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 second 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.
15.) Left Guard – Josh Sitton: It was a trying season for Sitton. Perhaps his most trying as a pro. Mainly due in large part to battling injuries all season long which ultimately put him on injured reserve and knocked him out for the rest of the season. He did manage to start and play in 13 games but was in and out in 3 other games. Against the Bucs he played only 61% of the snaps in game 2, but managed to play nearly every snap until game 10 against the Eagles where he managed to play in just 27% of the snaps. He did come back and play every snap in the next two games until game 13 where he injured his ankle after playing 62% of the snaps. He than missed the last 3 games.
However when he did play he was pretty good. Perhaps not as good as he could’ve been if fully healthy because there was no doubt he played hurt and all cortisoned up, but good enough to have the 5th highest Pro Football Focus ranking among Guards. There is no way a tough guy like Sitton comes out of a game as he did against Tampa Bay, Philadelphia, and ultimately Detroit without it being something extremely painful and fairly serious. To come back the very next week and play 100% of the snaps as he did when he returned the first two times he left a game due to injury has to be with the aid of some numbing agent.
Below you see a glowing example of what Sitton is all about. In this Gif I got from a twitter feed Sitton helps sell the misdirection action the Bears successfully execute against San Francisco’s defense. He blocks down on a dummy double team than quickly fires off that block and heads downfield in the opposite direction into the flat to pick off a would be tackler in the open field. A skill Sitton is well versed on and one he executes flawlessly as he has done his entire career. On this play Tarik Cohen comes back on a smoke route from the left sideline after the severe misdirection action on an excellent play design. The execution by the left side of the line and the Wide Receivers are run to perfection as you see a hat on a hat allowing Cohen to make a big gain.
14.) Center/Guard – Cody Whitehair: Whitehair had a little regression last season. He was a little off on his shotgun snaps for awile there but ultimately straightened himself out. He did end the season in full form. Some of his early struggles might be directly related to all the injuries they had at both Guard spots with the starters and their reserves as well. Not only did Whitehair have to cover both guard spots at times taking him away from playing Center, but it also affected him when he had to play with new players to each side of him which makes a huge difference as continuity is the key to an offensive lines play. Offensive lines are a group of players playing as one well coordinated unit and continuity is a very big key to achieving that cohesion. It’s a little harder getting that coordination when there is no consistency in the lineup.
In spite of all that Whitehair wasn’t exactly a bum. One thing Whitehair did bring to the Bears was a body in that unit game in game out on every snap. Durability is a huge deal when you’re talking about an offensive lineman because as I mentioned earlier continuity is the single most important key to the offensive line’s success. He did play well too in spite of his early struggles. In the scond half of the season Whitehair was his usual reliable and effective self and it appears he’s on the path to being a Pro Bowl lineman wether it be at Center, Guard, or maybe even ultimately at Right Tackle.
With Whitehair I chose to post two separate plays as this shows what Whitehair is all about. Not only is his play at an elite level among his peers but he’s also among the most versatile players in the entire NFL. He’s equally as effective when playing Guard as he is playing Cener and he probably would be equally as good at Tackle if given the opportunity. What’s even more impressive is that he probably can play all 5 positions at an elite level. His technique is sound at any position he plays and blended with his IQ and superb athleticism he poses a formidable foe for any Offensive lineman he goes up against.
In this game Whitehair starts the at Left Guard. On this play you see him get out just enough on an attempted reach block which he doesn’t quite make but still has the balance and stability enough to get his big strong hands on the Defensive Tackle and drive him into the turf allowing Jordan Howard to run past the line of scrimmage for an 11 yard gain.
On the next play Whitehair is now at center in the same game versus Pittsburgh. This is the overtime Touchdown that won the game. On this play he simply takes his man, gets his hands on his pads and drives him away from the hole Howard cut back into. Simple as that. The entire offensive line does a great job on this play. It’s yet another well designed play where the misdirection sucks in the entire Pittsburgh defense and Howard simply cuts back to the opposite flow of the blocking and waltzes in for the game winning Touchdown. Pre-snap Adam Shaheen is motioned to the left side of the formation to seal off the gap Howard’s to run through and it works to perfection as Howard sneaks in through the corner of the end zone.
13.) Strong Safety – Adrian Amos: Amos could arguably be the Bears biggest comeback story of the 2017 season. He went from being a bubble roster player (who I personally was predicting as a camp casualty) to a top of the line box Safety. He even contributed to the pass coverage from time to time. More so, as an intimidator who would light you up if you crossed his path than as a coverage ace but a contributor none the less. As you can see below he was a PFF star as they had him ranked as the second best safety in the NFL only behind Minnesota’s All Pro Safety Harrion Smith. I am not quite as convinced of that high of a ranking on Amos as his role was in a limited function but one he did do well.
The one area I do agree with PFF on is their grade on Amos as a run defender. In many ways he is like an extra linebacker. Stout at the point of attack and someone who will knock you back into tomorrow. As far as Strong Safeties go he is as good as they come skill set wise. As a former Cornerback one would assume that he can polish up on his coverage skills to offer the versatility a Vic Fangio Safety is required to have. Fangio likes to swap roles based on matchup due to the fact he likes to keep players at one side of the field in his secondary rather than move them around. This way he can move either Safety to the strong side in run support while keeping the other in single high to cover the third level on the strongest possible side for a deep pass. Typically the one side with the best Wideout.
I decided to show a play that illustrates his ability as a pass defender as everyone pretty much knows how good Amos is as a run defender. So showing him popping some Running Back will be less eye opening than this one. Now, here he isn’t exactly showing blanket man coverage skill, but he is in the right place at the right time which leads to a playmaking opportunity. Once in position he does make a play. A big one. Off the deflection he shows his ball skills and his athleticism snatching the ball off the defelection and weaving through would be tacklers for the score.
12.) Free Safety – Eddie Jackson: There is a good case to be made for Jackson as the Bears rookie of the year which is saying a lot with the way the 2017 rookie class performed. Jackson was as advertised as a high IQ Free Safety who could play Center Field with the ball skills to make plays in pass defense. A much needed skill set the Bears have been searching for for quite some time now. Since Mike Brown patrolled the back end during the Lovie Smith regime. Judging from what he showed in year one the Bears have fond their franchise Free Safety making he and Amos one hell of a Safety combination.
He was very good in his leadership role and setting the coverage on the back end too. Another thing he showed was his ability to make tackles when asked to stack the box and play the Strong Safety role. An area of his game that came under scrutiny coming out. However, not nearly as bad enough to keep him from being one of the top Safeties coming out had he not sustained his season ending injury at Alabama. He was likely a lock as a first rounder making him one of the best value picks in the entire 2017 class as a 4th round pick. Another great pick by Ryan Pace. As you can see below Jackson’s impact in both run defense and pass coverage was significant and figures only to get better with time.
Here, Jackson scores one of his two 70 plus yard defensive touchdowns in this game. The first one off of a nifty scoop and score fumble recovery down the right sideline. On this one Jackson is the single high Safety as he often was last season. The Panthers run a slant play and Prince Amukamara leveraged on the inside got to the ball ahead of the Receiver and defelects the ball in the air. Jackson being in the right spot see’s the ball in the air and in one motion catches the ball and continues to run the other way. Jackson eventually found his way to the sidelines and keeping his balance in spite of an attempt to push him out by a Panther and gets into the End Zone for the pick 6.
11.) Inside linebacker – Danny Trevathan: After an injury riddled and frustrating season in 2016 Trevathan bounced back in a big way for the 2017 season. Trevathan was everywhere on the field showing why he was probably deserving of a Pro Bowl bid and possibly as a 2nd team All Pro in my opinion. He was excellent in every faze of his duties being productive as a pass coverage backer, an in the box run support backer, and as a blitzing linebacker. A huge role in a Fangio run defense. He was also the man with the green dot on his helmet communicating with Fangio and delivering the calls to the defense as well as making all the calls on the field as far as audibles and aligning his teammates were concerned.
Although it was a better season for Trevathan as far as availability was concerned he did miss 4 entire games. The first missed was the Viking game which the Bears easily could have won and probably should have at Soldier field. If Trevathan was there maybe he could have been the difference which was huge because it could’ve have turned their modest 2 game winning streak which was about to come into a 3 game one which could have been a 4 game streak had the Bears not gotten screwed by the poor officiating in the New Orleans game. As a matter of fact, they were a bit jobbed in the Viking game too but I digress. He than played in the next three games and even though he played 98% of the snaps just before the bye in New Orleans, he did sustained an injury that kept him out of the next three games after the bye. The Bears had gained some momentum with the Trubisky change at Quarterback and playing 4 very good games in a row against 4 very good teams while going 2-2, but could have easily gone 4-0 and in hindsight probably should have.
When Trevathan did play the Bears were significantly better as a defense especially against the run. Not so ironically the Bears gave up their top 3 most rushing yards as a team when Trevathan was out with 159 yards versus the Vikings, 160 versus the Packers, and 176 versus the Eagles. To make it more insult to injury all those games were very winnable except for the stomping the Eagles put on the Bears. So realistically, having an impact player like Trevathan as both a playmaker and a Field General could have easily split those 4 games and maybe even gotten 3 of 4. Another glaring example of just how largely the injuries the Bears sustained in 2017 impacted the won/Loss record.
On this next play you see a typical Fangio type pressure scheme that ultimately results in a Fangio staple Inside Linebacker delayed blitz that results in a sack for a 7-yard loss. The play starts with a stunt up front as it often does in a Fangio passing down which is how he typically schemes pressure. Akiem Hicks takes the inside linemen while Floyd loops around and gets blocked by the Running Back rather passively which leads me to believe the plan was for Trevathan to get the pressure if the Running back committs to Floyd which is a typical Fangio concept on the delay blitz. The ILB is taught to only blitz if the Running Back commits to blocking rather than releasing into a pattern as an outlet for the Quarterback to checkdown to or even as a planned route. Once Trevathan sees the commitment he blitzes as soon as he sees the center turn his head and runs around him and jumps on the pump forcing the Quarterback to pull it down, but maintains his course as he lands and brings Joe Flacco down.
Next up: The top 10 – 6.
Previous article in the series: Top 20-16.