Football

Welcome back to our short series to hopefully get you a little more fired up for the draft that takes place in two short weeks, but let’s be real: anything that falls under live sports is just going to kill it since we’re all dying for something that isn’t a rerun. I’ll gladly take watching Mel Kiper talking over college football highlights instead of rewatching The Town for the tenth time in April.

Today we’ll be looking at some of the players that I’ve seen mocked to the Bears should they happen to stand pat and select players at picks 43 and 50.

 

The Linemen: 

The case for going after someone on the offensive line is painfully obvious to anyone who watched the Bears play offense last year. Protection was inconsistent and the run blocking was spotty at best. With the retirement of Kyle Long, the Bears need to shore up the inside of their line and hope the outside of the line continues to progress. Below you’ll find short scouting reports on two players the Bears could be looking at if they are still available in the second round.

Lloyd Cushenberry: IOL, LSU
I’ve seen Cushenberry mocked to the Bears, admittedly a lot less recently than initially. Throughout this process it looks like his stock has dropped a little bit after a superb week of workouts at the Senior Bowl lifted his stock to right around where the Bears pick. It looks like he will be there when the Bears pick in the second round, and while he has been touted as an almost immediate starter, there will undoubtedly be people wondering if Guard could be better filled between Alex Bars and Germain Ifedi while the Bears make a sexier pick here.

Caesar Ruiz: C, Michigan
Ruiz presents a similar upside if picked by the Bears as Cushenberry, however Ruiz is unquestionably the best interior offensive lineman in the draft this year. Bears fans might be bored by the pick, but watching any of his highlights will shut their stupid mouths quickly. His tape is dominant and it’s quick to see why he’s the most heralded prospect of the bunch. He would fit perfectly in Matt Nagy’s offense, since he has the speed and strength to peel off combo blocks and get to the second level on runs out of Nagy’s preferred read option look. The real question is if Ruiz will still be there at 43, given that he is being mocked anywhere from there on the low end all the way up to picks in the mid 20s.

 

The Receivers:

The 2020 wide receiver class is so stupid stacked with talent that it could go down as one of the best classes in NFL history. Since the Bears won’t have a crack at any of those top prospects, they could be looking at a wide receiver that isn’t the total package yet and needs a bit of time to develop. This is unfortunate when you look at how slow Javon Wims and Riley Ridley are coming along, but if the Bears added any of the following players I think the offense would instantly improve drastically. However, be advised that all of these players have also been previously mocked to any and all of the Bears division opponents.

Brandon Aiyuk: Arizona State
Aiyuk brings the speed and ability to go over the top that Taylor Gabriel brought the Bears when healthy, but while Gabriel was 5’7” and 168, Aiyuk is 6’0” and 205. Watch his highlight video and get excited. Aiyuk has tremendous breakaway speed and can take any route to the house. He causes separation that just can’t be coached or schemed, and on his highlight package there’s a double move he puts on an Oregon DB that made me laugh out loud.

Jaylen Reagor: TCU
Apparently Jaylen Reagor can squat 620 pounds, which is absolutely bonkers, but watching his tape shows someone who looks much faster than his combine 4.47 40 yard dash (and instead more like his preposterous 4.22 hand-timed 40 at TCU’s recent pro day). His pro comps are Stefon Diggs and Percy Harvin according to The Ringer, but unlike Harvin his tape is filled with him making high-point catches that you wouldn’t expect a 5’11” guy to make. He might make a better outside WR and therefore a better fit for the offense, but who knows if he can still win those jump balls against CBs that are 2-4 inches taller than him. As an added bonus, he runs the reverse so well it reminded me of early Randy Moss, back in those Vikings days when you held your breath every time he touched the ball.

Laviska Shenault Jr: Colorado
I had no idea who this dude was until draft season, but if there’s someone with better tape out there I haven’t seen it yet. I love this dude’s tape and will be a sucker and probably draft him in fantasy, which might actually be me putting a curse on him. Shenault is all over the field, bodying out DBs on slant routes, making contested catches in traffic, and also running the Wildcat with crazy success. Basically, he looks like Cordarrelle Patterson. He breaks away with a beautiful second gear, and if he does get caught, well, he led all draft eligible receivers with 46 broken tackles in the last two years. Most of the scouting reports I’ve seen on Shenault mention his lack of polish as a proper WR and how he will need an innovative offensive mind to get him involved, and maybe that makes Chicago an optimal fit for him.

Michael Pittman: USC
Most scouts don’t expect Pittman to be around when the Bears pick, which would be a shame because damn, he is so polished. When watching him play, he looks a lot like Allen Robinson and throughout this draft process he has often drawn comparisons to the Bears’ best offensive player. With that in mind, he is unbelievably talented and blocks as well as he runs routes. He has highlight tapes of him straight up Mossing college DBs, and while he might not fill the Taylor Gabriel/Tyreek Hill burner role in the offense, he is certainly capable of dominating NFL defensive backs. If the Bears got him and had him line up opposite Allen Robinson, I think Anthony Miller makes the Pro Bowl simply because safeties would be so preoccupied with shading towards the outside guys that Miller would feast on single coverage looks or filling the middle seams against Cover 2 or Cover 3 looks.

Is drafting an IOL or WR irresponsible when the Bears defensive secondary is missing half their starters from last year, and 3 of the 5 DBs that were on the field during their phenomenal 2018 season? I guess that’s up to the front office to decide. I have a feeling if the Bears stay at 43 and 50, you could see one of these names in a Bears jersey next season, and that’s not too bad. I think a lot of the signings Pace made in the second wave of free agency were designed to allow him to look at the best player available at almost every slot, so we’ll see! Shit, now I’m excited for draft season all over again. I hope you are too. We’ll be back on Thursday for part 2: the DB Derby.

Football

Hey, Bears fans! This year sucked major ass from almost every metric that one can find. I’ve been tasked with looking at the trainwreck with special focus on the special teams unit, a task I find immensely interesting and also difficult, because damn how exactly does one quantify special teams outside of “well, they didn’t fuck up the game so it’s good enough”? Luckily, I just ordered PFF so be prepared for an onslaught of stats that hopefully paint a vivid picture of what exactly went on during all those unreturned kickoffs and missed field goals.

The Good:

According to PFF, the Bears’ special teams unit was 8th in the league with a 79.4 grade.

The Bears had two core special teamers contribute a PFF grade of over 90, Sherrick McManis and Nick Kwiatkoski (90.9 and 90.0, respectively). McManis only played in 9 games, so while that may contribute to his elite score, it hurts his tackle production (though 6 special teams tackes in 9 games would put him on pace to be near the league lead if adjusted to a full season, the NFL leaders this year had 16 total stops). Kwiatkoski had 8 stops to lead the Bears, and both players only missed one tackle.

Also, aside from an embarrassing blocked punt versus the Saints, the punt coverage team was downright good. The Bears had 55 more total punt return yards than their opponents on two less returns, which is pretty good considering it didn’t seem like Tarik Cohen was getting the same opportunities to be a gamebreaker in 2019 that he did the year before.

Cordarrelle Patterson made the Pro Bowl and was a 1st team All-Pro as a kick returner this year, leading the league in total return yards with the second highest average return. I guess I should feel ashamed for always rolling my eyes when he brought a kick out from 9 yards deep in the end zone, because dude was killing it when he took it out.

The Bad:

Okay, so it also needs to be said that the Bears utilize Patterson in coverage as well, covering all but 3 punts this year and covering 6 kickoffs. Patterson is a gamewrecker as a gunner on the punt team, but his disruption on kicks is best suited at downing punts. He’s missed as many special teams tackles as he made this year (5), and missed gunner tackles on punt returns can be deadly, since it opens up secondary and cutback lanes (I say as I sit in sweatpants, shirtless, eating peanut butter from a spoon). I would personally like to see Patterson on the field goal block team, since there’s no reason Duke Shelley (3 penalties in 53 snaps over 5 games) should be out there, either.

Eddy Piniero is a hard player to analyze, but he is what he is: a league average kicker. He was 17th in field goal percentage, and 19th in extra point percentage. I’m putting this in “the bad” because, well, it’s Chicago. We’re going to be hard as fuck on our kickers, which I think is a little unnecessary but it is what it is. Piniero is average, and for Bears fans that isn’t enough. Ideally, next year he’s kicking more extra points than 30-39 yard field goals next year.

Duke Shelly had a 29.0 grade for the year from PFF, and these end of the roster players need to contribute on special teams to stick around. Look for his roster spot to be on the bubble next year.

Joel Iyiegbuniwe was also a hot pile of trash according to PFF’s metrics, getting a measly grade of 40 on 136 special teams snaps where he could register that stat. 2 penalties, 3 tackles, 2 missed tackles, and 3 total snaps on defense. This guy is also seemingly on his way out.

The Weird:

Anthony Miller’s 63.2 grade on kickoff coverage was 3rd on the team.

Pat O’Donnell had another down season by his standards, however it seems like he goes up and down every year so let’s hope 2020 finds MEGAPUNT back to being a top 10 punter.

The Bears brought out their first team defense to stop the Raiders in the 4th quarter on a 4th and one fake punt they knew was coming, and they still blew it.

The Future:

Special teams is hard to predict, since player variance tends to be high as dudes fight for a roster spot and potential screen time on Hard Knocks. It seems like the model of having one or two core special teams players to keep around is something the Bears embrace with McManus, but here’s hoping losing Kwit this summer (if it happens) won’t hurt this unit as well, because after those two, it’s Patterson and a various assortment of bums.

Football

2019 is going to be the type of football year that you just want to throw in the trash, hoping that things get sorted out in a positive manner and you can mostly forget the things that transpired on the field. That’s essentially the case for the Bears pass catchers save for what passes as the brightest spot from the team, but also includes arguably the darkest, deepest hole (outside of QB…) and Ryan Pace’s second biggest miss of the 2017 draft.

On one hand, you have Allen Robinson being the monster wide out everyone wanted when he signed in the 2018 off-season and the emergence of second-year receiver Anthony Miller into a legit threat on any play. On the other, you have an underwhelming group of wide outs behind them, a one-dimensional backfield passing attack and a tight end room that’s stinkier than David Kaplan’s nose (because it’s firmly planted somewhere inside Tom Ricketts colon, GET IT??).  The team ranked in the lower third in just about all receiving categories, and if you read the rushing post from yesterday and quarterbacks on Monday you don’t have to squint to pick up on the theme of the 2019 Chicago offense. It sucked.

The highs were the type that felt squandered, the lows all disasters that played a part in the unacceptable offensive output – to varying degrees.

Let’s dive in, shall we?

The Good

Allen Robinson. That’s essentially your list. Robinson was the steady, go-to security blanket all season and pulled in 98 of 154 (!!) targets for just under 1,150 yards and seven scores, roughly one third of the entire receiving production on the team. He’s been everything the team needed and wanted when they gambled and signed the oft-injured Robinson two years ago, and Pace would do well to rip up the final year of his contract because 1) He’s more than earned new paper/$, 2) a new deal would actually improve the Bears cap situation for 2020 and beyond (ARob counts $15M against the cap with just $10.5 in actual dollars in 2020) and 3) who in the fuck else are you trusting on this roster going forward, especially after 2020?

Anthony Miller shone at times this season, especially standing out on Thanksgiving in Detroit with a 9/140 line. While he came up big during the min- revival stretch later in the season, he was inconsistent on the whole. But you if you want to argue that was more product of his environment in this slap dick offense you’d get no more than a “fair” from me. Miller is still an injury case, however, as he’ll rehab this spring from the exact same shoulder surgery that ended his 2018-19 campaign. Still, he lands in the positives and the Bears will need him back and building on his success in 2020.

The Bad

The rest of the wide out group left a whole lot to be desired. Taylor Gabriel was the benefactor of three TD catches in a half against the atrocious R-words in Week 3, but again suffered from concussion issues and only played parts of nine games. Rookie 4th round pick Riley Ridley hardly saw the field, working through a litany of nagging foot and leg injuries before totaling a whopping six catches over the final three contests. Javon Wims filled in admirably, again, but when he’s consistently on the field you’re probably in some trouble with your personnel; he’s best suited for ST duty in the opinion of yours truly.

Tarik Cohen was the only real contributor out of the backfield, and while he was used quite a bit (79 catches, 104 targets) all but 19 of his 456 yards were via YAC, meaning he was hardly targeted past the line of scrimmage all year. That’s your #2 in targets, averaging 5.8 yards/catch, often being targeted BEHIND the line of scrimmage. Fun!

The Ugly

The tight end group may have been the worst ever in Chicago Bears history, at least in terms of the modern game. No individual player went over 91 yards FOR THE SEASON, and the two leaders at 91/87 were preseason practice squad players JP Holtz and Jesper Horsted. Big money man Trey Burton got hurt in August, never really got to full health, and submitted to injury in November, landing on IR with all of 24 catches for 84 yards. Pace’s pet Adam Shaheen continued to impress no one but his boss, again dealing with a myriad of injuries and totaling 9/74 line. He now boasts 26 catches in 27 career games since being drafted in the 2nd round of 2017. Blocking TE Ben Braunecker was used in the passing game. Bradley Sowell was active at the position for a few games; that should tell you all you need to know about this shit ass group.

The RBs outside of Cohen weren’t as bad as the TEs, but that group was paced by David Montgomery‘s 25/185/1 line, a bit underwhelming after all the buzz about him “doing it all well” after the draft. FA Mike Davis caught all seven of his targets before he was cut, and the coaching staff failed to get $5M man Cordarrelle Patterson involved in any meaningful way.

Any Hope?

No? Not really? Robinson should get a new deal, possibly very soon, but after that it’s a big ol’ shit sandwich. Miller has the injury history, Gabriel might need to retire (but at least they can save $4.5M in cutting him) and Ridley looks to have a long way to go. This group lacks speed…so maybe just try Patterson out there instead of running him on 3rd and short?? Whoever gets hired to help run the offense would do well to get Cohen involved more down the field and in the slot, potentially, along with Patterson. The speed exists on the team, just not sure these dummies can harness it properly. Maybe some further passing work for Montgomery to keep teams guessing too.

The TE room is all signed for next year, and Burton somehow has so much guaranteed money that they can’t just cut him. The depth pieces are all okay, but this group screams for improvement. Can they sign Austin Hooper if he hits FA? Pace will need to get creative to clear enough space for such a move.

Pace and Co. have quite the overhaul on their hands this off-season.

Final Grade: C-

Everything Else Football

Welcome back to THE VAULT, where I revisit some of the best vintage games our beloved Bears have played against whatever team they match up against this week.

The Bears don’t have an opponent this weekend, but I’m trying so hard to make THE VAULT indispensable; think of me as Matt Nagy, and THE VAULT as Cordarrelle Patterson. THE VAULT KNOWS NO BYE WEEKS. I’m picturing Matt Nagy and Patterson this week in an otherwise empty Halas Hall, practicing 5 yard outs in the darkness.

So, let’s talk bye weeks. Bye weeks were brought to the NFL in 1990, supposedly to give players the chance to rest, but also to provide more TV revenue, since they were restructuring their contracts with the networks. Good to see how important player safety is, y’all.

What’s your Bye-Week tradition? I feel like what someone does on the Sunday their favorite team is off tells me more about someone’s fandom than what they do during the games themselves. So, pick your “My Team is Off This Week” trope from the guide below:

Family Time: You’ve been spending your Sundays on the couch, and your significant other is begging you to do all the fun fall stuff that you ignore every year. Go to the pumpkin patch, take the kids mini golfing, go to Bath and Body Works and smell all the candles for free? Do you, friend. Family time rules.

Fantasy Dork: You still park your ass on the couch and watch RedZone for SEVEN COMMERCIAL FREE HOURS, listening to Scott Hanson slowly lose his mind and get too excited to call a Raheem Mostert one yard touchdown during the late games because nobody has scored in 32 minutes of real time. Also, if anyone knows where I can find recordings of those tasty riffs they play while running highlights let me know. I’ll pay Hansonly.

Any Football is Cool: You’ll watch whatever national game is in your viewing network. I swear, it was football hell growing up and watching whatever game was on Fox while CBS showed the World Bull Riding Championships or whatever. Now that I’m an adult, I gladly pay extra to not have to spend my afternoons watching Minnesota play Detroit and hoping for James Brown to jump in and tell me the Dolphins are now down by 31.

The “Cultured Fan”: You watch playoff baseball, NBA games, shit you’ll even watch golf? You must hate your family.

The Space Cadet: You have spent so many Sundays (and Mondays… and Thursdays) ignoring your responsibilities, it’s time to catch up. Fuck football for a day, you haven’t caught up on your grading, or you haven’t played guitar in weeks, or your dog needs to get in some kickass dog park hangs before it gets too cold.

Helping Hand: Mow the lawn, clean the basement, prune the tree. Today is the day that you make up for all the stuff you’ve been forgetting to do on the list. It doesn’t have to be all bad, make it fun! Walk around and see what needs to be done and yell at it like Chris Jericho. Tell that pile of leaves it just made the list!

Full Hesher: Do like my pal Nick does and go to a Bills bar and get blackout drunk. I feel like if I really wanted to just say fuck it and tie one on, Bills fans would be the ones I’d do it with. The Bears being on bye seems like the best time to get put through a table.

Binge Watching: You’ve missed a lot of great television while opting to watch Matt Nagy be himself on Sundays/Mondays/Thursdays. You’re gonna spend your Sunday catching up on, uh, actually I don’t know if there’s anything good on since I pretty much only watch sports these days. I’m fucking lame.

I’m gonna be honest, I’ll be watching RedZone. Fuck it, I might as well enjoy some good football this week. I’ll spend my morning listening to fantasy football stuff as I cook lunch, and enjoy the bye. I’m not inviting a damn soul over, I am going to sit on my ass and just love watching football.

Loving the Bears is fucking stressful, we all need a week off too.

Football

Do you hear anything? No? Me either. No noise. No torches and pitchforks. No jobs on the line (yet). It’s pretty boring around here.

Usually in late July we’re all too eager here in Chicago to begin HOT TAKE SZN surrounding the Bears and the NFL. This July, though, feels different. Is everyone just happy to banter about the Cubs division chase and Sox future potential? No, we’ve been doing that every July since 2015. The NBA had a pretty big summer, but the Bulls largely sat that out and everyone is just content they MIGHT make a surprise run at the 8-seed in the East. Hawks prospect camp and convention?? OK, I’m done.

So with nothing new or exciting going on in major sports around the city, why is this late July so different? The Bears, coming off their first playoff appearance since 2010 and second in the last 13 years, have had the quietest offseason in about as long. No new head coach/GM/Front Office personnel. No major signings/high draft picks. Hardly any turnover on the roster/staff, and no real starting positions up for the taking. GM Ryan Pace didn’t even get to make a draft pick until the third day, and there’s been little discussion about the his team or the impending camp since.

The biggest offseason story? Kickers. Cody Parkey long fired into the sun, the talk of both mini-camp and now training camp is the kicking sideshow. Each day’s camp breakdown thus far has started with the accuracy for that day’s kicker; Elliot Fry is 17 of 20 so far! He’s hit from 60 and banged in from 48 and 51 in the driving rain! Eddie Pineiro hit from 63 after doing his best 80s macho movie hunk routine – after his coaches asked him to try from 60 he replied “nah, how ’bout 63”! Suh gnarly, broseph.

The crowds are another HOT story coming out of Bourbonnais. Attendance day one? OVER 8,000!!! Videos tweeted of fans LIGHTLY JOGGING to get front row standing room to see the Midway Monsters strap on the pads and paw at each other! Whoa, did you see that 50-yard bomb from Mitch to Gabriel?? Kahlil Mack and Eddie Jackson are sooooo goood OMFG!!!! I mean, it’s great to see the guys you want to excel succeed in practice, but that’s the bar here, no? To be as good as advertised?

This shit is BORING. But boring doesn’t really mean bad. Consider:

-There was one major coaching change in the offseason, but not the normal refrain of a deficiency in some area. Vic Fangio left to go be the head coach in Denver because his defense was so amazing (while the rest of the team was total ass for most of his tenure). The ensuing hire? Chuck Pagano, a highly regarded defensive mind in his own right that mostly just needs to keep the ship on course. There also are no ‘hot’ seats to speak of at the moment. Weird.

-The players lost to free agency were seen as priced out of their worth at Halas Hall and nary a tear was shed for Adrian Amos or Bryce Callahan. The replacements and other new signings were mostly budget buys met with a collective “meh”.  HaHa Clinton-Dix and Buster Skine swap in for Amos and Callahan. Mike Davis and Cordarrelle Patterson are here to do something in the backfield. Great, fine. I bet you didn’t even know they signed Ted Larson, again, for O-Line depth or Marvin Hall and Peter Williams. Only one of those guys is made up, but I’m guessing you have to look it up to tell me which one.

-The draft was pretty uneventful as well, unless you count trading up 14 or so spots in the 3rd round “eventful”. Sure, they got their GUY at running back in David Montgomery, or so they’ll tell anything with ears. Even he hasn’t generated much buzz since the draft, a soft spoken type that just does his work and stays quiet off the field. Booooooring. The rest of the draft was all lottery tickets and undrafted free agents because Pace only had five picks to work with. They got a Ridley? No, not the one from Alabama.

-There aren’t any big injuries to get all worked up about, either. Adam Shaheen hasn’t practiced in two days, but that’s basically his whole bag of tricks since being wildly overdrafted three years ago. Someone named Emmanuel Hall is recovering from groin surgery. HaHa is on the PUP list, rehabbing a lower body injury but expected back before too long. Whatever.

So this late July, the start to camp is boring. Embrace the boring, it means that most of us are looking forward to September and could give a shit about what happens between now and then. We don’t even get another open practice for a few days; the team has a shorter, closed practice today and is off Wednesday. There’s a preseason game a week after that, so maybe by the weekend we’ll start to get some real battles for the edge of the roster. Those are the positions that help to define serious championship contending NFL teams from the dregs they beat up.

Boring kinda sucks, but we’ll take it after the last decade worth of summers overstuffed with tough questions. Wait and see how these jokers fighting for their NFL lives fair in game reps in a week or so. If you need your fix the rest of this first week, keep refreshing that twitter account of your favorite beat writer to see where Steady Eddie P tells coach he’s spotting his next kick. HOOOOO BABYYYYY!

@WFrenchman on Twitter