Ranking Chicago Bears' 10 Most Important Contributors in 2017

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistJuly 5, 2017

Ranking Chicago Bears' 10 Most Important Contributors in 2017

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    For a team like the Chicago Bears, a list counting down the importance of players on the roster going into a new season varies greatly from a team fancying itself as a playoff contender.

    Given Chicago's progress in a rebuild, the list will look quite a bit different from a team such as, say, the New England Patriots—where the hierarchy will boil down to who needs to stay healthy and productive in order for the team to compete for a title.

    For general manager Ryan Pace, head coach John Fox and the rest of the organization, the list will lean more toward a future-looking slant. The Bears need guys to contribute now both to win games and to keep the long-term rebuild pointed in the right direction.

    Meaning, some listed contributors need to play at a high level to help the team win. Others are even more critical because enough in the way of contributions could mean the erasing of a perceived need in future years.

    It's a thin, shaky tightrope the Bears need to walk if they want a shot at becoming a regular playoff contender like the Patriots. Let's take a look.

10. Kevin White

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    Tired of hearing about Kevin White yet?

    Unfortunately for both the Bears and White, he hasn't come close to matching expectations bestowed upon him via his coming off the board at No. 7 in 2015. He was an older rookie, so the ship is starting to look sunk at this point because he's 25 going into a third year really resembling his first.

    Some might have White higher on this list based on his upside alone and what it would mean for the Bears. But the team has already started to move on, hence the arrivals of Markus Wheaton, Kendall Wright and Victor Cruz on top of what seems like another surefire breakout year from Cameron Meredith.

    A combination of Meredith and the veterans brought aboard can hold down the wideout corps in 2017. Getting something from White would be a bonus—and if it finally cements him on a strong developmental path, it could turn into a long-term boon.

9. Cody Whitehair

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    Jeff Haynes/Associated Press

    Center Cody Whitehair is a great example of the now-future tightrope mentioned in the intro.

    As a rookie one year ago, Whitehair came out of nowhere to put on an elite season at one of the league's tougher positions. Not only that, he did so on short notice after injuries reshuffled the line, initially looking like a backup guard at best.

    Whitehair will go unchallenged as the starting center now, and his ability to avoid the sophomore slump is critical—if he plays well, two potential franchise quarterbacks have an easier time. It also reassures the front office he wasn't a one-hit wonder and it needs to slap center back up on the whiteboard as a need to address.

    In theory, Whitehair should be even better next season after a full year of playing the spot. The Bears need theory to turn into reality.

8. Jonathan Bullard

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    Jonathan Bullard has yet to make a name for himself, even with a large portion of Bears fans.

    Bullard simply wasn't ready to go a year ago as a rookie despite his third-round status. His handing the job off to veterans like Mitch Unrein had defensive end looking like one of the major needs the Bears might address in the top five.

    They didn't, and now the pressure to take the job and make sure it isn't viewed as a need anymore falls right on Bullard's shoulders.

    Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, at least, has talked up how ready Bullard looks for his sophomore campaign, according to Patrick Finley of the Chicago Sun-Times. If Bullard can progress to the point of taking the majority of the snaps, the Bears can focus on the rebuild at other key spots.

7. Quintin Demps

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    Quintin Demps wasn't the big name Bears fans wanted to see this offseason.

    Demps, though, is an underrated 32-year-old veteran who didn't play many snaps over the first four years of his career, meaning age is indeed just a number. More important numbers include Demps finishing as the 12th-graded safety at Pro Football Focus in 2016 and his 18 forced turnovers over the last four seasons.

    Now the Bears need Demps to produce similar numbers while mentoring a developing secondary.

    The Bears don't have cap-space problems by any stretch of the imagination, but the team needs Demps to turn up big in 2017. It'll look like a bad investment if he doesn't, cost the team games in the short term and make one of the toughest positions in the league to fill well once again a major problem in the long term.

6. Kyle Fuller

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    Kyle Fuller is a high-upside, low-risk shot for the Bears in 2017.

    On one hand, Fuller could look like a cut candidate if he doesn't have a quality summer. On the other, he's got the sheer talent to function as the team's best corner.

    Fuller simply has to perform.

    The No. 14 pick in 2014 sometimes lived up to the hype of his slot with quality play, then he turned around and missed all of last year with an issue. Like White, the Bears aren't waiting around—they signed Prince Amukamara and Marcus Cooper in free agency, pushing upside guys like Fuller into perform-or-chopping-block mode.

    Whether it's at corner or safety, the Bears need Fuller to play at a high level in 2017. If he does, then the team won't have a problem throwing him a chunk of the bountiful cap space and addressing other issues.

5. Eddie Goldman

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    Jeff Haynes/Associated Press

    The Bears could have a major problem in the middle of their defense in 2017.

    Said problem might be Eddie Goldman's ankle, which the 2015 second-round pick injured at times during his rookie campaign and then in 2016, where he could only suit up for six games.

    Goldman has the talent to slot as one of the league's better run-stuffing tackles when on the field and explosive, but he's started to trend toward always-injured territory in a hurry.

    Without Goldman on the field and playing well, it doesn't matter if the team has a great linebacker corps and a revamped secondary with upside. He's 23 years old, so another underwhelming year would mean a huge need to address rather than focusing attention elsewhere.

4. Charles Leno Jr.

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    It's now-or-never time for Charles Leno Jr. at left tackle.

    Leno is only 25 years old (which again, should be a red flag when thinking about White) but has already played in three seasons for the Bears. A year ago, he slotted as the 53rd tackle in football at Pro Football Focus, and while those numbers aren't everything, it's a noticeable problem.

    A team trying to break in two guys they hope can be potential passers can't have them constantly under pressure from the edge. Leno needs to take another step in this regard in 2017 or it's something capable of derailing the entire season.

    If Leno breaks out, he's a younger tackle the Bears can ink to an extension. If not, the Bears might have to splurge on a veteran or break in a rookie alongside an inexperienced pro quarterback and cross the fingers that everything works out.

3. Jordan Howard

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    Jeff Haynes/Associated Press

    Jordan Howard helped the Bears in a way many on this list hopefully can in 2017—he blew up and eliminated a need for the Bears over the long term.

    Provided it wasn't a one-hit-wonder performance, of course.

    Howard bullied his way to 1,313 yards and six touchdowns on a 5.2 per-carry average last year behind one of the league's best interior offensive lines.

    Expectations, in a word, are huge, even for Fox.

    "This time a year ago, he wasn't even practicing," Fox said, according to the Chicago Tribune's Terrin Waack. "I like where we are right now. We have way more competition, whether it's at running back or any other position, and he's better for it."

    Howard is the key to the offense in 2017. Another strong season means less stress on a passing game attempting to find timing and chemistry, let alone produce. A dud could ruin the trajectory of the rebuild while adding another position to the need column.

2. Mike Glennon/Mitchell Trubisky

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    One can't talk about important contributors in 2017 and fail to mention the quarterback spot in Chicago.

    Some might argue it isn't as big of a deal as it could be if veteran Mike Glennon beats out the rookie Mitchell Trubisky for the gig. There's a semblance of truth there—if Glennon bombs in his first real opportunity in years, it's not a major catastrophe because he's giving the job to Trubisky either way.

    But Glennon bombing isn't ideal because it could do major damage to the rebuild. If the new-look wideout corps, a strong tight end depth chart and Howard's rushing game aren't helped along by strong play, it could be a major setback rather than progress.

    And if Trubisky somehow wins the starting gig and the organization lets him assume the starting role, he moves to No. 1 on this list. A rocky rookie year wouldn't be the end of the world, but it'd have the same effect on the weapons around him sans the backup plan behind him.

1. Leonard Floyd

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    The Bears might have a superstar on their hands with Leonard Floyd. 

    Last year's No. 9 pick matched expectations in a big way given his production over a smaller-than-expected sample size, tallying seven sacks over 12 games while missing four with concussion issues.

    It's important to keep the context of Floyd's impressive debut campaign in mind—guys like Goldman, Pernell McPhee, Danny Trevathan, Jerrell Freeman and borderline countless others had problems staying on the field. 

    Painting in broad strokes, Floyd's staying healthy, the team around him is improving and a natural second-year climb on the developmental track could have him in double-digit sack numbers and sitting as the team's most important defensive asset.

    Fox hasn't been shy in talking about the developmental part.

    "With most players, you go from your freshman year to sophomore or rookie to second year … it slows down, they understand it, they're not thinking, they're reacting," Fox said, according to CSN Chicago's JJ Stankevitz. "And so I'd expect that and I've seen that already even in the off-season."

    As with everyone listed here, though, the pendulum swings both ways. If Floyd can't stay healthy or isn't producing as expected, it creates a bevy of problems at all layers of a unit trying to improve over the long term.

    Trubisky might be the most important piece of the Bears' future over the long term, but Floyd is more important in 2017 and isn't as far behind as some might think when looking at the team through a long-term lens.

               

    All contract information courtesy of Spotrac unless otherwise specified. Stats courtesy of NFL.com. All advanced metrics courtesy of Pro Football Focus.

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