Weathering the annual draft hangover and entering the dog days of the NFL offseason, fans and journalists alike have hit the highest degree of boredom and with it, the highest degree of optimism. At this point, every fanbase glamorizes their offseason and has otherworldly expectations that often come crumbling down after Week One. So in order to capitalize on the endearing enthusiasm that fills our little football hearts before the Patriots and/or Eagles run circles around everybody again, let’s get some predictions for the Bears season down on paper.
Mitchell Trubisky: The Pro Bowler(ish)
While a spasmodic rookie campaign lowers the hype and expectations on Trubisky’s sophomore year, this offseason put every chip in his favor. General manager Ryan Pace attacked the offseason and by the end of it, armed him to the teeth with weapons in the passing game, bolstered the offensive line, and enlisted the services of quarterback whisperer Matt Nagy to groom the potential. Considering the blueprint ripped out the Rams and Eagles playbooks with respects to quarterback development, Trubisky should be gunning for a Pro Bowl season.
Since the Pro Bowl is merely a popularity contest and the NFC boasts some of the most fashionable quarterbacks, it will be hard to expect voters to even notice the general niche Bears team, especially if the record doesn’t back him up. Whether the record vastly improves as it should or not, Trubisky’s season will be on par with the Jared Goffs and Russell Wilsons of the league.
Tarik Cohen: 1,000 Offensive Yards
In only a single season, Cohen proved himself the most invigorating player in a Bears uniform since Devin Hester. His blazing speed and frisky athleticism brought a much-needed pop to the offense and the characteristically dry bones offense flare from his explosive play.
He put together a 744-yard season even in a restrictive system that simply hadn’t the slightest clue on how to properly use him. An unorthodox player that requires the utmost creativity to incorporate him in an offense, former head coach John Fox hasn’t quite acclimated the modern spread game and mismanaged his skill.
However, now the combined offensive imaginativeness of former Oregon coach Mark Helfrich and Nagy has the reigns of the offense. The Bears shifted their identity to accommodate for the personnel and considering he was only 256 yards off from the low balled 1,000-yard prediction in his rookie year, Cohen will reap the benefits this season, especially as now coaching will know exactly what to do with him.
Roquan Smith: Defensive Rookie of the Year
While this one may feel a little bit more expected than the others, Smith’s shot comes with a few obstacles. Mostly Bradley Chubb from the Broncos and Denzel Ward from the Browns but Smith theoretically should pull it off. A paradigm for modern linebackers, he brings a ridiculous sideline-to-sideline ability, wide coverage skills, and a knack for open field tackling. Whether strafing with a speedy running back or shutting down a tight end, Smith can contribute everywhere at the linebacker position.
Though undersized and usually ineffective in the pass rush, Smith’s strengths almost negate his weaknesses. His speed and discipline in tackling make up for the size and the return of Leonard Floyd combined with Akiem Hicks and the freshly drafted Kylie Fitts will allow for more wiggle room in the pass rush, meaning he won’t be asked for many contributions in that department.
While Chubb should be a dominant pass rusher opposite Von Miller and Ward possibly the finest defensive back in a strong defensive back class, Smith will have by far the largest impact on the Bears defense. With the defensive pieces rearing up to take the next step, Smith will be the final Infinity Stone in the budding defense’s gauntlet.
Akiem Hicks: Fifteen Sack Season
Last season, Hicks got out the blocks hard in terms of productions and by midseason, was on pace for a strong fourteen sack campaign. Rather than continuing the upward trend, he fell off a cliff, registering only a sack and half from Week Eight to the season finale and even went on a five-game no sack streak. This season, as he will be relied on far heavier for the shallow pass rush corps, he should put up a double-digit sack season at the very minimum.
He flashed a savviness for getting to the quarterback in the first half of last season, having multiple two-sack games under his belt. If he is able to carry this velocity for the entirety of a season, he will be one of the most proficient pass rushers in the league. Without much depth in the pass rush for the Bears, flaunting only an injury-prone Leonard Floyd outside of Hicks, this prediction is more of a requirement than anything else.
Anthony Miller: All-Rookie Team Season
Trading up to get the precise route runner Miller in the second round, he automatically brings some high expectations with him to Chicago. However, there’s really no reason he won’t have an All-Rookie season. With the finest footwork in the draft and a flaring competitiveness to him, he will bring a spark to the offense, both in identity and in contribution. On a team with a blooming quarterback and offensive masterminds of coaches, he fits nicely in as the number three receiver for his rookie year, if not more.
While he does possess spotty hands, double tapping and sometimes even dropping easy passes, he will require an accurate passer in order to accommodate for his off-kilter catching. Luckily, having the particularly accurate Trubisky to catch from will do him worlds of good. With some improvement to his hands, he will thrive in the Bears offense.
With the Falcons Calvin Ridley in the shadow of Julio Jones, the Cardinals Christian Kirk catching passes from a risky rookie, and the Broncos Courtland Sutton still relatively raw, the road to All-Rookie looks pretty wide open. Being the most polished receiver in the draft without polished receivers makes for a strong All-Rookie case.
Chicago Bears: Wild Card Team
This is obviously the boldest prediction on the list. Still burdened by a multitude of question marks and what-ifs, a lot will have to go very right for the Bears to contend for the playoffs. First off, a lot lies on the shoulders of Trubisky. The sport of football at the professional level requires great quarterbacks in order to seriously contend and while the Bears have nabbed a potential gem and showered him in weapons and tools to succeed, he simply cannot be a bust if the Bears want success in the coming years.
Secondly, the defense has to deliver like we expect them to. The steady rise indicates a massive leap real soon and if the Bears want to contend in the uber-competitive NFC North, the jump has to be this season. The defense must be able to contain Kirk Cousins and Aaron Rodgers or risk sinking to the bottom of the division again. The addition of Smith should be an enormous help but with holes regarding the corners and pass rush, it’s a dubious hope.
Thirdly, Allen Robinson must be the number one receiver the Bears knew they signed. Young quarterbacks and heck, offenses as a whole need an elite target to rely on for the throw game so he needs to flourish as a Bear. Without him leaves Trubisky high and dry with a rookie receiver, an unproven tight end, a speedy deep threat and a pair of solid running backs to throw to. Coming off a down year in 2016 followed by an ACL tear in 2017, whether or not he can deliver like it’s 2014 will dictate the success of the passing game.
With still holes yet to be filled and plenty of x-factors, the Bears will be the boom-or-bust team of the season. While this season shouldn’t be another one in the basement depending on how things shake out, flaming failure is still an option. Either way, this season should end a lot prettier than years past.
In Nagy we trust.