Free-agent additions solidify middle of Bears' defense
The Bears finished the 2015 season with a 6-10 record (5-3 on the road), limited by some serious issues defensively. No deficiency was more explicit than their lack of talent up the middle.
Former first-round defensive end Shea McClellin (37.7) missed a lot of time in his first season as an inside linebacker, playing only 687 snaps. He finished 50th among inside linebackers with a run-stop percentage of 5.8, and allowed the eighth-most yards per coverage snap (1.31) among the same group. The other inside linebacker spot wasn’t much better, with Christian Jones (27.6 run-defense grade), Jonathan Anderson (second-most yards per coverage snap among ILBs), LaRoy Reynolds (-3.4 cumulative grade in 78 2015 snaps), and John Timu (-3.3 cumulative grade in 161 snaps) constituting a less-than-stellar platoon. The defensive line was also a shaky, with 2015 free-agent acquisition Jarvis Jenkins (60.3 overall grade) finishing last among 3-4 defensive ends in run-stop percentage (3.6) and fifth in missed tackles (six). Jay Ratliff lasted only 78 snaps before he made his way out of town, while Mitch Unrein (67.5; recently re-signed), Ego Ferguson (66.3), Will Sutton (50.4), and Bruce Gaston (66.0) were nothing to write home about.
In light of these inadequacies, the Bears have opened free agency splendidly, adding two of PFF’s top-three free-agent linebackers (Danny Trevathan, 86.6 overall grade; and Jerrell Freeman, 90.6 overall grade) early in the process, while obtaining defensive lineman Akiem Hicks (76.3) without breaking the bank (two years, $10 million). Trevathan finished fifth last season among inside linebackers in both run-stop percentage (11.9) and tackling efficiency (17.0), while Freeman’s run-defense grade (97.9) was the highest in the league among the same group. The addition of Trevathan and Freeman give the Bears a linebacking corps that also includes 2015 free-agent acquisition Pernell McPhee (87.6), pass-rush specialist Willie Young (82.8), and the improving Lamarr Houston (72.8) on the outside, elevating that group from one of the worst in 2015 to likely one of the best in 2016.
The addition of Hicks gives the Bears a complement to the solid Eddie Goldman (77.4) along the defensive line. Both Hicks (seventh) and Goldman (ninth) finished in the top-10 among defensive tackles in pass-rush productivity last season, and Hicks (with New England) was a respectable 16th in run-stop percentage. That kind of push up the middle will free McPhee, Young, and Houston to improve on their combined 20 sacks, 24 hits and 102 hurries generated last season with poor support from the Bears’ defensive line. With a look towards an upcoming draft full of solid prospects along the defensive interior, the Bears have the potential to have one of the top front-sevens in the NFL in John Fox’s second season at the helm.