[Chart last updated: 7/3/14]
• I know Matt Forte himself (as well of a lot of Chicago fans) will disagree but we have him as touch under the “high quality” mark. There’s been times in his career he’s certainly been above; in 2011 before injury cut short his year and again, to start 2012, until he got nicked against the Titans and never looked the same guy thereafter. Last year he got a ton of yards but some of that was volume wherein may lay the ultimate problem – he’s simply not that type of player. The third most rushing attempts and receptions may give fantasy players a warm glow but it does nothing for his body and Ka’Deem Carey needs to be good enough to take 25% of the load, not the 12% Michael Bush was given. His receiving in 2013 was top drawer, though, and would have probably swung the deal his way but for his league-worst pass protection grade. Three sacks, two hits and 12 hurries is far too much for anyone and certainly a player of his calibre.
• You may have already noted that we’ve given Willie Young a higher grade than Jared Allen (who he’ll probably back up at DRE). There is a reason for that and it relates to Allen’s productivity. While he still managed 13 sacks and five batted passes he needed a league-leading 649 pass rush attempts to get them. He’s never shied away from work, but that now looks to be taking its toll and he’s turning into a “volume rusher” – he’ll still get his stats, but only with a lot of attempts. Young, on the other hand, is at the start of his career and has the makings of an extremely good player. Coming back from a disappointing sophomore season to win the starting DLE role, he not only got consistent pressure but held up well against the run too. The trick for Bears DC, Mel Tucker will be getting Allen off the field enough to get Young his snaps. There may be a welcome return on that investment if achieved because while Allen’s Pass Rushing Productivity on the right was 8.0 (good enough for 19th among 4-3 ends), on a small sample size of just over 100 rushes Young managed 14.4, second only to Robert Quinn.
• None of the big name players remaining on defense (Lance Briggs, Charles Tillman or Tim Jennings) had good years in 2013 but, kind hearted chaps that we are, we decided they all got some form of pass. For all, their best years are likely in the rear view mirror but that doesn’t mean they haven’t got one or two decent seasons left. Briggs’ year was marred by injury and although he certainly looked rusty on his return there was enough to suggest he’s still got what it takes. Tillman is just one year removed from a truly remarkable season and it defies logic to suggest he could decline so quickly while Jennings isn’t so old that should be a factor. We’ll keep an eye on them all but I’m predicting better years all around if not quite the halcyon ones we’ve come to expect.
1. Strongside Linebacker
It may end up simply as the least bad of a poor bunch but there is always a possibility things could go better than that. Since being drafted 19th overall in 2012, to say Shea McClellin has been disappointing would be a significant understatement. In 661 snaps at end last year he only graded positively once (and even that was a marginal +0.7 rating). Enough was enough and they will now try him at SLB where he will compete with Khaseem Greene, a fourth-round rookie of whom much was expected and little was delivered. While his -9.6 grade pales in comparison to McClellin’s -28.2, the fact he “achieved” it in only 236 snaps is noteworthy. I wouldn’t rule out Jon Bostic as an option too. Although he struggled terribly as well, there were at least a few games in which he didn’t look out of place.
2. Free Safety
You could make an argument that both safety positions are in play but Ryan Mundy has enough experience and ability that he should be able to tie down SS so let’s concentrate on the FS role. Chris Conte is the incumbent but his play last year, particularly in run support may be enough to rule him out quickly. They’ve brought in M.D. Jennings from Green Bay but he made consistent errors in coverage which is hardly a ringing endorsement. This leaves rookie Brock Vereen as a decent bet to start and who’s to say, by seasons end, he won’t have more snaps than first rounder, Kyle Fuller.
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