Here we are. Mandatory Minicamp has just concluded; Free Agency and the Draft are in the rear-view mirror, and we look ahead to the start of the 2022 training camp. There are plenty of questions and concerns about this year’s roster. It’s the first year of the Poles/Eberflus era, and there has been plenty of turnover. Key players from previous years have either been shipped off or let go in free agency. With this said, it seems like a good idea to begin an in-depth analysis of each Bears positional group, to give a better idea of where the team is at with their new roster. Each group will be given a letter grade based on multiple factors relating to the quantity and quality of the players. Starting from the top, with the most important position, the Quarterback group.
Quarterback: Justin Fields, Trevor Siemien, Nathan Peterman
Projected Starter(s): Justin Fields
Unlike last year, there should be no real fight for a starting quarterback spot on this year’s team. Justin Fields, coming off of a rocky 2021-22 campaign, is entering his second year with a brand new coaching regime who have spent this past off-season trying to build an offense around the Ohio State phenom. Whether or not the new roster is better suited for the development of this young QB is up for debate, however, a potential break-out year is definitely a real possibility. The rest of the QB room is a bit less flattering. Journeyman Trevor Siemien and the human interception Nathan Peterman fill out the rest of this positional group, and out of the two, it’s most likely that Siemien will take over the backup role. Siemien spent time as a starter in his career and is very much capable of being a serviceable quarterback, which is all the Bears need him to be. This year is all about making Justin Fields the best possible player he can be. That being said, based on his rough rookie season, and the average backup QB behind him, the grade for the QB group will have to be towards the bottom of the league.
Running Back: David Montgomery, Khalil Herbert, Khari Blasingame, Trestan Ebner, Darrynton Evans, De’Montre Tuggle
Projected Starter(s): David Montgomery
There is a lot more optimism for this position group. There’s plenty of young talent and a budding star in David Montgomery to headline. Coming off a 2021-22 season that saw him rush for 846 yards in 13 games, Montgomery should come in and, barring injury, have another 1000-yard rushing season. If Montgomery is to go down, no need to panic, as sophomore Khalil Herbert is an absolute stud who filled in last year during Montgomery’s absence. Those two, along with FB Khari Blasingame, who is a known passing game threat, should make up the majority of carries for this team. Ebner, Evans, and Tuggle will most likely be competing for one of the last spots on the team. If I’m Matt Eberflus, I’m looking at this position as one of my strengths and making it a focal point of the offense.
Wide Reciever: Darnell Mooney, Velus Jones Jr, Byron Pringle, Equanimeous St.Brown, Nsimba Webster, David Moore, Dante Pettis, Tajae Sharp, Chris Finke, Isaiah Coulter, Dazz Newsome
Projected Starter(s): Darnell Mooney – WR1, Byron Pringle – WR2, Velus Jones Jr – WR3
Coming into this season, the Wide Receiver group had probably faced the most scrutiny for not being talented enough for Justin Fields’ development. After losing WR1 Allen Robinson, the Bears responded by bringing in notable additions like Byron Pringle and Dante Pettis, along with drafting speedster Velus Jones Jr. Headlining the group is Darnell Mooney, coming off a solid 2021 campaign that saw him amass his first 1000-yard season. Whether or not Mooney is a true WR1 is yet to be seen, however, the depth around him is less than promising. Pringle was rarely used in Kansas City, Jones Jr hasn’t caught an NFL pass yet, and there are only question marks for the rest of the group. In all honesty, outside of the WR1 spot, there are no guarantees with this group. Pringle could look terrible in a bigger role, and Dante Pettis may step up big. Velus Jones Jr might be overhyped and could underperform, leading to an opportunity for other guys like Dazz Newsome or Equanimeous St.Brown to get more receptions. Overall, there are just too many question marks for this group to receive a decent grade.
Tight End: Cole Kmet, Ryan Griffin, James O’Shaughnessy, Josh Rysen, Jake Tonges
Projected Starter(s): Cole Kmet
It’s a break or bust year for Cole Kmet, who’s now entering his 3rd year. We’re still waiting for him to blossom into the player he could be for this team, yet it just hasn’t come to fruition. I do believe he will be the lone starter this year, and he could very well become a top TE in the near future. His backups, Ryan Griffin and James O’Shaughnessy are very reliable targets and should get plenty of reps. Yet, the success of this group depends solely on Cole Kmet. If he breaks out and eclipses 1,000 yards, then the Bears’ passing game could turn into a strength very quickly. If he continues on his trend of underperforming, then we’re looking at another year of mediocre passing. I’m going to take the middle ground here, and assume he lands somewhere in the middle, giving this group an average grade.
Offensive Tackles: Teven Jenkins, Larry Borom, Braxton Jones, Zach Thomas, Shon Coleman, Julie’n Davenport, Jean Delance
Projected Starter(s): Teven Jenkins – LT, Larry Borom – RT
The tackle group is one that is hard to put a finger on. For one, there is plenty of young talent here, and the new regime seemed to put an emphasis on this group in the draft. However, we also have no idea who the starters will be. My two guesses, Teven Jenkins and Larry Borom, are based purely on last year’s performances, and how I believe the coaching staff will approach some of the rookie tackles. In reality, in week 1 we could easily see neither of these guys starting in favor of rookies Braxton Jones and Zach Thomas. Both guys are incredibly capable and could be absolute steals based on their draft position. Yet, it’s hard to put either of these two above their sophomore counterparts. Borom was a surprise last year, being a very competent tackle after being taken in the 5th round, and could very well continue to flourish in this role. Jenkins didn’t have as good of a rookie season, yet his talent is limitless, and his potential is definitely something the coaching staff wants to prioritize. I believe, due to the uncertainties of this group, I can’t give them a very high grade, however, I still believe this group can be a strength for the O-Line for years to come.
Offensive Guard: Cody Whitehair, Ja’Tyre Carter, Sam Mustipher, Willie Wright, Dakota Dozier
Projected Starter(s): Cody Whitehair, Sam Mustipher
I should start by prefacing that even though I have these 5 players listed as guards, in reality, anyone on the offensive line can play any position. Tackles like Borom and Zach Thomas could easily start week 1 at guard, and guards like Mustipher may be playing center. There is simply no way to know this early on, so I’m placing players where I think they are best suited as players. That being said, the guard group is probably the weakest of the entire offensive line. Cody Whitehair is a very serviceable lineman and might be the best on the roster, however, the same cannot be said for the rest of the group. Mustipher very well could be the starter in week 1, but I can’t see him staying in that position long. Rookie Ja’Tyre Carter is the best bet to take over long-term for this group, but it’s hard to bet on a later-round rookie. Based on this, I’m forced to give the Guards a lower grade.
Center: Lucas Patrick, Doug Kramer, Dieter Eiselen
Projected Starter(s): Lucas Patrick
Finishing off the offensive groups, the center position is actually one that I’m somewhat excited for. Lucas Patrick had been a reliable lineman for a very competent Packers O-line for the past 5 years and is making the shift from guard to center. The chemistry he forms with Justin Fields is definitely something to watch, and I believe he can be a cornerstone of this offense. He is an upgrade over last year’s C Sam Mustipher, and his backup, former Illini Doug Kramer, shows great promise, as well. This group is a lot more cut in stone than the others, and due to that stability, I’m giving them a higher grade.
Defensive Tackle: Justin Jones, Khyiris Tonga, Mike Pennel Jr, LaCale London, Auzoyah Alufohai, Micah Dew-Treadway
Projected Starter(s): Justin Jones – DT, Khyiris Tonga – NT
After losing both starting defensive tackles from last year, Eddie Goldman and Akiem Hicks, the group is looking for some new talent to take over the reins in the trenches. Free Agent acquisition Justin Jones could be just that. After spending the past 4 years on the Chargers, Jones is poised to take on a bigger role that he could easily flourish in. On the other hand, the NT position should be one to watch come training camp. Khyiris Tonga is the sole starter for the position and could become one of the great steals of the 2021 draft. He was inconsistent in his rookie year but showed flashes of being a very capable nose tackle for this team.
Defensive End: Al-Quadin Muhammad, Mario Edwards Jr, Trevis Gibson, Robert Quinn, Angelo Blackson, Dominique Robinson, Charles Snowden, Sam Kamara, Carson Tyler
Projected Starter(s): Al-Quadin Muhammad – LDE, Robert Quinn – RDE
Another group that is looking to recover after the loss of start Khalil Mack; the defensive end group is full of opportunity. The group has surprising depth, with proven players such as Trevis Gibson and Angelo Blackson, along with promising rookies like Dominique Robinson. However, the headliners are what really make this group. Robert Quinn is coming off a record-breaking year, and could very well repeat his success, if he stays with the team, that is. Newcomer Al-Quadin Muhammad was a part of Matt Eberflus’s squad in Indianapolis and proved to be a very solid pass rusher over his career. I believe that this group deserves a higher grade due to its inherent depth and high potential for sacks.
Linebacker: Roquan Smith, Matt Adams, Nicholas Morrow, Noah Dawkins, Joe Thomas, Caleb Johnson, CJ Avery, Christian Albright, Jack Sanborn
Projected Starter(s): Nicholas Morrow – WLB, Roquan Smith – MLB, Matt Adams – SLB
The linebacker core is extremely top-heavy, with an absolute superstar in Roquan Smith to lead the pack, and no one else really compared to him. Nicholas Morrow was a pretty decent LB in Las Vegas, and Matt Adams proved solid in Indy, as well. However, I can’t help but be underwhelmed by the rest of the group. I wouldn’t be super comfortable asking any of the backups to enter the game, and there seems to be a lack of rookie talent in this group, as well. The talent at the top is enough for this group to be a huge strength for the bears, giving them one of the highest grades on the team.
Cornerback: Jaylon Johnson, Kyler Gordon, Duke Shelley, Kindle Vildor, Thomas Graham Jr, Tavon Young, Lamar Jackson, BoPete Keyes, Allie Green IV, Jayson Stanley, Greg Stroman Jr.
Projected Starter(s): Jaylon Johnson – LCB, Kyler Gordon – RCB, Thomas Graham Jr. – NB
Easily one of the biggest turnaround groups on the entire team. The cornerback group was one that every bears fan feared whenever a ball was thrown. Boasting one of the worst pass defenses in the 2021-22 season, the Bears completely reloaded, bringing in a young stud in Kyler Gordon, and several key backups. Jaylon Johnson should continue to be a potential pro-bowl CB, and second-year player Thomas Graham Jr. is keyed in to take over the nickel position. New acquisition Tavon Young completes a deep cornerback group that now seems ready to take on some of the top passing offenses in the league.
Safety: Jaquan Brisker, Eddie Jackson, DeAndre Houston-Carson, Dane Cruikshank, Elijah Hicks, Jaylon Jones, AJ Thomas, Michael Joseph, Jon Alexander
Projected Starter(s): Eddie Jackson – FS, Jaquan Brisker – SS
Rounding out the defensive unit is possibly the best positional group on the entire team. This group has everything: a pro-bowl level player in Eddie Jackson, a young and talented brawler in Jaquan Brisker, and plenty of depth with guys like Houston-Carson and Cruikshank. Not much else to say about this group except I’m stoked to see all the hit stick hits and interceptions this group is going to create this season.
Specialists: Cairo Santos, Trenton Gill, Patrick Scales, Antonio Ortiz
Projected Starter(s): Cairo Santos – K, Trenton Gill – P, Patrick Scales – LS
To finish off this article is the specialists; one of the most underappreciated groups in all of football. This season, returning kicker Cairo Santos should continue to hold very high Field Goal and Extra Point percentages, and rookie punter Trenton Gill may have some hiccups but should prove to be reliable. Of course, Patrick Scales will continue to be the best athlete on the team, and maybe in the league. I hear even Aaron Donald won’t mess with Scales. All jokes aside, I believe the Bears have a very competent specialist core and should continue to have success on special teams.
Photo: Gene Chamberlain, Sports Illustrated