In the 2017 NFL Season, the Bears’ defense was their strongest unit. The secondary held its ground, despite not having many big names, and the emergence of cornerback Kyle Fuller and safety Eddie Jackson played a key role in this unit’s surprising ascent.
Today, we will break down the cornerbacks.
After missing the first two games of the season with an ankle injury, Amukamara came into his own as an average to an above-average corner. Although he did little as a play-maker (he had seven pass deflections), he didn’t make many mistakes and consistently was able to defend receivers.
Amukamara rarely allowed big plays. He becomes a free agent this off-season, so re-signing him could be a priority for the Bears unless they choose to target a bigger play-maker for the secondary. While not a sexy corner, Amukamara is a solid player and second corner. General Manager Ryan Pace has shown a willingness to reward players who perform (a la Tracy Porter), expect something similar to happen here.
Fuller had a breakout campaign in 2017 after missing all of the 2016 season with a knee injury. At the start of training camp, it seemed as if Fuller was playing for his career, as defensive coordinator Vic Fangio had questioned his desire to play in the past.
However, Fuller locked down the starting role pretty early in the season and didn’t look back from there. Fuller played shutdown defense early and often, however, he did allow the occasional big play and was inconsistent at times. Nonetheless, in 16 starts for the Bears, Fuller posted 22 pass-deflections (trailing only Pro-Bowler Darius Slay and Robert Alford), to go along with two interceptions and 60 tackles.
Fuller had a lot of interceptions go through his hands, and he must improve on this regardless of where he is playing next season. Furthermore, his numerous missed tackles and sub-par tackling form consistently hurt the Bears.
Nonetheless, Fuller showed enough potential to be a shutdown corner and the Bears must do everything possible to retain him. I am still wary of Fuller’s future, as he hasn’t consistently shown the ability to play lockdown defense. Ideally, the Bears’ could structure a contract which they could escape from quickly. At this point, that may be wishful thinking on my part.
Callahan, the Bears’ slot corner, played good (but not great) this season. He is an up-and-coming player, however, has not shown the ability to stay on the field for a whole season, limiting his upside.
Callahan missed 4 games this season; however, in the 12 games he did play in, he recorded two picks, a forced fumble, and 20 tackles. He also had a punt-return TD in Week 17, which could play a role in the decision to re-sign him. Callahan definitely has potential as a slot corner, but his injuries are halting his progress. The Bears will have to decide whether or not to re-sign Callahan.
He has proven to be one of the better slot corners in the NFL when healthy, but his inability to stay on the field is worrisome.
Cooper, pegged as the Bears starting corner going into training camp, immensely disappointed this past season. His biggest play of the season was a huge failure, and unless he is able to revive his career, will be what he is remembered for.
After starting the season without making much noise (both good and bad), Cooper fell off and never recovered. Whenever Cooper was on the field as a defensive back, teams would target him and would have a nearly perfect rate of success.
Cooper allowed numerous touchdowns, and when Bears fans saw him on the field, they knew something bad was about to happen.
Overall, Cooper is hurting the Bears’ more than helping, and it would not be a surprise if he were cut before training camp started. He is not producing at the level he is being paid for, and the money could be used for better purposes.
LeBlanc played sparingly this season, starting only one game and posting 12 tackles and three pass deflections. He played behind Bryce Callahan as a slot corner and was rarely used thanks to the emergence of Callahan. LeBlanc will be fighting for a roster spot this off-season, after having a surprising campaign in 2016 in which he made a few big plays.