, next off-season will look considerably easier to conquer.
4. Defensive tackle Justin Jones will prove he was the team’s best free agent signing of the 2022 off-season
Once upon a time, in what feels like forever ago land, former general manager Ryan Pace had a shrewd 2015 off-season in which he landed multiple long-term pieces. Among those value-free agency finds was Akiem Hicks.
At the time, Hicks had minimal interest in free agency and was coming to his third team in as many years. He landed a two-year, $10 million deal from the Bears and went on to become one of the team’s best players. On a defense full of stars, he was toward the top of that list. Now, I say all of this, not because I believe Jones will become Hicks but because these are the types of signings that reap the most rewards (long-term) in free agency.
The 26-year-old signed a two-year, $12 million deal this past off-season after the team’s initial attempt to sign Larry Ogunjobi fell through. On the surface, I believe Ogunjobi is currently the better player. His deal was also going to be for three years and north of $40 million. Suffice it to say, the overall price point was completely different.
Jones has some upside. He also valued youth and experience. How high his ceiling remains to be seen, but something tells me that Jones will prove to be a long-term piece for this defense. Even if it’s not as a star-studded force of nature to the stature of Hicks.
5. Safety Jaquan Brisker will finish Top 5 in Defensive Rookie of the Year voting
Heading into the 2022 NFL draft, most (including myself) had the Bears going offensive-heavy in the early rounds of the draft. Yet, their first two picks were defensive players. Cornerback Kyler Gordon made a lot of sense, especially considering the past state of their cornerback room. The surprise pick came when Brisker was taken at No. 49, especially considering the offensive talent on the board.
Despite all that, Brisker was one of the stars of training camp. He had quite the impressive preseason debut before missing the final two games with a broken hand. Since then, he has confirmed that he’s good to go for Week 1, and there’s been a report floating around that he’s already out of his cast.
Draft status is a key component to winning rookie of the year. Especially if the overall production is close between two players drafted in two different spots in the draft. That’s why I wasn’t willing to go as bold as saying he would win DROY. There’s still no reason why Brisker can’t end up finishing top five in the voting and become a fan favorite within his first year.
The Penn State product is very likely going to play more in the box and become that big hitter but don’t sleep on his coverage ability. Especially with other ballhawks around him. This should be a situation where his play elevates others around him (namely Eddie Jackson), and it should come back the same way for him if someone like Jaylon Johnson or Gordon has a big year at cornerback.