Previously I reviewed everything that happened on offense and the developments within. This time, we're looking at the defense, which is going to feature a brand new group over the course of the next year. There will be new faces everywhere as pieces are still needed to fix an underwhelming unit.
Notable additions - Jaquan Brisker (draft); Elijah Hicks (draft); Dane Cruikshank (free agent)
Notable departure - Tashaun Gipson
Overview: This position group saw the single largest amount of improvement from 2021 to 2022. Eddie Jackson returned to his elite form before landing on season ending IR with an unfortunate injury. Jaquan Brisker has turned into a playmaking stud who contributes everywhere on defense. Elijah Hicks, a fellow rookie to Jaquan Brisker, has filled in on spot duty while Eddie Jackson heals up. Dane Cruikshank has been decent when featured as a heavy nickel.
The best part is the group now has the pieces to be excellent for years to come. This is the one position group on defense where I don't foresee much of a change. Barring anything unexpected, that is.
Notable additions - Kyler Gordon (draft); Jaylon Jones (undrafted free agent)
Notable departures - Thomas Graham
Overview: Just like at Safety, most of the actual improvement came from the young rookies. While it's definitely been a rough year for the youngsters, Kyler Gordon has flashed serious potential to close out the regular season. It's that more impressive when he spent his whole rookie season learning two positions - nickel and outside corner. When Jaylon Johnson went down with a rib injury, Kyler Gordon kicked outside full-time. He looks natural as a field corner. Jaylon Jones emerged as a late-season surprise as well.
The development of the youth movement in the secondary is a huge positive to build off of. Still, it won't shock me to see a big name added to this group during free agency and/or the draft. That will depend on how the coaching staff views Kyler Gordon for the long term - is he a nickel? Or a corner? Behind Kyler Gordon, there needs to be a lot more depth added.
Notable additions - Nicholas Morrow (free agent); Joe Thomas (free agent); Jack Sanborn (undrafted free agent)
Notable departures - Roquan Smith; Danny Trevathan
Overview: The heart and imagination of every Bears fan in the world was captured by the ludicrous level of play from UDFA rookie Jack Sanborn. This came shortly after the announcement Roquan Smith was dealt to the Baltimore Ravens for draft picks and a player who was cut a couple weeks afterward (A.J. Klein). Needless to say, very few people saw that coming.
What I do see coming is a sizeable amount of change at LB. My big issue here is, even with the incredible flashes of brilliance from Jack Sanborn, I'm still not convinced he won't see competition brought in. The signing of Nicholas Morrow did not move the needle much, either. The LB position requires a ton of help, from the starting lineup, to the depth chart. At least two of the LB positions — Sam and Will — will need answers. Jack Sanborn is the one guy I'd keep and let compete at the Mike. Competition could very well be signed or drafted.
The Will LB position is the biggest hole here, and I anticipate some premium resources will be used to shore up that spot. My too-early prediction is either the Bears' 2nd or 3rd round pick is being spent on finding that answer.
Notable additions - Justin Jones (free agent); Armon Watts (waiver claim); Al-Quadin Muhammed (free agent); Dominique Robinson (draft)
Notable departures - Khalil Mack; Robert Quinn; Akiem Hicks; Eddie Goldman
Overview - Here, we have the single weakest group on the Chicago Bears' roster. Not for the lack of trying; rather, they lost three All-Pro caliber players in one year. Those players were moved to clear the books financially and to recoup some draft capital. Still, this group has underperformed severely.
The signing of Al-Quadin Muhammed has looked to be a sizeable mistake. Justin Jones has been okay as a 3-tech but struggles against the run. The same can be said of the entire unit - not one group in the league has struggled in their run fits more than the Bears. I do like Armon Watts as a player at the shade and a super sub at the 3-tech, just not enough dominance to go uncontested. Dominique Robinson had a superb debut in his rookie year. He hasn't been heard from since then.
I really don't have a choice but to award this position group with my lowest grade. This group will look completely different in 2023. I'd expect at least three, if not four new starters along the D-line. I'd also expect the single biggest splash to be made at DT - Ryan Poles swung big for Larry Ogunjobi before a failed physical wiped that deal out. Daron Payne would look outstanding in orange and navy.
There is a ton of work to be done up front for the Bears' defense. Every spot at D-line and LB stands to see considerable improvement. Luckily for them, the secondary appears to be coming together and may be set for the long term. As much as we all want to see superstars landed at wide receiver, the O-line, and anywhere around Justin Fields on offense, there's one harsh reality. The defense is in even worse shape.
It will likely take multiple years to get this group up to standards. The one thing I will credit Matt Eberflus and Ryan Poles with here is, at the very least, this group is scrappy. They just don't have much at all in terms of talent, aside from the DBs. Bring in the headliners, then fill out the depth chart. The sheer amount of change we expect to see is tremendous.
Their resources are plentiful this year. Whatever the Bears do not achieve during free agency will likely be addressed during the draft. I do feel there will be a lot of double-dipping between free agency and the draft when it comes to the D-line and LB spots. This Bears' defense is dead in the water without the motors at 3-tech and Will driving them forward. I've felt the likeliest script was previously written in 2004 - Jerry Angelo traded for Adewale Ogunleye and drafted both Tommie Harris along with Tank Johnson with their first two picks of the 2004 draft. Ryan Poles may very well swing for a huge trade with the D-line this year.