5.) Running back/Slot Receiver – Tarik Cohen: What better description could there be for Cohen other than his most popular nickname “The Human Joystick.” Bears fans and even fans of the league who enjoy watching these finely tuned athletes perform have to be salivating over what they’ll see from Cohen in year two of his career. Especially now that the Bears actually have other weapons for teams to be mindful of. There is also the fact the Bears hired a new Head coach in Matt Nagy who was very creative in Kansas City. There is also the excitement of Bears Offensive Coordinator Marc Helfrich working in tandem with Nagy creating all kinds of Run/pass Option plays incorporating Cohen as a runner, pass catcher and yes, even as a Quarterback.
The skill set of Cohen is pretty advanced and probably surprisingly better than most had imagined. Coming into the NFL from a Division 2 school there was a fair amount of trepidation whether he’d look as explosive playing against superior athletes. There was also some doubt on whether he’d be able to hold up against the physicality of the NFL being as diminutive in size as he is. Well, check those two boxes because he was just as elusive and explosive in the NFL and much stronger as a runner than anyone could have imagined. Cohen does not get knocked down too easily and ran through arm tackles routinely.
That being said, his claim to fame and the key to his success is his juice not his muscle. Cohen is as explosive of a player as there is in the NFL. He can score from anywhere on the field at anytime, and is always a threat to make an explosive big play when the ball is in his hands. According to Pro Football Focus he had the highest breakaway percentage for a Running Back in all of professional football as you can see from the meme below. Which is saying a lot considering the names on that list and some of the names who aren’t. Even more impressive is that teams were basically keying in on him as the Bears were pretty much down to him, Kendall Wright, and Jordan Howard as their main threats once Tight End Zach Miller went down. So putting him on this list wasn’t exactly a stretch and why I have him as the 5th best Bear of the 2017 season.
I found a perfect Gif on twitter that encapsulates everything Cohen is about. This is Cohen’s top 10 plays of 2017. This is a highlight video most players would love for their careers. In this little montage you see there is nothing Cohen can’t do. Whether in a single back set, a wildcat formation, a halfback option, split out wide or in the slot, on a kickoff, or a punt return this kid can do it all and did as you will see in all ten clips.
4.) Quarterback – Mitch Trubisky: As one would expect from a raw rookie Quarterback with only 13 career college starts, Trubisky had an up and down 2017 season. It all started in Rookie mini camp and OTA’s and ultimately in camp where he had problems in receiving snaps from under center. So he had a long way to go and caught up impressively quick as the season went along ultimately starting game 5 against one of the better defenses in the league in the Minnesota Vikings. He had a very impressive debut that should have been a win if not for poor officiating and ultimately a very makeable missed Field goal that would have been a game winner. So his processor is pretty good.
I know a lot of people have criticized the last regime for not expanding Trubisky’s role in the offense particularly early on, but I’m one of the few that feel the Bears handled it right with Trubisky. Sure, they could’ve installed a college offense similar to what Trubisky ran in college, but that would’ve required teaching the rest of the team a new offense going into the second quarter of the season. Not realistic. Trubisky wasn’t supposed to play at all and certainly not that soon. Teaching him something he already knew made no sense anyway. In a transition season it was best to protect him while teaching him pro style offense with an RPO here and there along with rollouts and boots. As you can see from the PFF route tree graph below they did put an emphasis on things he was comfortable with like throwing to his right. That’s going to have to improve as he’ll have to look left in order to be truly successful in this league.
Another thing I liked about the run heavy dumbed down offense early on was it kept Trubisky from getting killed with sacks and hits. It also keept him from making more interceptions and possibly destroying his confidence as well as, the confidence of his teammates in him. As the season progressed they added more to his plate and you saw the improvement as the season progressed. Thought that was the way to handle it and think it will prove to be beneficial for him this year now that he has the familiarity with the league and much better playmakers around him.
However, he did play well enough to get him in my top 5 at number 4 overall. He made a ton of splash plays along with the progression I mentioned. His completion percentage was among the highest in the league the last 5 games he played and he did have games with over 70% of his passes going for completions. These weren’t just low percentage check-downs, screens and zero routes either. Trubisky threw the ball downfield and with accuracy. I guarantee you if he had his top weapons or the ones he’ll have this season the 30 attempts he had on deep balls would’ve been much higher too. Look for Trubisky to take that next step and take control as the face of this franchise moving forward from this point on.
This is an absolute dime thrown by Trubisky. First thing that impresses you is the fact he keeps his eyes downfield with a defender baring down on him right up the gut after the Right Guard loses his man. The second thing I noticed is his poise standing his ground and getting rid of the ball at the absolute perfect time and just dropping a pass in the bucket literally around three defenders not 2 yards away from the receiver and another one in the vicinity. Exquisite!
Here is the first throw of his career and what a way to start. Simple play to diagnose. Five step drop, plant and throw on an intermediate out route. It’s the ball placement that impresses you. As the thread’s author says it’s put only where the Receiver can catch it. Nice catch by Kendall Wright too.
Here’s probably the best overall play he made all of last season. It’s not just the throw and the significance of the throw, (it was a third and long that put the Bears in position to kick the game winner), but the poise in the pocket while surrounded by kaos. Than the athleticism to navigate the pocket while keeping his eyes downfield and than making a strong and accurate throw with defenders all around Wright and a man baring down on him off his back foot. Just an elite play that makes you feel good about him being an elite Quarterback going forward.
Another ridiculously accurate throw downfield and to his left. This is a corner route which he did do well on to his left. The thing I like the most here aside from the throw leading his receiver perfectly is the fact that he never looks Tre McBride’s way until he turns to make the throw. In his young career he’s already very good at holding the safeties and not giving them any indication of where he’s going with the ball.
Not only is Trubisky accurate on the run or accurate with deep balls but he’s also accurate on the run throwing deep balls. Like this one here. Sure, it could have been thrown maybe a hair sooner, but I think it’s fair to say the Bears and their fans should expect to see plenty of big plays downfield hitting receivers in stride and often for scores. This promises to be an exciting era in Bears history offensively and has a real chance to break every offensive team statistic as well as, individual statistics for a team with a long and storied history in this league.
3.) Cornerback – Kyle Fuller: Fuller didn’t just have had a make or break season but possibly career. If he had failed after the bizaar 2016 season with the whole knee scope fiasco he may never have gotten a chance to start in this league and prove himself again. Well, true to form for a stud 14th overall pick he played up to expectation. Fans were down on him and the media weren’t helping matters almost boldly calling him soft after he failed to come back from a knee scope most players take only a few weeks to come back from. Then there was the Cryptic comments that sounded like criticism concerning his not playing from his Defensive Coordinator that kind of gave the Fuller bashing more steam.
Well, that same Defensive Coordinator, Vic Fangio, took Fuller under his wing in the offseason showing you just how much Fangio thought of his talented Cornerback and both became the best of friends. That translated into an amazing Pro Bowl worthy season. Think the reason he did not go to the Pro Bowl was that he did not have the sexy Interception numbers. He did have a chance to get more that he did not pull in, so that kind of put a little dullness on what otherwise was a nice shiny diamond of season.
However there could be no denying the success he had and no doubting how much this Bears teams decision makers love him. This isn’t a player that was hand picked by the powers that be. Especially the ones from the defensive side like Fangio either, so to see the fact Fangio put in the amount of time with Fuller in the offseason and the money Ryan Pace matched from Green bay’s offer on the once restricted Free agent this offseason, one has to be comforted in the fact Fuller is the real deal as the Bears mainstay left cornerback.
Not only did he bat balls away that would otherwise be big completions, or to the arms of his teammates for interceptions as he did twice last season, or making a couple picks himself he was his usual physical self in run support too. I would love to see him more involved in the pressure scheme too. He was a demon in that whip position at Virginia Tech. Perhaps Fangio will do more with him there this season although Fangio doesn’t send Cornerbacks on blitzes very often and when he does it’s generally Bryce Callahan. I am expecting another big season from Fuller. The hope is the Bears will be able to get more pressure on the Quarterback forcing up more balls to be picked off and thus padding Fuller’s stats and perhaps vaulting him to a Pro Bowl or even an All Pro nomination. There is no doubt he is skilled enough.
On this play, Fuller gets beat off the line of scrimmage in press technique by some great footwork and a head fake by one of the best route runner’s in the game in A.J. Green. However, Fuller shows the make up speed in trail technique and the calmness to not panic and casually swats the pass away just as it arrives in Green’s hands.
On this play, you see the physicality Fuller plays with at the Cornerback position. Here he just rips the ball out of Luis Murphy’s hands and makes the ball his resulting in one of his two picks.
Here’s another matchup with All pro Wideout Green. Here he’s in the slot against Green in off man. He simply mirrors his opponent knowing exactly what route was being run and knocks the ball down. This play could have easily been another pick for Fuller on a play were Green should have gotten flagged for an offensive pass interference penalty as he grabbed Fuller’s left arm as he was about to make a play on it. You can see how upset Fuller was as he turned to the ref to let him know he missed that call.
On this play, Fuller is actually responsible for another man but recognizes that the route his man was running was to clear him out for the Half Back and he comes off that route and puts a nice pop on the would be tackler. This resulted in a 4th down and forced a Field Goal attempt. Another play that shows Fuller’s physicality, but also his Football IQ and instincts as well.
2.) Running Back – Jordan Howard: It’s pretty ironic that my top two players of 2017 are also their two most overlooked among the national media and fans. It’s clearly only because of the Bears win loss record. It isn’t fair but it is a reality. In order to get the individual accolades your team has to win. I liken it to baseball’s gold glove award. An award that recognizes that year’s best defensive player in each league, but usually is awarded to a player who also has good offensive numbers too. Hopefully, for his sake as well as the teams that will all soon change with the Bears having a winning season in 2018.
Howard is most known for his power running and with good reason. He is a big back and he has great forward lean that always has him falling forward. He’s also among the top 3 Running Backs in the league during his two seasons in the NFL as the meme below shows in yards after contact. It is his bread and butter no doubt, but that does not mean he is a stiff. Howard has plenty of juice as he also had the second most explosive runs (15+) just 4 behind Lesean McCoy. If not for the Bears predictive offense with the loss of Cutler in his rookie season and their skill players this past season it’s very likely he’d have been more productive overall and with it more explosive plays as well.
He’s more elusive than people think too. He’s also among the league leaders in forcing missed tackles as well. Another stat that show’s this ability is the fact he was the third best Running Back with 5 or more yards before contact showing he avoids a lot of would be tacklers. So he can plow you over as his yards after contact runs show you, or around you as well. He can beat you with his hands which he’s gotten a lot of crap for. Sure, his drop rate is far too high at over 21% but statistics show that it’s more of a fluky stat than it is legitimate. There are exceptions sure, but far more rare for a player to maintain a high drop rate throughout their careers. And you can see he does have soft hands. I expect a big turnaround in the catch department for him in 2018.
Here is a highlight package off of Youtube that shows just how valuable he was for the Bears last season and why i chose him to be the Bears number two player of 2017. He can beat you with elusiveness or with power. Enjoy!
1.) Defensive Lineman – Akiem Hicks: Hicks wasn’t just good last season he was All Pro good. For him not to be picked for the Pro Bowl is a disgrace. Than there was the NFL top 100 list that excluded him. An even bigger insult as it was voted on by his peers. I know every Offensive Lineman that had to block him voted for him. His tape is so impressive that I would have him as possibly the second best interior lineman in the league just a notch below Aaron Donald. He’s almost as quick and at significantly more size and strength. Donald of course is a step above all and in my opinion the top defensive player in all of football.
As far as 3-4 Ends go I’d have a hard time picking anyone else ahead of him. I liken the description Richard Dryfess’ character in Jaws, “Mr. Hooper” gives about the 25 foot Great White Shark that terrorized the small Island folk in New York state’s Amityville to that of Hicks. Hooper tells Sheriff Brody, ” It’s really a miracle of modern evolution. All it does is swim, eat, sleep and make baby sharks.” Well, all Hicks does is eat up double teams, produce offensive line terrorizing swim moves, puts Running backs to sleep with devastating hits in the backfield, and makes Quarterbacks wish they were home with their Mama’s like little babies.
2017 was obviously a productive one for him. He earned every bit of the contract extension Ryan Pace wisely offered him. It starts with the 8 1/2 sacks he got. A number most interior linemen don’t sniff yet alone get to. On top of that he had 36 solo tackles which ranked him 2nd among players at his position. He had 8 recorded run stuffs ranking him 3rd at his position. Oh, and he also managed to fall on a couple fumbles too. I can go on and on with stats like hits and hurries, tackles for loss, etc. However, the tape doesn’t lie. All anyone has to do is watch every game snap to snap to see what Hicks did in 2017 and why his lack of accolades is so disturbing. On top of it he played in 83.2% of the defensive snaps. With a team that experienced so many key injuries that was huge. However it played a toll on him as his production dropped significantly in the second half. The Bears will be looking to reduce that number drastically to keep the big man fresh and even more productive in 2018.
The size of the man is obvious as is his strength but the way he moves is truly jaw dropping. The term dancing bear immediately comes to mind. whether performing a stunt, Holding up blockers to free his teammates, or employing a cat quick spin move off a block to make a big play himself he does not move like your ordinary 6’5″ 330 pound man. On top of that he plays with the proper mean streak for an interior Defensive Lineman and is a consummate teammate and a tremendous leader on the team and in the community. Hicks is without a doubt in my mind an elite football player and at current the best player on the 2017 Chicago Bears.
There are so many plays that I could have picked out and a lot of them more sexier than this one, but I believe this shows the essence of what makes Hicks so good and in the elite category. Physically, the size and strength, as well as the, quickness is obvious on this play but it also shows what truly makes him special. his instincts and smarts. Here you see him quickly side step to his right as he obviously recognized something on tape and anticipated the blocking scheme to come.
The Right Tackle was going to double him but Hicks was so quick to his right the Right Tackle was blocking air and quickly went to option B. The Right Guard tries to ride Hicks out of the right B gap, but Hicks quickly spins off the block and drops the Running Back at the line of scrimmage and forces a 4th down and a field goal attempt rather than a Touchdown in the red zone.
On this play you can see how Hicks disrupted the Offensive Lines flow as you even see the Center look out of sorts and is left blocking no one as Jerrell Freeman goes around him to assist on the tackle. Unrein looked like the original target as it looked as if they were trying to execute two combo blocks to open the A gap up but Hicks also slanted quickly to his right and took on the Left Guard and held his spot as he often did all year long.
And I’ll leave you with Hicks 2017 highlights on a very impressive display of speed, power, and quickness from a very large, athletic and angry man you do not want to mess with on the football field.