With the Chicago Bears' offseason practices in the books and the roster mostly set heading into training camp, it's time to see how it stacks up.
For the past decade, the Bears have been a defensive team. The names and faces may change, but their defense has always been better than their offense. This list represents that as six of their top 10 players play defense. However, it also represents a changing of the guard as the top two players are offensive stars.
While the Bears defense remains their calling card—and I expect that to continue for at least one more season—they're aging. They do, however, have a number of young offensive players who appear ready to break out.
There will be a lot of players battling for a few spots as the Bears' roster is a bit top-heavy with a number of great players, but little depth. They've worked to improve their depth this offseason, particularly on the offensive line and at linebacker. They should have some quality competition at both.
To compile this list, I used the roster on the Bears' team website, which consists of 89 players. This list is not a representation of who will make the final 53-man roster, but the best players they have. There are a number of players who may be ranked higher than others, but could be released due to salary cap or other concerns.
I based my rankings on a combination of things. The most notable is past production, but for younger players I also considered their potential. Ultimately, I tried to rate the players based on how good they are at their job and how their skill translates to wins for the team.
When it's all said and done, we know who the Bears' best players are and the talent on the roster is as good as it's been in a long time. Whether that translates to wins remains to be seen, but here is how the roster stacks up heading into training camp.
80. Josh Lenz
Lenz never caught more than 39 passes in his career at Iowa State, but his impressive workout numbers make him an interesting prospect. He'll get his chance to show the Bears he was a victim of bad quarterbacking in college and is capable of much more.
81. Jerry Franklin
82. Tress Way
Way is most likely just a camp leg. He has a big leg, so perhaps the Bears can develop him into a replacement for starter Adam Podlesh.
83. Harvey Unga
It's hard to know what to make out of Unga because he's never been able to stay on the field. He was taken with a seventh-round pick in the 2010 supplemental draft, but has yet to play in a regular-season game. He ran for over 1,000 yards and double-digit touchdowns in three seasons at BYU and caught over 40 passes twice. His upside remains high, but after so many injury struggles, it's hard to see him staying on the field
84. Aston Whiteside
Whiteside didn't make the team out of camp last year and probably won't this year. Still, he showed enough to get another shot.
85. Taylor Boggs
Boggs was among the first players the Bears signed this offseason, but he doesn't appear to have an NFL skill set. He was an undrafted free agent in 2011 and has not played a down in the NFL.
86. Jerrell Jackson
After not catching a pass with the Jaguars last year, it's hard to believe Jackson has a legitimate shot to make the Bears roster.
87. Lawrence Wilson
The 2011 sixth-round pick of the Panthers has yet to play in the NFL. He doesn't have ideal size or speed.
88. Christian Tupou
The former USC Trojan defensive tackle is a little small and slow for the position. The Bears don't have great depth there, but they tend to favor athleticism.
89. Gabe Miller
The raw, but athletically gifted converted tight end seems to have little-to-no chance of making the roster anyway. However, being suspended for the first four games for using performance enhancing substances, per NFL.com's Ian Rapoport, made it a sure bet.
70. Demontre Hurst
The former Sooner is an interesting player, but it's hard to see where he'll fit in. He seems a little small and slow to become a great special teams player. His play at cornerback wasn't good enough to get him drafted. He's among a long list of players we need to see with pads on to judge.
71. J.T. Thomas
Thomas contributed to the Bears' special teams last season. NFL.com credited him with five tackles and one forced fumble. He has decent size and speed and could contend for more playing time on special teams again this year. However, with the Bears investing so much in the linebacker position in the offseason, it appears he'll have to show he can play in their base defense to make the team.
72. Patrick Trahan
Trahan has spent parts of the last two seasons with the Bears, appearing in six games and making one tackle on special teams. He showed good speed coming into the draft in 2010, but has yet to play more than special teams.
73. Tom Nelson
The local player from Illinois State is unlikely to make the squad, but he has solid physical skills and experience. Prior to the 2009 draft, Nelson ran the 40-yard dash in 4.47 seconds and went undrafted, but he played in 12 games for the Cincinnati Bengals as a rookie. Since then, he's had a hard time finding playing time.
74. Cyhl Quarles
Despite working out relatively well, Quarles went undrafted in the 2012 draft. Last season he spent time with New England and Baltimore. The Bears signed him after the season and he could provide decent depth and play special teams.
75. Terrence Toliver
Like most of the Bears receivers, Toliver has excellent physical skills. Listed at 6'5" and with a 40-yard dash time of 4.52 seconds, Toliver should present matchup problems. However, he has yet to make an impact in the NFL since coming into the league in 2011.
76. Cory Brandon
Brandon is big and strong, but raw. After being undrafted in 2011, he spent the 2012 preseason with the Bears. He was waived in September but brought back in October.
77. Matt Blanchard
Blanchard was a great lower-level college quarterback, but we don't know what that will mean for the Bears. Marc Trestman liked what he saw during rookie camp, telling the Chicago Tribune Blanchard is "very good with our system of football" and that he "throws the ball very well." That has some Bears fans excited about his future, but quarterbacks in his position rarely turn into anything more than third-string or practice-squad players.
78. Derek Dennis
We won't know much about Dennis until the pads go on. Right now it looks like he's a big body who is getting a look.
79. Corvey Irvin
Irvin has good size and speed but has yet to make an impact since coming into the NFL in 2009.
60. Kyle Moore
The Moore signing didn't get much publicity, but he did start seven games for a talented Buffalo Bills defensive line last season. He registered 24 tackles and three sacks, according to NFL.com. Listed at 6'6", 263 pounds, he has good size and could compete for a roster spot.
61. Brody Eldridge
Eldridge combined to start 16 games and catch 14 passes for the Indianapolis Colts in 2010 and 2011, but didn't see the field for the Bears last year. He was a fifth-round pick by the Colts in 2010, but struggled in his time there.
Through those two seasons, he received a negative-20.9 grade from Pro Football Focus (subscription required) as he struggled as both a receiver and a blocker. He'll have to show he can do one or the other very well to stick with the Bears.
62. Zach Minter
Minter showed great physical skills in pre-draft workouts. The Montana State product will have a big adjustment to the NFL game. Still, his speed and strength make him an interesting prospect who could see time on special teams for the Bears.
63. Brent Russell
While Minter may be more suited to play the 3-technique, Russell looks like an ideal nose tackle. During his career at Georgia Southern, he record 54.5 tackles for a loss, 25 sacks and five blocked kicks. At his pro day he showed NFL-strength, doing 36 bench press reps.
64. Eben Britton
I broke down the Britton signing when it happened. He's shown he can play in the past, but has struggled with injuries. If he can stay on the field, he could contend for playing time. However, it's hard to see that happening.
65. Turk McBride
The veteran defensive lineman gives the Bears solid depth, but they'd probably like a younger player to beat him out. He's registered just 10 tackles in 15 games over the last two seasons, after having five sacks in 2010.
66. P.J. Lonergan
After starting three years for LSU, Lonergan has some Bears fans penciling him in as their future center. He's already been playing against NFL-caliber defensive linemen in the SEC, so he should be prepared. However, he didn't play well enough to get drafted. Perhaps Bears offensive coordinator/line coach Aaron Kromer can develop him.
67. Anthony Walters
Walters played on the Bears special teams and started their last game of the 2012 season at free safety due to an injury to Chris Conte. He struggled in his one start, but that was to be expected. He likely wouldn't have made the team had Brandon Hardin been healthy, and he figures to see even more competition this year.
68. Cheta Ozougwu
Ozougwu was active at the end of last season and recorded three tackles in the team's Week 15 loss to Green Bay. Although he lacks ideal size and speed, he has shown some ability to rush the passer in preseason games.
69. C.J. Wilson
Wilson started for three years at NC State, returning three interceptions for touchdowns while there. He only played four games in his final year at NC State due to an academic suspension, according to The Wolfpacker. A good showing at NC State's pro day, combined with his experience make him an interesting prospect.
50. Edwin Williams
Williams is a young lineman who almost nobody talks about. The 26-year-old has experience at both center and guard and has shown some flashes of being good over the last few years. Pro Football Focus (subscription required) gave him a positive grade in six of his 10 starts with the Bears. The problem has been that when he's been bad, he's been really bad, grading out with a negative-1.9 or lower three times. Still, his versatility and starting experience make him a valuable reserve.
51. Kyle Adams
Adams' stock grew when the Bears released Rodriguez. He's shown some ability as a receiver, catching four passes for 40 yards last season, but he also dropped two, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). He's done enough to make the team the last two years, but has provided very little on the field. Now entering his third year with a new coaching staff, we're going to learn a lot about Adams.
52. Sherrick McManis
The Northwestern product hasn't contributed much to defenses so far in the NFL, but was a solid special teams player for the Bears last season. He did play in the secondary some for Houston as a rookie in 2010, intercepting one pass and he forced a fumble in 2011.
53. Isaiah Frey
The 2012 sixth-round pick didn't show much of anything as a rookie, but he has the size and speed to contribute. It isn't uncommon for defensive backs to take time to develop, so it will be interesting to see how he performs in camp this season.
54. Armando Allen
Allen played mostly special teams last year, but still rushed for 124 yards with an average of 4.6 yards per carry. He opened some eyes with a 46-yard touchdown run against Jacksonville last season. He's not big enough to be an every-down back, but if he can provide a change of pace, show the ability to catch the ball and play special teams, he should stick.
55. Fendi Onobun
Onobun has quickly become a fan favorite due to his athleticism. Prior to the 2010 NFL draft, Onobun showed excellent athletic ability, including a 4.45 40-yard dash. However, Onobun has bounced around the NFL and has yet to produce. He could be a workout warrior, or the Bears could have something. Either way, he'll be a name to watch when training camp opens.
56. Michael Ford
Ford only started five games in his collegiate career at LSU, yet scored 14 touchdowns as he averaged 5.5 yards per carry in each of his three seasons. He ran for 756 yards and seven touchdowns in 2011, but saw a decrease in playing time last season. He has good size and speed—running the fifth-fastest 40-time of all the running backs at the combine—and should battle Allen for a roster spot.
57. Brittan Golden
Golden caught three passes with the Bears during the 2012 preseason and has stuck around. Although he doesn't have ideal size or speed, he's someone to watch for. He appears a couple times in a highlight clip on the team website from the Bears veteran minicamp last week.
58. Marcus Rucker
Rucker's talent in college did not match his production. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.44 seconds, while measuring 6'3" and weighing 195 pounds. Despite that size and speed, he managed just 47 catches for 525 yards and three touchdowns against mostly subpar competition for Memphis. Still, he's an intriguing talent that the Bears are hoping to get the most out of.
59. Tony Fiammetta
A fourth-round pick of the Panthers in 2009, Fiammetta has done little to show he can play in the NFL. He showed excellent physical skills entering the NFL, but it hasn't translated on the field. According to Jeff Dickerson of ESPN Chicago, head coach Marc Trestman indicated Fiammetta will play more on special teams than the man he replaced—Evan Rodriguez—would have.
40. Patrick Mannelly
If Mannelly has ever made a mistake, nobody saw it. That might not actually be true, but when the Bears drafted Mannelly in 1998 it's hard to believe they knew he'd still be with the team 15 years later. He has played a franchise record 215 games with the team and is tied with Doug Buffone and Bill George for most time in a Bears uniform, a record he'll break this year.
41. Austin Signor
Signor would be down in the list where Way is, but the Bears seemed to be impressed enough to give him a three-year contract. It isn't uncommon for the team to bring in an extra leg to take pressure off Robbie Gould in training camp, but the length of the deal made it interesting. The Bears apparently thought he was good enough to compete with one of the best kickers in the history of the league (more on that later). Perhaps he's more than just a camp leg.
42. Cornelius Washington
"Avatar", as Bears national scout Mark Sadowski referred to Washington, has the ability to not only play in the NFL, but dominate. He brings a rare combination of size, strength and speed, but was played at numerous positions in college, none of which he was able to produce at a high level. The Bears are going to try him at end in their 4-3 scheme in hopes they can tap into his potential. At the very least, he should be a good special teams player until he learns the NFL game.
43. Joe Anderson
Early word—at least according to the Chicago Tribune—is that Anderson has been impressive in camp. He was activated at the end of last season and contributed to their special teams. With Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery not able to participate at 100 percent in training camp, it was Anderson who worked with the starters. He's certainly someone to watch for.
44. Marquess Wilson
The seventh-round rookie had mid-round talent but questions about his desire. He was very productive at Washington State, something the Bears are hoping translates to the NFL. Still, at just 20 years old, it seems likely that it will take Wilson a while to develop physically and mentally.
45. Devin Aromashodu
After spending two years in Minnesota, Aromashodu is back with the Bears, but it's hard to know what to expect. He closed the 2009 season on a tear, catching 22 passes in the last four games, but has done little since. He caught five passes in the 2010 opener, but that was half of his total for the entire season. The Vikings gave him a chance to start, but he caught just 37 passes in two seasons. Did he really have some sort of chemistry with Jay Cutler or was he the only option at that time? If he and Cutler can connect like they did in '09, he'll provide the Bears will very good depth at wide receiver.
46. Steve Maneri
The converted offensive lineman should give the Bears' running game a boost. He has also shown some ability as a receiver catching four passes for 41 yards against Tampa Bay last season.
47. Brandon Hardin
Hardin is still a bit of a mystery. He was off to a good start in camp last season before injuring his kneck and missing the entire 2012 season. That was the second straight season as he also missed his senior year at Oregon State due to a shoulder injury. He's big and fast, making him an excellent prospect, he just has to stay on the field.
48. Blake Costanzo
The veteran linebacker was a key contributor to the Bears special teams. Last year he showed he could step in the base defense when they needed him with a solid performance against Green Bay in his only start. He'll likely be battling for a roster spot, but will catch on with somebody should the Bears not keep him.
49. Josh McCown
McCown may not be an ideal backup, but the Bears could do worse. He's thrown over 1,000 passes in his NFL career and completed 63.6 percent in three games with the Bears in 2011. He's certainly a better alternative than Caleb Hanie was two years ago.
31. Tom Zbikowski
The Notre Dame alum was part of an awful Indianapolis secondary last season, but he wasn't that terrible individually. He received a grade of negative-2.4 from Pro Football Focus (subscription required), which was actually the second best on their team of the defensive backs who played over 500 snaps.
He's played his entire career in a 3-4 defense, so switching to the Bears 4-3, Cover 2 scheme could be interesting. The Bears have used mostly safeties with range and coverage ability, but others—such as John Lynch with Tampa Bay—have had success in the scheme.
32. Nate Collins
Collins was the Bears' "Secret Superstar" on Pro Football Focus this year, an honor that went to Tim Jennings last season. He showed good burst off the ball as Pro Football Focus (subscription required) credited him with nine hurries in fewer than 120 snaps.
33. Jonathan Scott
Scott is what a team's third tackle should be. He's a solid veteran who can play both sides and has plenty of big-game experience. There's little doubt the Bears would like for him not to play, but if he does they'll be OK.
34. Sedrick Ellis
Once a high draft pick, the Bears are going to give Ellis a good shot to cash in on his potential. Ellis was taken seventh overall by the Saints in the 2008 draft, but has just 12.5 career sacks. He has said the Bears scheme will help him be more productive and the Bears are certainly hoping that will be the case. This kind of signing worked out with Amobi Okoye two years ago, but failed with Vernon Gholston last year.
35. Craig Steltz
Steltz has always been solid and dependable, but has never gotten much of a shot. He was spectacular at the end of the 2012 season when he started their last six games. He was so good, Bleacher Report's Matt Miller ranked him as the ninth-best strong safety in the NFL after that season. Yet, when the 2013 season began, Steltz was back on the bench and playing special teams. The veteran is solid at everything, but isn't great at anything. He provides the Bears a good leader in the locker room.
36. Zackary Bowman
Bowman gave the Bears special teams a big boost when they brought him back last season. Although he only played in eight games, he led the team with nine special teams tackles, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). He's also shown the ability to play cornerback and could fill in if needed.
37. Adam Podlesh
Podlesh is solid, but unspectacular. The Bears need him to be more consistent after signing him to a five-year, $10 million contract in 2011.
38. Jordan Mills
The 2013 fifth-round pick appears slated for a starting job at either guard or right tackle in 2014. General manager Phil Emery noted Mills' versatility in a press conference after drafting him. With guard Matt Slauson playing on a one-year deal and tackle J'Marcus Webb in the final year of his contract, Mills appears to be in line to replace one of them.
39. Kelvin Hayden
Hayden should get some competition for his job this season after a subpar 2012 campaign. It's actually been a subpar career for Hayden, but last season he was the lone weak spot in an otherwise stellar secondary.
Garza's switch to center hasn't been as smooth as many would like. Although he was better in 2012 than he was in 2011, he's a veteran who appears to be on his last legs. The Bears likely would have tried to upgrade him, but his leadership is still valuable. Still, he has to play better this year or he could lose his job.
The 2013 fourth-round pick figures to play mostly special teams this year. With veterans James Anderson and D.J. Williams, as well as second-round pick Jon Bostic, Greene might have a tough time cracking the starting lineup. However, if Bostic struggles to pick up the mental aspects of playing middle linebacker and Anderson isn't better than he was for the Panthers last year, don't be surprised if Green gets the call.
As an undrafted rookie in 2012, Brown struggled last year, but has been impressive so far in camp. The plan was never for Brown to play last year, but when Chilo Rachel left the team and they suffered other injuries, he was forced into action. Understandably, he struggled.
However, he has impressed the new coaching staff and Brown was singled out by Trestman. They have yet to put the pads on, but if Brown can continue to improve, he could give the Bears some interesting competition on the interior of their offensive line.
This might be a little high for a receiver who doesn't contribute to the offense, but Weems is very good at what he does. He's terrific at covering kicks and has been a Pro Bowl return man. He only played 131 snaps at receiver for the Bears, but was one of three players to grade out positively at that position on Pro Football Focus (subscription required). The common thought is that if he were taller he could contribute more as a receiver. Either way, he makes them a better football team.
Bears fans are upset with Hester and most probably don't agree with this ranking. However, before getting worked out, here is a reminder of what he can be. Much of this ranking is based on that upside. If Hester can be the returner he was just two years ago, he'll be an elite weapon. He'll give the Bears extra yardage without even touching the ball.
He struggled during 2012, but in 2011 he brought three kicks back for touchdowns. He averaged 16.2 yards per punt return. The hope is that limiting him to that role could make him return to being the most electrifying return man in the league.
He was not good as a receiver—that said, he wasn't as bad as many thought. He caught over 50 passes twice and never had fewer than 20 receptions since moving to the offensive side of the ball in 2007.
Fans are frustrated with Hester, but part of that frustration is because of his potential.
After a strong 2010 season, Anderson struggled the last two years with the Panthers. The Bears are hoping he can hold his own. However, he also adds value in terms of leadership.
With just a one-year deal, the Bears are mostly just hoping Anderson can keep the seat warm for Greene or Bostic. As the NFL becomes more of a passing league, teams depend less and less on three-linebacker groupings, so Anderson probably won't play a lot. The behind-the-scenes work and coaching of the younger players is what makes him most valuable.
Like Greene, the 2013 second-round pick could end up starting this season, but will most likely spend most of his time on special teams.
The Bears seem likely to keep Bostic in the middle; however, if he impresses it could bump D.J. Williams to the strong side.
Bostic is raw but as athletic as any linebacker who was in the draft. He was an unselfish player at Florida and will be called upon to lead the Bears defense in the next few years.
As a first-round pick, the Bears are expecting Long to start right away. However, he didn't have a lot of collegiate experience and has had to miss most of the Bears' offseason training. He'll have to be a quick study and learn how to use his physical abilities to his advantage right away.
I broke down the Long selection after it happened. He could be a great player, but it could take time. At the very least, he's a great prospect for Kromer to shape. With Matt Slauson already slated for a starting spot and Brown impressing early, it might be tough to crack the Bears lineup right away. However, once he does, the Bears could have an anchor for their line.
Slauson was probably the Bears' quietest offseason addition and possibly their best.
He has graded out positively on Pro Football Focus (subscription required) every year since he was drafted by the Jets in the sixth round of the 2009 draft. He might not be a great player, but the Bears need dependability and consistency on their line.
Last season, he struggled some in run blocking, but was an excellent pass-blocker, giving up a total of 14 sacks, hurries and quarterback hits, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Unless Long and Brown exceed expectations right away, Slauson is expected to start and could be one of the team's best linemen.
Webb isn't nearly as bad as some Bears fans think, but he isn't as good as he could be.
As I've already gone over, if Webb is worse than free-agent signee Jermon Bushrod, it isn't by much. However, by adding Bushrod and moving Webb to the right side, the Bears did become a better team.
I would have Webb and Bushrod closer in the rankings; however, a position change adds some uncertainty to Webb. He could be great on the right side, or he could lose confidence and struggle.
Webb has improved throughout his career and, at just 23 years old, should continue to get better. The Bears have added a lot of competition to the offensive line, and if Webb can reach his potential, they should be greatly improved next season.
Bennett is a frustrating player because he hasn't been able to stay on the field.
But health is the key.
Over a brief stretch in 2011, Bennett looked unstoppable. He averaged 83.6 yards per game in wins over the Eagles, Lions and Chargers. That was supposed to be the start of something big. Cutler was then injured and Bennett wasn't able to produce the rest of the season.
Last season, he and Alshon Jeffery played just six games together as both were in and out of the lineup. If Bennett can stay on the field, it will be a major boost for the Bears passing game.
Williams has had his share of trouble in the past, but he has a lot of talent.
The Bears' Cover 2 scheme should be a perfect fit for Williams' athleticism. He won't be as good as Brian Urlacher was in his prime, but he should be an upgrade over what Urlacher was last season.
Williams is likely just a stopgap solution until Bostic is ready. With a one-year deal the Bears are in a can't-lose situation. If he struggles—either on or off the field—they can move Bostic in earlier than planned. If he plays well, Bostic will be allowed to learn from the sidelines before taking over next year when Williams gets a bigger deal elsewhere.
He'll likely split playing time with 2012 first-round pick Shea McClellin, but he should still see plenty of snaps to make an impact. The Bears could also rotate him in at defensive tackle—as they did with Israel Idonije last season—in obvious passing situations.
The biggest question about Wootton is his ability to stay on the field. He's struggled with injuries in the past, which has slowed his development. If he can stay healthy, the Bears should have a dangerous pass rush.
Paea is sort of a forgotten man on the Bears defensive line, but he was solid last year.
He received a positive grade from Pro Football Focus (subscription required), but graded out negatively in run defense. His struggles at stuffing the run are a surprise because he set a record for bench press reps prior to the draft. One would think his strength alone would help him hold up against the run.
With pass-rusher Henry Melton also on the interior of the line, the Bears would without a doubt like for Paea to improve against the run. However, while his run defense may be disappointing, he has provided more than they could have expected as a pass-rusher.
Many Bears fans are ready to proclaim McClellin a bust, but he showed flashes of being a very good pass-rusher last year.
While he only had 2.5 sacks last season, he hurried, sacked or hit the quarterback one out of every 9.2 snaps, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). That rate was comparable to Julius Peppers—who did so every 8.9 snaps—and better than Wootton, who averaged one every 11.1 snaps.
Still, McClellin is far from a finished product. He has to improve his strength to hold up in the run game and develop more pass-rush moves.
As he works to improve, it wouldn't be a surprise to see a double-digit sack season in the near future.
Conte graded out as the Bears worst starter in the secondary, but still wasn't bad.
The second-year safety received a grade of negative-two from Pro Football Focus (subscription required), but was positive-4.5 in coverage.
He needs to work on his tackling and the angles he takes at times, but both are very correctable. Conte is entering his third year and it wouldn't be a surprise to see him take a big step up, just as Major Wright did last season.
The question is: Which Jermon Bushrod are the Bears getting?
The new Bears left tackle struggled protecting Drew Brees last season, but was very good the year before.
Those who think the Bears signed a franchise left tackle are kidding themselves, but he has shown he can play the position well.
While his pass protection may be questionable, Bushrod has always been considered a good run-blocker, something the Bears may utilize more than the Saints did.
Bush is an asset the Bears didn't utilize enough last season. Used mostly in short-yardage situations, he ran for a career-worst 411 yards, averaging 3.6 yards per carry. He also only caught a career-worst nine passes, after catching 37 the year before with Oakland.
The Bears didn't have a lot of weapons last year and they should have found more ways to use Bush—including pairing him with starter Matt Forte.
He's proven to be capable of carrying a much bigger load than he did last season and the Bears should find a way to utilize his talents.
This ranking may be premature considering he hasn't show he can stay on the field.
Jeffery struggled with injuries as a rookie and missed time in the team's mini camp with a hamstring injury. Sometimes it's bad luck, but sometimes it's a problem. So far, it's looking like the latter with Jeffery.
If he can stay on the field, there's reason to believe the Bears will have a very good player. He's drawn rave reviews for his physical skills and made a few big plays for the team last year. The upside he's shown is why he's so much higher than Earl Bennett on this list.
He needs more polish that can only come from playing. If he can stay on the field and continues to improve, the Bears receiving corps could be dangerous.
His receiving skills are what have most Bears fans excited, but "The Black Unicorn" is a multidimensional tight end.
I broke down the many things Bennett is going to bring to the Bears offense right after they signed him. He hasn't been a great receiving tight end in the past, but it's certainly something he has improved on.
Where Bennett really can help the Bears is in the running game. He's been a great blocker throughout his career and should help seal off the edge for Matt Forte.
The fact that he can also catch passes helps give the Bears the element of surprise because they don't have to always run when he is in the game.
His size and speed make him a matchup nightmare, especially for teams in 3-4 defenses, which typically have five pass-rushers and lack coverage linebackers.
Outside of one awful game, Wright was among the best safeties in the league.
Overall, Wright graded out 23rd on Pro Football Focus (subscription required). That came with a grade of negative-5.2 in their loss to the 49ers. Had he just broke even with a zero grade in that game, he would've ranked in the top 10.
Still, Wright had a breakout season for the Bears as he showed he can stay healthy. After struggling with injuries his first two years, he started all 16 games for the Bears. He provided them with arguably the best safety play they've had since Mike Brown was in his prime.
If you think this is a little high for Gould, you probably don't realize the luxury he's provided the team.
Prior to signing Gould three games into the 2005 season, the Bears had made just 16 of their last 28 field-goal attempts, with Paul Edinger going 15-of-24 in 2004 and Doug Brien starting one-of-four in 2005. Edinger was considered good, but only once made more than 80 percent of his kicks.
Since Gould has started kicking for the Bears, he's made 85.6 percent of his field-goal attempts, the sixth-best percentage in the history of the league. What makes that more notable is that two ahead of him have kicked two or fewer seasons and everyone else either played their home games in a warm-weather city or a dome.
The Bears' kicker has made 13 of his last 15 kicks from beyond 50 yards. He has never missed in the playoffs, including a game-winning field goal in overtime against Seattle in 2006.
It's interesting that the Bears have brought competition in for Gould. However, if he shows no ill effects from the calf injury he suffered last year, it shouldn't be a problem.
It's popular to say Jennings has had only one good season, but that's not entirely accurate.
Jennings improved his ball skills between the 2011 and 2012 seasons and it paid off with a career-high nine interceptions. However, Jennings has always been a solid cover corner. He has graded out as one of the best 20 cornerbacks on Pro Football Focus (subscription required) each of the last three years—an accomplishment matched by only by teammate Charles Tillman and former Viking Antoine Winfield.
A bad game against Seattle two years ago led to a benching, which made many believe he wasn't good enough. However, when he hasn't been in the lineup the last two seasons, his replacement has gotten torched.
Jennings still has the occasional bad game and lapses in coverage. This past season, however, he showed he's a keeper and a key part of their defense.
Melton didn't have the sack numbers many expected last season, but he improved as a run defender as he's becoming a great all-around player.
Melton had one fewer sack in one fewer game than he did in 2011, but managed to rack up 20 more tackles and forced two fumbles.
Although he's still not a great run defender, it's an area Melton will likely improve on. He came into the league as a raw defensive end—after playing some running back in college—and has become one of the better defensive tackles.
As the Bears try to work out a long-term deal, Melton will be a player to watch this season. Don't be surprised if he breaks out and becomes the star of the Bears defensive line.
The often-criticized gun-slinger is in a make-or-break season. There have been times when he has carried the Bears offense, but he still has too many bad games.
Most of the criticism of Cutler is unfair. He hasn't played with a good supporting cast or coaching, so when he's not at his best, things look worse than they are. Others—such as Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers, for example—could resort to shorter passes when their accuracy was off and their statistics didn't suffer because the receivers made plays, or at least didn't make crucial mistakes.
Last season's middle school playbook didn't do Cutler any favors. Defenses figured out that the Bears were relying on having great athletes—instead of scheme—to win battles. That didn't work against the best teams.
Now the Bears are going to make it more complex, working on getting the ball out of Cutler's hands and running routes that get receivers open.
Cutler has likely developed some bad habits—including holding onto the ball—over the last few years with the Bears that will need breaking.
However, the biggest issue has always been ball security.
The Bears need Cutler to take more dump-off passes rather than forcing the ball down the field. However, they have to be careful. Part of his genius is his ability to make plays when there is nothing there.
If the Bears offensive line holds up better than it has in the past and their receivers—particularly Jeffery and Bennett—can stay on the field, I think Cutler will have a very big season.
The new leader of the linebacker corps will have more asked of him than ever before.
With Brian Urlacher now gone, the Bears will be looking to Briggs to call their defensive plays. They're also hoping he can do some coaching with young players like Bostic and Greene in the fold.
Briggs has always been very good, borderline great. He isn't the biggest or the fastest, but is smart and can lay the wood.
He's been with the Bears through the thick and the thin and it's time for him to watch as they rebuild the defense. He has two years left on his contract and I imagine those will be his last two.
While battling plantar fasciitis, Peppers had an off year. The big question entering this year is: Was it the injury that slowed him or the fact that he's on the wrong size of 30?
Peppers' off year was still better than most could hope for. He registered 11.5 sacks, the most he's had as a member of the Bears. The difference was consistency. He could still ratchet up his intensity level and dominate for periods and even an entire game, but didn't dominate for long stretches.
Peppers was held without a tackle or sack in three games last season, something that happened just three times in the previous two years. He was simply worse on first and second downs. According to ESPN, Peppers registered six sacks on the first two downs in each of the last two seasons. Last season, he had just 2.5 sacks on first and second downs, instead saving himself for third down, where he had nine.
His run defense also wasn't quite the same. He received a grade of positive-0.2 from Pro Football Focus (subscription required) in run defense last season. In 2011, he received a 3.0 and in 2010 an 18.3.
So was it age or injury? Or both? If the Bears are going to contend in the NFC, they need Peppers to be at his best. If he's unable to bring it like he used to on first and second downs, it might be time for him to take on a situational role.
The long under-appreciated cornerback is finally starting to get his due.
Tillman has always been good, but he's getting better with age. He received the fourth-highest cornerback grade on Pro Football Focus (subscription required) last season and is ranked second by Miller.
Tillman has never been one to put up big interception numbers, but he's always made big plays. He's totaled eight defensive touchdowns, including three last season. That total is just one fewer than Deion Sanders had in his career.
But it isn't his interceptions that have given him the most notoriety.
"Peanut Punch" has become a common phrase in the windy city as Tillman has forced 39 fumbles. His 10 forced fumbles led the league last year.
He's also excellent in coverage. While Calvin Johnson had a record-breaking season, registering 1,964 yards, he managed just 106 in two games against the Bears. With Tillman getting primary coverage responsibility, Johnson caught just eight of the 25 passes thrown his way.
Tillman would've had a strong argument for Defensive Player of the Year had the Bears made the playoffs and Houston's J.J. Watt not been amazing.
He's 32 now, so it would be unrealistic to expect another season like that from Tillman, but he keeps getting better. He should be a lock for the Pro Football Hall of Fame when he retires.
What more can be said? Marshall just re-wrote the Bears' receiving records and set career highs in nearly every statistical category.
There were games when he carried the Bears offense, despite being double covered on nearly every snap.
He came to the Bears with a lot of baggage and talk about attitude problems. However, being reunited with Cutler brought the best out of him once again.
The thing that has prevented him from topping this list is the number of big plays he left on the field. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), he dropped four passes more than 20 yards down the field and two more between 10-and-19 yards down the field.
Drops happen, but that's an incredibly high number of big plays left on the field. At least two of them were game-changing plays as he dropped touchdowns in Week 2 against the Packers and in Week 10 against Houston, a game they lost by seven points.
Still, with as much as Marshall did for the Bears, it's hard to be too hard on him. Going forward, the Bears are going to have to ask Marshall to do less and others to do more if they're going to improve offensively.
Forte's numbers from last season won't wow anyone, but all things considered he had a very good season.
Forte had issues with a high ankle sprain throughout the season and ran behind a terrible offensive line—ranked 27th in run-blocking by Pro Football Focus.
Still, he finished with over 1,000 yards rushing—an average of 4.4 yards per carry—and caught 44 passes. The latter number was a career low, but that had more to do with the guys calling plays.
It seems likely that the Bears will use Forte in the passing game much more this season and it wouldn't be a surprise to see him catch over 80 passes.
With Trestman calling the plays in 2002, Charlie Garner caught 91 passes, nearly 20 more than he caught in any other season. It would've been interesting to see what the two of them could accomplish going forward, but that was the end of the line for Garner, who was 30 that season.
As good as Garner was, he wasn't nearly what Forte is. At 27, Forte may not yet be at his prime.
With Trestman calling the plays for the Bears, we should see Forte play more like he did in 2011. Prior to injuring his knee in the 12th game of that season, Forte was on pace fro nearly 1,500 yards rushing and over 700 receiving.
While the Bears figure to spread the ball around more, Forte figures to touch it far more than anyone else.
The big thing he has to be able to do is find the end zone more. Since scoring 12 touchdowns as a rookie, Forte hasn't reached double digits. He struggles in short-yardage situations, which is where Bush gets the call. If he can get 10 touchdowns, the Bears would have to be thrilled.
What should help is the additions of Bushrod and Martellus Bennett. Both are considered very good run blockers. Forte is also an ideal fit for Kromer's zone-blocking scheme.
If the Bears can get Forte going in the running game, it will open everything else up. In 2011, teams started focusing on taking him away and the passing game opened up for Earl Bennett and Johnny Knox. While Knox is gone, the Bears added Marshall, Jeffery and Martellus Bennett.
Suddenly, teams who focus on Forte will have a lot more to worry about. If they don't focus on Forte, he'll be matched up with linebackers or get to run against nickel defenses. Either way, the Bears should be happy to exploit that.
Like all running backs, it starts up front. If the blocking holds up, you can expect Forte to deliver a solid reminder about the kind of player he is.