Chicago Bears: Rookie, Free-Agent Midseason Progress Report
Martellus Bennett is like Superman—if there were an abundance of kryptonite on earth. Jermon Bushrod is like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich—when you haven’t eaten for three days. Matt Slauson is like a nice pair of slacks.
Ridiculous comparisons? Maybe so. But check out the rationales on the following slideshow as I take you through my midseason grades of the eight most noteworthy rookie and free-agent additions to the 2013 Chicago Bears.
Martellus Bennett, Tight End
Martellus Bennett is like…Superman, if there were an abundance of kryptonite on earth.
The Rationale: Martellus Bennett has been studly in the passing game. How studly? Very studly. He's on pace to finish the season with 73 catches and 814 yards.
The Bears’ record books show that only “Da Coach” Mike Ditka, formerly “Da Tight End,” put up numbers like that at the tight end position. (Shoutout to Greg Olsen for his 2009 campaign.)
But don’t paint the “S” on Bennett’s chest just yet. Or, rather, go ahead and paint it, just make sure to include a big asterisk. Because he has his kryptonite all right, and in this case, it’s kind of a huge deal:
He can’t block.
Pro Football Focus (subscription required) ranks him near the bottom of the barrel in both pass and run blocking. It’s an odd riddle, considering blocking was one of his strongest attributes coming to the Bears. From 2010 to 2012, he rated as a top-10 blocking tight end.
That should be reassuring to Bears fans, though, because it’s not as if the coaching staff has to teach a blind man to see. Superman has 20-20 vision—they just need to get him to open his eyes.
Until that happens, Bennett won't get an A on his report card.
Semester Grade: B+
Jermon Bushrod, Left Tackle
Jermon Bushrod is like…a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, when you haven’t eaten in three days.
The Rationale: Jermon Bushrod’s 2013 play, under any other circumstances, would be nothing to write home about. He hasn’t been outstanding. He hasn’t even been above average.
But for Bears fans who remember the J’Marcus Webb fiasco in 2012, Bushrod has been a godsend. He’s helped shore up a line that a year ago looked like the world’s worst bouncers. You know—they let everyone through.
This year, the entire line is better, and Bears fans are content. But before we all get too caught up in mere improvement, let’s remember that improving from terrible doesn’t mean you’re now good.
The fact is that Bushrod is no filet mignon.
He’s given up 27 quarterback pressures through seven games. He only rates as the 18th-best left tackle, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required). The Bears are paying him $36 million over five years, $17.7 million of which is guaranteed. For that money, those numbers need to be better.
Semester Grade: C+
Matt Slauson, Left Guard
Matt Slauson is like…a nice pair of slacks.
The Rationale: Matt Slauson is trusty, and having him on the offensive line makes life just a little more comfortable.
A free-agent pickup who spent four seasons with the New York Jets, Slauson has been the Bears’ best overall offensive lineman this season. He has given up just 12 quarterback pressures through seven games, and he’s been steady as a run blocker.
For an offensive line that was patched together in an offseason, Slauson has done his part to get the group moving in the right direction. For the $1.38 million they’re paying him, that’s a steal.
Semester Grade: A
Jordan Mills, Right Tackle
Jordan Mills is like…the girl who you fell in love with too fast, and now, just a few months later, you’re starting to realize she’s not quirky, she’s crazy. She’s not attentive, she’s a stalker. And above all, she’s just not starting girlfriend material.
The Rationale: Two things worked in Jordan Mills’ favor early on. The first is that he had a strong showing in Week 1 against the Cincinnati Bengals. He looked good, he rated well for advanced statistic sites like Pro Football Focus and, to boot, the media gave their stamp of approval.
Remember all those times people said first impressions were important?
I present you Exhibit A: Jordan Mills.
But that’s not all that was making Mills look like a keeper. The second red herring was Mills’ association with right guard Kyle Long. Drafted together, the two found homes on the right side of the line, and their sheer proximity has caused many a person (myself included) to lump them together.
The rookies this. The rookies that.
That’s how we described what was happening on the right side of the line. But that was not exactly what was happening.
In reality, following Week 1, one of the rookies continued a streak of stellar play. The other started a free fall.
I bet you can guess which is which.
But now we’re eight weeks in. The honeymoon phase is over. And Long’s exceptional play is no longer masking what’s happening just three feet to his right.
Need a good cry? Check out some of Mills’ stats and rankings, per Pro Football Focus. (Note that there are 73 eligible offensive tackles in the league.)
- Overall: 72nd
- Run Blocking: 39th
- Pass Blocking: 73rd
- QB Pressures Allowed: 35
Don’t trust those rankings? Check out the GIF in this article.
The reason Mills won’t earn an F from me is that I’m factoring in the circumstances and expectations. As a fifth-round pick, he’s not supposed to be a superstar. That late in the draft, teams are just looking for someone serviceable. He can be that. Someday. But for now, I can’t ignore the cold hard facts, and for that reason, he gets a D+.
Semester Grade: D+
Jon Bostic, Middle Linebacker
Jon Bostic is like…the new kid at school, and there are rumors that he’s got a hot mom and a sweet Xbox setup, but you’re not sure if you believe it.
The Rationale: It was a rough outing for second-round draft pick Jon Bostic Week 7 against the Washington Redskins. In his first NFL start, he appeared out of his element, a step behind and, at times, lost.
Welcome to the NFL.
But he's got a good reputation nonetheless, thanks to a preseason filled with big hits and solid play. Now, months later, fans are wondering—hoping—that reputation will hold up.
Semester Grade: B
D.J. Williams, Middle Linebacker
D.J. Williams is like…that TV show you liked that was cancelled midseason.
Rationale: In the preseason, it looked like second-round draft pick Jon Bostic might overtake former Denver Bronco D.J. Williams as heir to the Chicago Bears' middle linebacker throne. Williams, new to the team and coming off an injury, was an unknown to many fans, while Bostic was on a tear.
Then Week 1 happened, and Williams put those talks to bed. He played strong defense against the run and added an effective pass rush. He followed up a the debut with several solid outings in a row.
Then defensive tackles Henry Melton and Nate Collins went down, and playing inside linebacker for the Bears suddenly became a much more challenging task. Williams, like the rest of the defense, struggled after that. In Week 6, he too succumbed to injury (pectoral), cutting a promising season short.
Semester Grade: B
James Anderson, Outside Linebacker
James Anderson is like…duct tape.
Rationale: Without much flash, the former Carolina Panther been a pretty useful addition to the Bears’ linebacking corps. On a defense that’s beat up and tattered, Anderson has been durable, and he’s doing his best to help keep things from falling apart.
In his previous seven seasons with the Carolina Panthers, he developed into one of the best coverage linebackers in the league. He’s continued that stellar play against the pass in Chicago.
He has struggled in stopping the run and hasn’t yet produced a turnover, but he’s done what he was brought here to do, and for that reason he earns a B+.
Semester Grade: B+
Kyle Long, Right Guard
Kyle Long is like… a designated driver.
The Rationale: Everyone loves Kyle Long, and for good reason. The Bears’ first round draft pick has been one of the most positive storylines for the Bears this season.
Many thought he was a reach at No. 20 because his stock was potential- and athleticism-laden, with little emphasis on experience or results. But seven weeks in, Long has proven that he’s a legitimate first round talent, and no one is complaining about the pick now.
Most impressive is Long’s athleticism, which has helped make him one of the most effective run blocking guards in the league. In fact, Forte’s most consistent running lane (5.2 yards per carry on 18 attempts) is between Long and center Roberto Garza.
Long is still improving as a pass blocker, but he’s already ahead of where some predicted he’d be at this point in his pro career. For that reason, he's getting high marks on his semester report card.
Semester Grade: A