Chicago Bears: Way-Too-Early 53-Man Roster and Depth Chart Predictions
Chicago addressed needs on both sides of the ball with the selections of outside linebacker Leonard Floyd, offensive lineman Cody Whitehair, defensive end Jonathan Bullard, inside linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski, safety Deon Bush, defensive back Deiondre' Hall, running back Jordan Howard, defensive back DeAndre Houston-Carson and wide receiver Daniel Braverman.
The Bears finished last season 6-10 after going 5-11 in 2014, and following all of the team's additions via free agency and the draft this offseason, they are poised to show improvement in 2016.
Many things can change between now and the end of the preseason, but here are our early projections for the Bears' 53-man roster.
Jay Cutler threw for 3,659 yards with 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions last season behind an offensive line riddled with injuries and inconsistent play and a wide receiver corps that also struggled to stay healthy.
The former first-round pick showed off improved mechanics in the pocket and did a great job all season long of sidestepping pressure. He still possesses one of the strongest arms in the league, and he is not afraid to throw the deep ball into traffic.
Cutler took care of the football in 2015 better than he did in 2014 and 2013 under Marc Trestman, and he looked comfortable in Adam Gase's offense last season. With Gase now the head coach of the Miami Dolphins, Cutler will have to prove he can do the same things in Dowell Loggains' offense that he did last year under Gase.
Cutler is the clear-cut No. 1 quarterback on Chicago's depth chart, and following the conclusion of the draft, the Bears added a new No. 2.
According to ESPN's Adam Caplan, the Bears agreed to terms with veteran signal-caller Brian Hoyer on Saturday night.
Hoyer entered the league as an undrafted free agent out of Michigan State in 2009 and spent time with the New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers and Arizona Cardinals before starting 13 games for the Cleveland Browns in 2014. He threw for 3,326 yards with 12 touchdowns and 13 interceptions in those 13 starts and signed with the Houston Texans last offseason.
The veteran quarterback started nine games last year and threw for 2,606 yards with 19 touchdowns and seven interceptions but was released earlier this offseason.
He will not push Cutler for any starting reps, but he gives the Bears a reliable backup who has experience in Loggains' system from their time spent together in Cleveland in 2014.
Chicago took David Fales in the sixth round of the 2014 draft, but the former San Jose State standout has not played a down in the NFL. The coaching staff liked him enough last season to elevate him off the practice squad after the Bears released veteran backup Jimmy Clausen in late November, but he will likely begin the year on the practice squad.
Matt Forte stood atop Chicago's depth chart at the running back position for eight seasons, but the team decided not to bring the veteran back this offseason. Forte moved on to the New York Jets, and Jeremy Langford is now the Bears' top running back.
Langford took over as the starter in the middle of the season when Forte went down with an injury, and the fourth-round pick out of Michigan State finished his rookie year with 537 rushing yards on 148 carries with six touchdowns.
He showed off his explosiveness on runs to the outside, but he needs to improve in pass protection. The young running back spent time at Michigan State as a wide receiver, but he needs to improve as a pass-catcher in order to have a bigger impact this season.
With Forte out of the picture, the Bears opted to add Howard out of Indiana in the fifth round of this year's draft. After two productive seasons at Alabama-Birmingham, Howard transferred to Indiana for the 2015 season. He took over as the team's No. 1 back and rushed for 1,213 yards on 196 carries with nine touchdowns in nine games.
Howard is a tough runner between the tackles and displays great vision when the ball is in his hands. He keeps his legs moving through traffic and always fights for extra yards. He has a tendency to run tall and will take some big hits because of his running style, but if he can stay healthy, he could push Langford for the starting job.
Ka'Deem Carey proved to have value last year as a short-yardage running back, and he gives the team a reliable between-the-tackles runner who is solid in pass protection and a willing participant on special teams.
Alshon Jeffery struggled with injuries last season and appeared in just nine games. Despite missing nearly half the season, the young receiver still finished the year with 807 receiving yards on 54 catches with four touchdowns.
Earlier this year, the team placed the franchise tag on Jeffery. According to general manager Ryan Pace, the Bears and Jeffery have been trying to work on a long-term deal.
"We continue to talk with his agency, and it's still been cordial and it's been productive, but not a lot of new information there," Pace said last week, per Larry Mayer of ChicagoBears.com.
Jeffery is one of the best receivers in the league when it comes to attacking the football in the air, and if he can stay healthy, he should be able to put up big numbers this season.
Chicago used the seventh overall pick on West Virginia's Kevin White last year, but the young receiver struggled with a shin injury and did not play a down in 2015. He is expected to return this season, and he should give Cutler another reliable target on the other side of the field opposite of Jeffery.
Veteran Eddie Royal was expected to be a threat out of the slot for the Bears last season, but he also struggled with injuries. In nine games last year, Royal caught just 37 passes for 238 yards with one touchdown. If he can revert back to the player he was in both San Diego and Denver, Chicago could boast one of the league's best receiving trios.
Marquess Wilson proved to be a solid route-runner and a reliable target for Cutler last season, but he also struggled with injuries. In the wake of all the injuries at the wide receiver position, veteran Marc Mariani became a pleasant surprise on offense.
Mariani caught a career-high 22 passes for 300 yards and was a go-to receiver for Cutler on third down late in the season. He has experience on kickoffs and is a solid reserve option behind Royal out of the slot.
Chicago closed out its draft by selecting Braverman in the seventh round. He is a quick receiver who possesses good hands and caught 212 passes during his collegiate career.
Pro Football Focus' Matt Claassen thought the Bears got a steal with Braverman in the seventh round.
"Daniel Braverman is another steal for the Bears. A legit slot receiver who should push for a lot of playing time," Claassen tweeted.
If Royal or Mariani stumbles, Braverman could push for reps out of the slot. He also has experience as a punt returner and could push for a role on special teams in his rookie year.
Chicago traded Martellus Bennett to the New England Patriots in March for a fourth-round pick, leaving Zach Miller as the team's top option at the tight end position.
Miller played in 15 games in 2015—his most since 2010—and he finished the year with career highs in catches (34), receiving yards (439) and touchdowns (5). He proved he can get open in the middle of the field and that he can also be a threat in the red zone. Miller needs to get better as a blocker, but he is at his best when asked to run routes.
After the Bears placed Bennett on injured reserve in early December, they signed veteran Rob Housler. The former Arizona Cardinal and Cleveland Brown appeared in four games and finished the year with three catches for 27 yards. He showed the ability in Arizona to be a reliable No. 2 tight end, but like Miller, he is a better pass-catcher than blocker.
Chicago traded a sixth-round pick last offseason to acquire Khari Lee from the Houston Texans, but he struggled to make much of an impact as a blocking tight end.
Kyle Long proved last season he is versatile enough to anchor the offensive line on the outside at right tackle, but he is expected to move back inside to guard this season following the addition of Bobby Massie in free agency.
Long and Massie will hold down the right side of the line, while Charles Leno and rookie Cody Whitehair are projected to anchor the left side of the line.
Matt Slauson made starts at both left guard and center last year, but he was released by the team on Sunday night, per ESPN's Field Yates.
If 2015 third-round pick Hroniss Grasu can add bulk to his frame, he could enter the season as the starting center, but he looked lost at times when on the field last year.
Leno is an athletic tackle who displays good footwork and technique, but he needs to get stronger, particularly in the running game.
Tayo Fabuluje is a versatile lineman who has the ability to line up both inside at guard and on the outside at tackle. He could potentially push Leno with a strong offseason, but at the worst, he will be the team's swing tackle in 2016.
Nick Becton spent all of last season on Chicago's practice squad, and he will compete with Fabuluje for the swing tackle position.
Chicago added veteran guards Manny Ramirez and Ted Larsen in free agency, and both give the team flexibility on the inside. They can play both guard positions and have experience playing center. Ramirez started under John Fox in Denver, and he has the inside track to the starting center job this offseason.
Akiem Hicks is expected to start at one of the 5-technique defensive end spots in 2015 after Chicago struggled to find consistency at the position last year.
Following four productive seasons in New Orleans, Hicks joined the New England Patriots on a one-year deal last offseason. He finished the year with 21 tackles and three sacks as a reserve lineman for the Patriots. Hicks gives Chicago a proven 5-technique who can set the edge against the run and has the ability to apply pressure on the quarterback.
In the third round of the draft, Chicago selected Bullard. He finished his four-year career at Florida with 175 total tackles, 34 tackles for loss and 12 sacks. Bullard has the ability to set the edge against the run and is versatile enough to move down to the 3-technique in different sub-packages.
As long as he can pick up defensive coordinator Vic Fangio's scheme quickly, he should be a starter from day one for Chicago.
Mitch Unrein joined the Bears early in the season last year and quickly became an integral part of the team's rotation along the defensive line. He is not flashy, but he can set the edge against the run on the outside and is versatile enough to slide down to the inside. Unrein does not have much value as a pass-rusher, but he is a consistent performer who should receive a lot of reps this season.
A second-round pick in 2014, Ego Ferguson struggled to adapt to his new role at defensive end in Fangio's scheme. He played four games before he was placed on injured reserve in October.
Ferguson has a quick first step and the ability to get after the quarterback, but he will need to prove he has fully recovered from his knee injury.
Cornelius Washington suffered a quadriceps injury in Week 1 last year against the Green Bay Packers and missed the entire season. According to John Mullin of CSNChicago.com, Washington gained 20 pounds last summer to play defensive end in Chicago's 3-4 scheme.
He is an explosive athlete who has struggled to get onto the field since joining the team in 2013 as a sixth-round pick, but if he can have the same kind of offseason in 2016 like he did last year, he has a legitimate shot of making the 53-man roster.
Eddie Goldman appeared in 15 games last year with 12 starts as a rookie and finished the year with 22 total tackles and 4.5 sacks. The former Florida State standout was an anchor on the interior against the run and showed off an ability to get after the quarterback.
Goldman has an explosive first step and is unafraid to take on multiple blockers in the middle of Chicago's defensive line. He will continue to be the team's starter at nose tackle in 2016.
Will Sutton was expected to be a pass-rushing force on the inside for the Bears when he was taken in the third round of the 2014 draft, but he has yet to record a sack in his NFL career. He played both defensive end and nose tackle last year in Fangio's scheme and proved to be effective against the run. He finished the year with 23 tackles.
Even though Sutton has not been able to get after the quarterback in the NFL, he showed a willingness to get his hands up to clog passing lanes last season. After deflecting two passes in 2014, he finished last year with four pass deflections.
2015 undrafted free agent Terry Williams could push Sutton, but Williams will have to prove he has improved his stamina after struggling at times with his conditioning during the preseason last summer.
Pernell McPhee instantly became the new face of Chicago's defense last season, and he finished his first year with the Bears with 53 tackles, six sacks, one forced fumble and one interception.
McPhee gives the Bears a versatile defender who can make an impact against both the run and the pass, and after struggling with a knee injury late in the year, he could see an increase in his numbers this year with Chicago's newest addition at outside linebacker.
The Bears traded up from the No. 11 spot to the No. 9 spot on Thursday night to take Georgia's Leonard Floyd. An explosive, quick-twitch athlete, Floyd needs to add bulk to his frame (6'6", 244 lbs) in order to be an every-down player in the NFL.
Floyd recorded just 4.5 sacks last season after registering six in 2014 and 6.5 in 2013, but he was asked to do a lot of different things in Georgia's defense. According to Pace, Floyd's drop in production last season does not worry him, per Jeff Dickerson of ESPN.com:
It’s a good question. You know, when you watch the tape, they move him all over. He’s such a versatile athlete, so he played inside linebacker one snap and the next snap he’s in nickel running down the field with a slot receiver. And then he’s rushing. You see him at all these different positions. I think with him playing more of a pass-rush position, he’ll have more production.
It is unlikely Floyd will be an every-down player at the start of his career, but there is a good chance he begins the year as a starter opposite of McPhee at outside linebacker.
Lamarr Houston and Willie Young both showed progress as the season wore on in 2015 while bouncing back from season-ending injuries they suffered in 2014. Neither Houston nor Young is a natural fit at outside linebacker, but both proved last season they can still get after the quarterback.
Chicago re-signed veteran Sam Acho this offseason, and the former Arizona Cardinal gives the team a reliable run-stopper on the outside and a proven special teams contributor.
Chicago used a combination of Shea McClellin, Christian Jones, John Timu and Jonathan Anderson at inside linebacker last season, and it used free agency to upgrade the position this offseason.
Fresh off a victory in Super Bowl 50, Danny Trevathan signed a four-year deal with the Bears at the start of free agency. The former Kentucky standout is an all-around inside linebacker who can make an impact against both the run and the pass. He moves well laterally and can make stops on runs to the outside, and he can also drop back in coverage. In four years with the Broncos, he recorded five interceptions and 19 pass deflections.
Adding Trevathan alone helped upgrade Chicago's inside linebacker corps, but Pace decided to make the unit even stronger by signing Jerrell Freeman to a three-year deal earlier this offseason.
Freeman is a prototypical downhill run-stopping inside linebacker, but he is also versatile enough to drop in coverage. He and Trevathan are expected to anchor the middle of Chicago's defense this season.
Chicago moved up four spots to select Kwiatkoski in the fourth round, and the former West Virginia Mountaineer is a solid run-stopper who is athletic enough to drop in coverage. He will not push for a starting job this season, but he will make an impact on special teams.
Timu flashed as an undrafted free agent down the stretch last year, and his ability on special teams should help him secure a job in 2016.
Kyle Fuller and Tracy Porter were both a bit shaky at the start of 2015, but the cornerback duo bounced back in the middle of the year and finished the season strong.
Fuller and Porter will begin the year as the starters on the outside, but there are a lot of questions about the depth behind them.
Bryce Callahan flashed as an undrafted free agent in his rookie season and took over the nickelback job. He appeared in nine games and recorded 21 tackles, one sack and four pass deflections. He plays physically out of the slot and has the quickness to keep up with speedy receivers on the inside.
Chicago grabbed Houston-Carson in the sixth round, and he has the ability to play both outside at cornerback and at free safety. At 6'1" and 201 pounds, he has good size for the outside and spent three seasons playing cornerback at William & Mary. He believes his versatility will help him in the NFL.
“There’s so much involved to playing the game as a defensive back,” he said prior to the draft, per Dave Johnson of the Daily Press. “Being able to play man-to-man and knowing that I’m comfortable on an island at corner makes teams a little bit more interested in me."
At the bottom of the roster at the position, Sherrick McManis and Jacoby Glenn have the ability to play out of the slot, but both are better suited to play special teams. McManis was the team's nickelback last season before Chicago benched him in favor of Callahan. Glenn spent the majority of the year on the practice squad but did appear in one game last season.
Veteran Antrel Rolle struggled with injuries and consistency in his first year in Chicago, but the team found a reliable option at the free safety position in fifth-round pick Adrian Amos.
Amos started all 16 games last year and was one of Chicago's best against the run. He showed he can be effective up in the box, but he was not tested often in the passing game. He appears to be a lock to start at free safety this year.
On Sunday, the team released Rolle, according to the NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.
Omar Bolden spent the last four seasons with the Denver Broncos before signing a one-year deal with Chicago earlier this year. He has good coverage skills and the ability to roam from sideline to sideline, but he is at his best returning punts and kicks.
The Bears used two picks in the fourth round to select Bush and Hall, and both have a chance to push for a starting role in 2016.
Bush is a prototypical box safety who excels against the run, while Hall has the coverage skills to play as a single-high safety in Fangio's scheme.
Neither Bush nor Hall is a polished product, but both give the Bears upside at the position. There is a chance Hall competes for playing time on the outside at cornerback or inside at nickelback, but he appears to be better suited playing safety because of his sideline-to-sideline ability.
|Long Snapper||Aaron Brewer|
|Kick Returner||Omar Bolden|
|Punt Returner||Omar Bolden|
Robbie Gould made 33 of his 39 field-goal attempts last year after completing just nine of 12 in 2014. Even though he is set to make $3 million in 2016, it appears unlikely the team will move on from the veteran kicker unless he struggles out of the gate this season.
Pat O'Donnell struggled at the beginning of last year, but the former Miami Hurricane settled in as the season wore on. He improved his yards-per-punt average from 43.8 yards in 2014 to 44.2 yards per punt in 2015. After dropping just 20 of his 71 punts inside the 20-yard line in 2014, O'Donnell landed 28 of his 70 punts inside the 20-yard line last season.
Chicago signed long snapper Aaron Brewer this offseason, and he is set to compete with Patrick Scales for the position this summer.
Bolden gives the Bears depth at safety, but he is at his best as a return man. He can return both punts and kicks, and he returned a punt for a touchdown last season.
53-Man Roster Projection