Projecting the Chicago Bears' Starting Lineup Pre-2014 NFL Draft
As it stands, the Bears currently have 73 players on their roster, but they will be looking to add another handful of contributors through the draft.
In order to get a good sense of where the team will be looking to improve via the draft, they will take a look at its current depth chart and determine where its weaknesses are.
Here is the Chicago Bears' projected starting lineup prior to the 2014 NFL draft.
Starter: Jay Cutler
After signing a seven-year deal this offseason to stay in Chicago, via ESPN.com, Jay Cutler will remain the team's starting quarterback for the foreseeable future.
Cutler started just 11 games in 2013 after missing time due to injuries to his groin and ankle. Despite his limited time in Marc Trestman's offense, he set a career high with an 89.2 quarterback rating last season.
As long as he remains healthy, there is no reason to believe that Cutler will be losing this spot any time soon.
Backup: Jordan Palmer
The Bears signed veteran Jordan Palmer to a one-year deal earlier this offseason, via CSNChicago.com.
Palmer has completed just 10 passes during his NFL career for 59 yards and two interceptions. Despite his limited playing experience, he appears to have the inside track to backing up Cutler as head coach Marc Trestman told the media at the NFL owner's meetings this past March, via Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune:
We give Jordan a lot of credit. He literally learned the offense on his own because we didn't have time to work daily with him. He worked. He worked overtime and he learned the offense and came in and played admirably in the preseason. He moved the football team and was very sufficient.
The Bears could still look in free agency or the draft for their backup quarterback, but it appears that Palmer will remain their No. 2 for now.
Starter: Matt Forte
2013 was a career year for running back Matt Forte as he finished second in the league in rushing yards with 1,339. He had nine touchdowns to go along with his 74 catches for 594 yards and three touchdowns en route to his second career Pro Bowl.
Barring injury, Forte will remain the team's starter and workhorse at the running back position in 2014.
Backup: Michael Ford
With the release of Michael Bush in March, via NFL.com, second-year man Michael Ford will have the chance to compete for the team's No. 2 running back position this offseason.
Undrafted out of LSU last season, Ford played in 12 games for the Bears, primarily as a contributor on special teams.
He showed flashes during the preseason and another strong offseason may be good enough for him to land the backup job to Forte.
According to the Chicago Tribune, the Bears signed Shaun Draughn late last week, and he will have an opportunity to compete with Ford. Draughn has averaged 3.7 yards on 63 carries in 20 career games and has scored two touchdowns.
If the Bears want to find more experience, they can always look to the free-agent market, but it appears they may be content with Ford being their No. 2 running back.
Starters: Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery
2013 was a breakout year for Alshon Jeffery as he finished the season sixth in the league with 1,421 yards receiving en route to his first career Pro Bowl. Not to be forgotten, Brandon Marshall finished with 1,295 yards receiving and made his fifth career Pro Bowl.
For possibly the first time ever, the Bears had two legitimate star receiving targets lined up to the right or left of the quarterback in 2013.
Marshall and Jeffery will continue to hold down the No. 1 and No. 2 wide receiver spots in 2014.
Backups: Marquess Wilson, Josh Morgan and Domenik Hixon
In March, the team released veteran Earl Bennett, via ChicagoBears.com, giving an opportunity to Marquess Wilson to become the team's third receiver. Last offseason, Jeffery spent time training with Marshall in Florida, and Wilson followed their lead.
Wilson has above-average speed and has the ability to stretch the field. He is great at going up and catching the football at its highest point and fights for extra yards.
In case Wilson does not pan out, the Bears brought in two veteran receivers that can provide depth and contribute on special teams.
Just after the start of free agency in March, the Bears signed veteran Domenik Hixon to a one-year deal, via CBS Chicago. He has the ability to contribute on special teams as a return man and also has the ability to make contributions in the passing game.
In addition to signing Hixon, the Bears also signed veteran Josh Morgan in late April, via ESPN Chicago.
Both Hixon and Morgan are solid fall-back options if Wilson struggles to claim the No. 3 wide receiver position later this summer in training camp.
Starter: Martellus Bennett
Since the departure of Greg Olsen, the Bears had been searching for a top receiving tight end and finally found one in Martellus Bennett.
Bennett had a career year in 2013, notching career highs in catches (65), yards (759) and tying his career high in touchdowns with five.
Bennett is expected to once again be a big part of the Bears offense in 2014.
Backups: *Draft Pick* and Matthew Mulligan
In early April, according to a tweet from the team, the Bears signed veteran tight end Matthew Mulligan to a one-year deal.
Mulligan is more known for his blocking ability and will likely be the team's third tight end to be used in certain situational packages.
The team currently stands with Zach Miller, Fendi Onobun and Dante Rosario as the remaining tight ends on its roster.
Rosario played just a handful of snaps last season, mostly as a blocking tight end. There is potential with both Onobun and Miller, but at this point in their careers it is hard to expect either to make a big leap in 2014.
The team may look to the draft to find a tight end and should be able to find a talented pass-catcher in the later rounds such as Oregon's Colt Lyerla or Utah's Jake Murphy.
Starters: Jermon Bushrod, Matt Slauson, Roberto Garza, Kyle Long and Jordan Mills
After being a thorn in Jay Cutler's side since his arrival in Chicago, the Bears offensive line in 2013 was a vast improvement over the spotty offensive line play he had endured since 2009.
The team solidified the left side of the line via free agency, signing Jermon Bushrod and Matt Slauson that spring and drafted Kyle Long and Jordan Mills to help shore up the right side of the line.
The combination of Bushrod, Slauson, Roberto Garza, Long and Mills started all 16 games last season.
Far from a perfect product, the offensive line looked to get stronger as the weeks went on and should expect the same, if not better, results in 2014.
Backups: James Brown, Eben Britton, Brian de la Puente and Joe Long
A key part of the Bears' jumbo package, Eben Britton signed a one-year deal to remain with the team earlier this offseason, via the Chicago Tribune. Britton was effective lining up at the tight end position and helped give Jay Cutler extra protection, particularly on critical passing downs. He gives the team a versatile offensive lineman that can play both tackle and guard and he could push Mills in training camp at the right tackle position.
Just a few days after the re-signing of Britton, the Bears signed veteran center Brian de la Puente to a one-year deal, via ChicagoBears.com. He has started 44 games in his four-year career and could possibly push Garza for the starting job at center.
James Brown and Joe Long are two young players that the team views to have potential and upside but still have room to grow. Neither will likely have a shot at pushing for a starting job, but both should provide good depth to this offensive line.
Starters: Jared Allen and Lamarr Houston
Phil Emery jumped out of the gate in free agency, signing Lamarr Houston to a five-year deal on the first day of free agency, via ChicagoBears.com.
He avoided the franchise tag from Oakland, and at just 26 years old, he is in the prime of his career. He plays well against the run at defensive end and can cause havoc rushing from the inside on passing situations.
To complement Houston, the Bears signed veteran Jared Allen to a four-year contract in late March, via ChicagoBears.com.
A five-time Pro Bowler, Allen has averaged 14.5 sacks over the past seven seasons, never registering fewer than 11 sacks during that time.
The Bears struggled at sacking the quarterback and stopping the run in 2013, and the additions of Houston and Allen should help rectify that problem in 2014.
Backups: Willie Young, David Bass and Cornelius Washington
A few short days after signing Houston to a five-year deal, the Bears signed former Detroit Lion Willie Young to a three-year deal, via NFL.com.
Bleacher Report's Zach Kruse wrote that Young was the "steal of free agency," comparing the amount of money Young received in the deal to his production on the field.
Young will be a key piece of the defensive end rotation and has the ability to set the edge against the run but can also be effective at getting after the quarterback.
Allen, Houston and Young are expected to get most of the snaps at defensive end in 2014, but there are currently four other ends on the roster who will be fighting for an opportunity.
David Bass and Cornelius Washington remain from the 2013 campaign and will be competing with Austen Lane and Trevor Scott for a spot in the rotation.
In February the team signed Lane to a one-year deal, via ChicagoBears.com. A fifth-round pick out of Murray State in 2010, Lane has appeared in 30 career games with 17 starts in four seasons with the Jaguars and Lions, register 46 tackles, three sacks and one forced fumble.
Lane has the versatility to play inside and outside and was even asked to drop in coverage when he was with the Lions last season.
The team inked veteran Trevor Scott in early March to a one-year deal, via ChicagoBears.com. Scott has registered 94 career tackles, 16.5 sacks, 21 tackles-for-loss, two forced fumbles and one pass breakup over six NFL seasons.
While Lane and Scott bring experience to the position, David Bass and Cornelius Washington bring youth and untapped potential.
A seventh-round pick of the Oakland Raiders, Bass was claimed off of waivers by the Bears prior to the start of last season, and he finished with 23 tackles, one sack and one interception in 12 games. He showed flashes at times and could solidify a spot on this roster with a strong training camp.
Washington, a sixth-round pick in 2013, ended up appearing in just two games for the Bears even though the team struggled at getting after the quarterback throughout the season. He has speed, size and athleticism, and the Bears will be hoping that he is just a late-bloomer.
Starters: Jeremiah Ratliff and Stephen Paea
More than a year came and went between snaps for Jeremiah Ratliff and during that time he went from a dominating presence for the Dallas Cowboys to a steady contributor for the Bears.
Sidelined with a groin injury since late in the 2012 season, Ratliff was eventually released by the Dallas Cowboys on Oct. 16 of last year and signed by the Bears on Nov. 4, via ESPNChicago.com.
He finished with nine tackles and a 1.5 sacks in five games for the Bears and was re-signed this offseason to a two-year deal, via ChicagoBears.com.
He will be turning 33 in August, but he showed at the end of last season that he still has plenty left in the tank and should be a solid stopgap at the 3-technique tackle position while the team tries to get younger.
Expected to start alongside Ratliff and nose tackle is fourth-year man Stephen Paea.
Paea has shown he can be a consistent threat against the run, and he has the burst and ability to get after the quarterback, registering six sacks in his first three seasons.
Backups: Israel Idonije, Nate Collins and *Draft Pick*
After spending a season in Detroit in 2013, the Bears brought Israel Idonije back this offseason, signing him to a one-year deal in March, via NFL.com.
Idonije has the ability to play both inside and outside and will give the team much-needed depth and versatility along the defensive line.
It appeared that Nate Collins was set to have a solid 2013 campaign until his season was lost to a torn ACL early in the season. The team brought him back on a one-year deal this offseason, via CSNChicago.com.
Collins has the flexibility to play both the 3-technique and nose tackle, is strong at the point of attack and has shown the ability to get off of the ball and apply pressure to the quarterback.
While Idonije and Collins will provide solid depth, the team will likely look to the NFL draft to provide youth at the position.
If the team wants to address the position in the first round, Pittsburgh's Aaron Donald, Florida State's Timmy Jernigan and Minnesota's Ra'Shede Hageman could all be viable options that could push to be a starter in 2014. If they decide to wait until later in the draft, Arizona State's Will Sutton, Florida's Dominique Easley and Princeton's Caraun Reid could all make an immediate impact in their rookie season.
Starters: Lance Briggs, D.J. Williams and Jon Bostic
2013 was a tough year for Bears linebackers as D.J. Williams was placed on injured reserve and missed the majority of the season, and Lance Briggs was injured in October against the Washington Redskins and did not return until Week 15 against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Briggs and Williams are expected to return to their roles as starters at the weak-side and middle linebacker positions, but the starter at strong-side linebacker is still in question.
Backups: Shea McClellin, Khaseem Greene and *Draft Pick*
Shea McClellin registered just 2.5 sacks in his rookie season in 2012, often struggling to match up with bigger, stronger offensive lineman. His sack totals improved in 2013 when he finished with four, but he was a liability against the run. With the change to linebacker, McClellin has been working this offseason to become leaner and that was evident in this tweet from his trainer Scot Prohaska:
Bostic appears to be the front-runner for the position, but McClellin may be able to carve out a niche as a situational pass-rusher.
Khaseem Greene started four games last season for the injured Briggs and struggled to produce when on the field. He still factors into the team's plans in the future and should be a contributor on special teams in 2014.
With Briggs and Williams getting up there in age and question marks surrounding Bostic, McClellin and Greene, the team will likely look to the draft to find depth and possibly a potential starter.
Alabama's C.J. Mosley and Ohio State's Ryan Shazier could both be options in the first round while Montana's Jordan Tripp, Wisconsin's Chris Borland and Stanford's Shayne Skov could be found outside of the first round and have the potential to be contributors from the start.
Starters: Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings
One of the most productive cornerback duos in the NFC, Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings will try again to shut down some of the best offenses the league has to offer in 2014.
In his 11 seasons in Chicago, Tillman holds the team's record for defensive touchdowns with nine, forced fumbles with 38 and is two interceptions away from tying Gary Fencik's team interception record.
The team re-signed Tillman this offseason to a one-year deal, via ChicagoBears.com.
Fresh off of his second Pro Bowl selection, the Bears re-signed Jennings to a four-year deal after the conclusion of the 2013 season, via the Chicago Tribune.
Tillman and Jennings have proved for the better part of the last three seasons that they have the ability to shut down opposing wide receivers and as long as both can stay healthy, it will likely stay that way in 2014.
Backups: Isaiah Frey, Kelvin Hayden and *Draft Pick*
After not appearing in a game for the Bears in his rookie season, Isaiah Frey was handed the team's nickelback position in training camp last summer following an injury to veteran Kelvin Hayden.
Frey played in all 16 games last season for the Bears as the team's nickelback, finishing the season with 47 total tackles and one pass deflection.
He will face stiff competition this offseason after the Bears brought Hayden back on a one-year deal this past February, via ChicagoBears.com.
While Frey and Hayden are expected to be the front-runners for the team's nickelback position, they could look early in the draft to find another starting caliber cornerback.
Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert, Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard and Virginia Tech's Kyle Fuller are all expected to go in the first round and could be an instant upgrade over Frey and Hayden in the nickel in their rookie season and could push for a starting role in 2015.
Starters: Ryan Mundy and *Draft Pick*
Few would argue that one of the Bears' biggest weaknesses in 2013 on defense was the play of their safeties.
Phil Emery wasted little time trying to improve the position this offseason and struck a deal with former New York Giants safety Ryan Mundy on the first day of free agency, via ChicagoBears.com. He has appeared in 80 games with 14 starts over five seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers (2009-12) and New York Giants (2013), registering 143 tackles and two interceptions.
Mundy is a good in-the-box run-stopper with the physicality to match up with tight ends in the passing game and projects to be the team's starting strong safety in 2014.
The team will likely look to the draft to find a starter at free safety and could be in the mix for Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix when the team selects at No. 14 in the first round.
He is a prototypical ball-hawking safety as he consistently has a great break on the ball and has good enough hands to haul in interceptions.
Another intriguing prospect at No. 14 is Louisville safety Calvin Pryor. Viewed more as a strong safety, Pryor has the flexibility to play the single-high safety role but is likely better suited to walk down and play inside the box.
Backups: Chris Conte and Craig Steltz
Despite an abysmal 2013 season for Chris Conte, he was expected to compete for the starting free safety spot. Now, his opportunity will be in jeopardy after the team announced, via Larry Mayer of ChicagoBears.com, that he will be out four to five months after undergoing shoulder surgery in late March.
As long as he bounces back from injury, the Bears will likely keep him around in 2014 due to his experience and athleticism.
While it would not come as a surprise if the team drafts more than one safety in the draft, Craig Steltz currently occupies one of the team's backup safety spots on this roster.
A solid special teams contributor, Steltz has the ability to play both the strong and free safety positions but is best suited as backup at strong safety.
All stats courtesy of NFL.com.
Matt Eurich is an NFL/Chicago Bears Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.
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