Yesterday was something of a bleak-ish day for your author, so I decided to cobble together what I believe are positives for the Bears franchise in regards to one Ryan Pace. Let’s swig a bit of blue and orange kool-aid, shall we?
- Eddie Goldman, 2nd round: He’s the anchor of the Bears defensive front, and while injuries have been a nuisance, he is quietly one of the best in the conference.
- Adrian Amos, 5th round: In years 1 and 3, Amos proved he was not only capable of being a reliable starter, but when paired with Eddie Jackson last season, Amos may have found his long-term position at Strong. In ’17, Amos only missed 6 of his 76 tackle attempts, and his presence in closing down plays efficiently was comparable to only Harrison Smith. 2018 will be another big one for the former Nittany Lion to prove he’s here to stay.
- Leonard Floyd, 1st round: Floyd’s not quite been the heat-seeking missile some envisioned when Pace traded up to acquire him, but he’s been a steady, ascending talent that is seemingly at the precipice of something great. Floyd needs to take that next step and graduate into the dangerous presence this team needs to him to be. Part of that will be Vic Fangio reducing the times Floyd drops into coverage, too.
- Cody Whitehair, 2nd round: With Josh Sitton departing, Whitehair appears to have been handed the reins to as a team captain and locker room leader. Pace has said that Whitehair’s 2018 ideally will have him play center, knowing the Bears injury woes, who knows if this will occur or not. Whitehair’s future is very bright, so long as his chemistry snapping the ball to Trubisky is honed in time.
- Nick Kwiatkoski, 4th round: Kwiatkoski’s battled some injuries, but in his opportunities to play, he has shown he can provide the yeoman’s work of an unheralded linebacker. While he may not be a difference maker, he’s talented enough to be steady, and perhaps grow into one of the best depth players in the league.
- Jordan Howard, 5th round: Obviously Howard has shown in 2 seasons that he can and should be considered among the best running backs in the NFL. There’s concerns over his ability to be a threat in the passing game, but as a pure runner there are few in the league that can match his vision and ability to run downhill.
- Mitch Trubisky, 1st round: While there’s still so much to be proven about what Mitch is and who he could become, there’s no doubting the staggering potential. Trubisky is already changing the narrative of the franchise in ways that Cutler never did. If, and this is a huge if, Trubisky matches the hype and continues to grow into the all-Pro this franchise has craved for decades, the entire plotline of the Bears organization changes.
- Eddie Jackson, 4th round: His rookie season got off to a clunky start, but finished in a stellar fashion. Jackson started 16 games as a rookie, finishing with 53 tackles, 2 interceptions, and 3 fumble recoveries. Jackson returned a fumble and a pick for defensive touchdowns, respectively. If he maintains that pace, Jackson could turn out to be the stabilizing force the safety position has been missing for a long time, and much more.
- Tarik Cohen, 4th round: Cohen’s electricity petered out as the season went along, but in the early goings he proved he could be an exceptionally dangerous player if used properly. Accruing touchdowns as a runner, receiver, and punt returner, the Human Joystick could set the world on fire as a versatile weapon in Nagy’s offense.
There is still a world of possibility in the potential of guys like Kevin White (roll your eyes all you want) and Adam Shaheen, too.
While most of Pace’s glaring mistakes as Bears GM revolve around free agency, he’s made some noteable acquisitions that should redeem a few of the missteps.
- Akiem Hicks: Hicks has been a force since putting the wishbone C decal on his helmet, netting 8.5 sacks, 49 QB pressures, 39 tackles, and 44 defensive stops (tied for the league lead per ProFootballFocus). Pace wisely inked the big man to a lucrative contract extension. Hicks only needs some room to breathe, it appears, as being overworked hurt his game as the 2017 season went along. Otherwise Hicks is a monster, and an invaluable part of the Bears defensive rebuild.
- Danny Trevathan: Injuries aren’t kind to Trevathan – he’s missed 11 games in 2 years as a Bear – but when he’s in the lineup, he leaves his mark. Considered one of the best all-around linebackers in coverage and tackling by PFF, Trevathan can resume being a force for Vic Fangio’s unit if he can avoid missing time for one reason for another.
- Josh Sitton: While Sitton is no longer a Bear, his acquisition was a coup and contributions for two seasons were stellar. PFF considers him arguably the best pass blocker in the NFL, and his ability to open lanes for Howard & co. is nothing to sniff at. He ushered Whitehair through an emergency transition to center, and likely provided invaluable wisdom in the process.
- Bobby Massie: Massie has been a bit divisive since arriving, but time has proven him to be a very serviceable right tackle. In 2017, Bleacher Report named him the 14th best RT in the league, which is pretty wild considering he’s had several games where his pass protection has been horrific. 2018 is the last year of his deal, and while Pace would’ve preferred Massie be more dominant in a Bears uniform, he’s held the position down to a degree where I would consider this a very tiny, tiny feather in Pace’s cap.
- Prince Amukamara: It’s easy to criticize Amukamara for not living up to his 1st round selection pedigree and for not generating enough turnovers, it’s hard to argue against his play. In 2017, Prince’s coverage yielded a mere 31 receptions for 365 yards in 14 contests. He also may deserve some credit for finding a rhythm with Kyle Fuller, as the two seem to have a good rapport and chemistry.
- Sam Acho: Acho proved that he could be reliable in relief, and the team rewarded his efforts with a nice raise this offseason. His best uses are as depth, special teams, and as a locker room gem, but in 12 starts last year he accrued 5 sacks and 18 QB hits – second only to Akiem Hicks. Blue-collar class doesn’t come much more polished than Sam Acho. Team is lucky to have him.
- Benny Cunningham: This certainly isn’t a “sexy” name, but Cunningham is one of those mortar guys on NFL rosters who makes the most of his time in the league. He caught 20 passes for 240 yards and 2 touchdowns, rounded up over a dozen special teams tackles, and established himself as a reliable kick returner by season’s end. After a brief flirtation with the Rams, Cunningham elected to return to Chicago to continue to do dirty work in a city that embraces working class athletes.
- Mitch Unrein: This guy joining the Bears may have been more of Fox’s allure than Pace’s craft, but regardless Unrein served nobly on the defensive line for 3 years, ranking as PFF’s top interior DL available in free agency. He doesn’t have many sacks, and doesn’t have many tackles, but the lack of numbers in no way reflected on his play. Unrein was a stalwart presence for the Bears, but Fox’s firing, hitting the dreaded 30 threshold, and Pace’s desires to see more from Jonathan Bullard paved the way for Unrein’s departure.