The NFL Network has an annual series it televises of the top 100 players in the NFL list as voted on by the players in the NFL. The Bears were completely shut out on this list for the 2017 season. Not that the Bears deserve a whole lot of recognition for their dreadful record the past three seasons of the Ryan Pace regime, but certainly the Bears had some deserving players. I can think of three that should have likely made this list off the top of my head. So this compelled me to create my own list recognizing the Bears who played the best in their 2017 season.
I’ve limited this to a top 20 list going in increments of 5 per column so this will be the third of 4 articles in this mini-series of blogs. I have done an intensive deep dive into the 2017 film and determined the list based solely on my own opinion of who my eyes saw as being deserving of making the list and their ranking. I’ll be posting some vids recorded off my cell phone so my apologies in advance for it’s crude appearance, but I assure you they’ll be visible enough to make my points. Since this is a positive list I’ll be posting what I think summarizes each players best abilities and how they were used to put together a solid season. As always I welcome all comments of both criticism and approval of my rankings and analysis.
10.) Cornerback – Prince Amukamara: To say Amukamara had a great comeback season would be an understatement. He went from having one of the highest passer ratings against him when targeted by Quarterbacks to one of the lowest in the NFL. The one mark against him was the fact he didn’t have any interceptions, but with Fuller playing the left Cornerback position and getting the top Wide receiver draw most of the time as teams are usually right hand dominant, he did not get as many opportunities for picks.
When Amukamara did get thrown to the league wasn’t very successful with their targets. As you can see below he was their second best Cornerback against yards per coverage snaps. He was also 3rd in receptions allowed per snaps with 1 reception in every 21.3 snaps. He also allowed only 1 touchdown all season ranking 3rd and had 7 pass breakups ranking 43rd in that department.
On this play, you see the type of blanket coverage the Bears were acustomed to from their Cornerbacks last season. In this case, Amukamara, who plays press man with outside leverage. He draws a matchup versus the Steelers impressive 2017 rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster. Schuster is lined up in the backfield offset to the left of the offensive line. Post snap Schuster takes the inside as he should off outside leverage technique running a seam route to the End Zone. Amukamara gives him a physical chuck at the line and than plays trail technique right on Schuster’s hip all the way into the End Zone. As the pass arrives Amukamara makes an athletic play jumping in front and over Schuster without making contact thus avoiding a possible pass interference pentalty and knocking the ball harmlessly away preventing the score.
9.) Wide Receiver – Kendall Wright: When the Bears refused to resign Wright I did wonder what the Bears motivation for that was as he had a very solid season with the Bears. On a team that had no other proven Wide Receivers he still managed to step up in spite of being a focal point of opposing defenses in the pass game with the Bears inexperience and lack of proven pass catchers on the roster. As you can see from the memes below Wright was one of the best slot Receivers in the game last season. I will also say that from the video I’ve been reviewing Wright should have even gotten more opportunites and with it production. He was left wide open only to get passed over by both Mike Glennon and Mitch Trubisky far too often as they went in a different direction for incomplete passes or lesser productive plays.
Wright was masterful running option routes. Wright has an extremely high F.B.I. (Football intelligence) which he’ll now be using while contributing to division rival Minnesota. Another reason that made me scratch my head as to why the Bears didn’t at least try and resign Wright to a reasonable offer. That was before I saw the off-season work Ryan Pace did. Now it’s easy to see exactly why they did pass over Wright going in favor of acquiring other targets via Free Agency and grabbing Anthony Miller in the draft. Also, the fact Matt Nagy doesn’t really have specific slot Receivers as he moves his Receivers around a lot. Still, it kind of hurts that he did go to a Division foe and has the opportunity to do damage against his former team.
The play below is quintessential Kendall Wright. Pre-snap Wright is lined up in a 2 player stack formation to the right side of the formation with Deonte Thompson playing the Y and Wright the X lined up off the line of scrimmage. You also see him and Thompson communicating pre-snap setting up an option combo route. Thompson runs a 15 yard out while Wright runs in behind him at the Line of Scrimmage with a crossing route. Glennon does a good job recognizing the defense and the route Wright runs here and hits him in stride. Wright weaves through the trash for a 13 yard gain getting about 11 of them in the YAC (yards after catch) variety.
8.) Nose Tackle – Eddie Goldman: Just as it has been with so many of the Bears impact players Goldman has had issues staying on the field. When he has been on the field he’s had stamina issues. A lot of that is due to conditioning issues which can be correlated with a nagging ankle issue he’s had the past two years not allowing him to properly train. However, when he is on the field at full speed the Bears defense is noticeably better. Not as much with him as the main playmaker last season as it was with him making his teammates better by occupying two blockers and keeping his Linebackers clean, or pushing in the pocket forcing Quarterbacks into the waiting arms of Edge rushers or forcing Quarterbacks to throw sooner than they want and not being able to step up in the pocket and get some velocity on their passes.
The meme’s I posted below reflect team stats, but there is no way those numbers are produced without Goldman in the lineup as much as he was. He did just start 12 games but played in all but one and averaged 62.3% of the total defensive snaps. His production was down with sacks but he did make the most tackles of his career. The Bears will be hoping he can continue to play 60 plus percent of his snaps and hopefully get in all 16 as when he does he can shut a running game down on his own and provide the in your face pressure up the gut to frazzle opposing signal callers.
On this play, you can see just what a dancing Bear Goldman is. As he comes out of his stance engages the Lineman and than turns on the jets and runs around the over matched player and gets to the Quarterback into the waiting arms of Akiem Hicks. Although Goldman did not get credit for the sack he had every bit as much to do with it as did Hicks showing you how he impacts the team by making opportunities for his defensive playmaker teammates.
7.) Left Tackle – Charles Leno Jr.: Leno Jr. has been a pin cushion for Bears fans frustrations since he was inserted into the starting lineup and for the life of me I have no idea why. Leno has played every snap since being named the starter at Left Tackle which shows valuable reliability for the Bears which has been something in short supply the last 3 seasons.
As you can see from the memes below PFF has rated him very well and since keeping track of him have Leno as vastly improving each and every season. This makes a ton of sense as he came from a small school as a 7th round pick and was in need of some serious development.
Most notable in his improvement has been his pass protection. If you want to retort with the he must be getting help argument note that Leno is among the top in the game at going without help in 2017 as confirmed by PFF who have charted this particular stat.
Leno’s superb athleticism and length help him overcome being on the shorter side for the Standard NFL left Tackle. He does have technique breakdowns from time to time particularly with his hands, but as mentioned has improved each and every year in that department. He’s been a good run blocker since day one however, and fits in like a glove with this scheme. He should flourish to an even higher level this coming season under Matt Nagy and with the teachings of Bears Offensive Line Coach Harry Heistand. As it is Leno was graded as the 7th best Tackle by their metrics. He was also graded as the 14th best run locker among all NFL tackles left or Right which ranks him at the top Quarter of the list. Any way you want to slice it Leno has been the Bears most reliable and most underappreciated player the last 3 seasons by fans and media alike. However, his contributions haven’t been lost on me and it’s why he was my 7th top Bear of 2017.
Leno actually had a rough start to this game but managed to get it together and play better in the second half. Of course playing against one of the best Edge Rushers in the NFL in Everson Griffith will make most left tackles have a rough first half. On this snap you see Leno adjust to a spin move by Griffith that would have most tackles heads spin. Here, however, Leno maintains his base and keeps his hands on Griffith allowing him to use his natural athleticism and just slide to his right and stay in front of Griffith allowing Trubisky to get the pass downfield which turned into a huge pass interference penalty.
6.) Outside Linebacker – Leonard Floyd: Floyd like so many of the Bears young players has had a problem with availability. It’s so frustrating as fan to see the injury report filled with players that are supposed to be your key core talents and help you compete week to week. However, imagine how the Bears organization feels and the players themselves. With Floyd, he simply doesn’t seem like he’s a high volume snaps player. When on the field he does make an impact. More so as an all around Edge Defender who can rush the passer, set the edge in run defense, and in coverage.
The later really makes him interesting. He has the size and length to body the modern Tight Ends as well as fast and quick enough to run with them, and explosive enough to jump with them on 50/50 balls. His 2017 production was disappointing as far as sacks and tackles for loss and Interceptions, but he was valuable working the Texas stunt Vic Fangio relies so heavily on as his main pressure scheme. He’s one of the reasons the Bears were among the league leaders in success rate pressure percentage on stunts.
As you can see below when Floyd does play he produces. He’ll likely never be that off the Edge Quarterback terrorizing demon who amasses tons of sacks, pressures, hits, and batted balls, but he can certainly become one of the best if not the best all purpose Edge Defender in the league. If the Bears get a surprise out of this current roster or acquire one in the near future, getting that balls out Quarterback chasing speed rush Edge Defender will compliment what Floyd provides. It would probably be prudent for the Bears to cut down his snap totals to keep him healthy and thus more productive with less snaps.
This is a play from the 2017 pre-season that I managed to find in a Gif on twitter. As Floyd fires out of his stance he engages the Right Tackle with a strong punch making the Tackle anchor sooner than he’d like. After he anchors Floyd disengages with some deft hand fighting and simply runs around the Tackle who is no match for Floyd’s foot speed and athleticism as he closes in on the sack getting some help from Teammate and the number 20th player on this list Mitch Unrein.
Next up: 5 – 1