Free-agent additions solidify middle of Bears’ defense

Eric Eager takes a looks at the Chicago Bears' 2016 defense with new additions Jerrell Freeman, Danny Trevathan, and Akiem Hicks.

| 1 year ago
(AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

(AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

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 (67.5recently 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.

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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.

| Analyst

Eric Eager joined Pro Football Focus in 2015. He is currently working on a number of analytics projects, primarily focused on the NFL.

  • Jahbari Townsend

    Based on these numbers, it looks like the Bears are more likely to draft a DL to go on the RE that has more immediate potential than Ferguson had coming out of college.

  • themacabre

    3/4 DE Buckner falling to 11 would be awesome for the Bears…could happen if all the QBs go in the top 10. Otherwise they would have to go after someone like Nassib, Kaufusi, or Bullard in the 2nd. Then they could go CB or LOT in the 1st. If the Bears part with TE Martellus Bennet they could go after a CB like Robinson or Boykin, or a safety like Bruton from Denver. Maybe even 2 of them.

  • Malachi

    i’d be highly shock if they had trevathan play the strong ilb spot over freeman, danny has always been a wlb or rilb, lol. that’s just a silly projection

  • ItsJustWerner

    Depending on who drops, might be very likely they get the best of both worlds in BPA and filling a need at #11. 5-tech and CB are top needs and there are good value players there at.#11. Possibly depth at OLB rushers.

  • crosseyedlemon

    The Bears are starting to plug some huge holes that existed on defense and I expect the draft will also address that side of the ball. In Frisco, Vic Fangio put together a top defense that was greater than the sum of it’s individual parts and it appears that is his plan here in Chicago as well.

  • Tim Edell

    Even though we could definitely use another CB or 2 and S is another position of need here is my thought what we should do. I would love to be able to trade down a few spots maybe picking up a 3rd rounder then draft A’Shawn Robinson. While I’m not sold on him with the 11th pick due to his lack of pas rushing ability he would be a great fit if we could trade down and get him. With a DL of Robinson and Hicks at end and Goldman in the middle it would enable Freeman and Trevathan to flow to the ball untouched. As a long time Bear fan this D is vastly improving and only a couple secondary players away from fielding a very strong defense!

  • WiltedSpinach

    I could see Bears going Lynch/1st rd., Clark/2nd rd. which could make for a very nasty DL *and* get a QB to develop behind Cutler for a few years. Signing Patrick Robinson (ala themacabre, and rumored to be in their plans) would make the Bears average at worst at each position (Houston will likely maintain his 2nd-half quality), and the Bears can still be drafting from a BPA first, need second strategy.