The Chicago Bears had an amazing offseason. They now have young talent on both sides of the ball that could make them a surprise team in 2018. General manager Ryan Pace deserves a lot of credit.
However, there is one glaring weakness the team has heading into its first training camp practice on July 21st. That weakness is at the edge rusher position. Now, some fans may confuse the defensive line and edge rusher positions. The Bears defensive line is actually in pretty good shape, especially if both Eddie Goldman and Akiem Hicks can stay healthy.
Again, the edge rusher position is where there is an obvious lack of depth.
There isn’t much at the position behind Leonard Floyd, who has had his own issues with staying healthy throughout his short NFL career. It was a bit surprising that the Bears’ front office didn’t do more to sure up the position in free agency. They did somewhat address it in the draft, but relying on young and inexperienced players isn’t always the best idea.
Here, I will break down every edge rusher on the Bears’ roster. While also trying to find different ways the team can improve the position before the start of the regular season.
As I stated above, Floyd is the best edge rusher the Bears have on the roster. Though, he has had trouble staying healthy over the last two seasons. In 2016, his rookie year, Floyd played in 12 games. Last year, he played in just 10.
Clearly, the key for Floyd is being on the field. He recorded 7.0 sacks and 23 tackles in 2016. In 2017, he sacked the QB 4.5 times but had 24 tackles in two fewer games. That tells me that not only Floyd is evolving as an edge rusher, but OLB as well.
According to Pro Football Focus, Floyd was third in Pass Rush Productivity last season before he was shut down for the year.
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) November 25, 2017
Creating and sustaining pressure on the quarterback starts and ends with Floyd. Can he stay healthy though?
If Sam Acho is the other starter at edge rusher, that’s a problem. That’s nothing against Acho. He’s actually turned into a very nice player. However, he is not a starter on an elite defense. Acho will be important though given the lack of depth at the position.
Acho is consistently healthy, which makes him valuable, even as a backup. Over the last three seasons, Acho has played in 15, 16, and 16 games. Last season, he actually started 12 games on a defense that finished in the top 10.
In 2017, Acho recorded 27 tackles and 3.0 sacks. Again, the consistency with being on the field is there, but the productivity is not.
This was one of Ryan Pace’s best moves of the offseason. Here’s why – Lynch has a ton of potential and is on a short-term deal. At 25-years-old, Lynch still has time to figure it out in the NFL. Like Floyd, he needs to stay on the field.
He played for Bears’ defensive coordinator Vic Fangio in 2014 and 2015. In those seasons, Lynch recorded 12.5 sacks. Over the last two seasons, however, Lynch has played in just 14 games combined. My colleague Jack Soble wrote about Lynch earlier this offseason.
There is still a need at edge rusher for the Bears, who I would expect to take one on day one or two of the draft in April. While a solid option as a rotational piece and starter if need be, Lynch can’t be expected (for now) to be the long-term solution opposite Leonard Floyd. He’s played a combined 14 games due to injury and only produced two and a half sacks over the last two seasons combined.
Jack is right, the Bears cannot rely on Lynch to stay healthy.
Isaiah Irving could be one of the Bears breakout players in 2018. During his four years at San Jose State, he played three positions – defensive tackle, linebacker, and defensive end. He recorded 139 tackles and 11 sacks in those four seasons. In 2017, he had seven sacks to go along with 45 tackles.
After going undrafted last season, the Bears used him in the preseason. Irving played well enough to make the practice squad. In early October he found himself on the 53 man roster. He did very little in his rookie season, but he did make it through year one. Year two, if everything goes right, should be better than the first.
Irving is a player to watch heading into camp.
Surprise, surprise, the Bears have yet another player at the edge rusher position that has trouble staying healthy. When he was last fully healthy in 2015, Fitts was solid. He had seven tackles for loss and seven sacks.
The thing that makes Fitts intriguing is his athleticism. He’s a freak on the football field.
Here is Kylie Fitts beating Brandon Parker 1-on-1 at this year's @seniorbowl
Fitts won 71% of his pass rushes in 1-on-1 drills down in Mobile pic.twitter.com/WMOUjiihsV
— PFF CHI Bears (@PFF_Bears) April 28, 2018
Fitts has potential, especially for a sixth-round draft pick. At the same time, he’s a rookie, who struggles with injuries.
“Iggy” deserves to be on the list, even though the Bears believe he can play multiple positions. With his agility and athleticism, the Bears would be foolish not to work him in as an edge rusher. He could serve as Christian Jones type player, who used to fill in at both inside and outside linebacker.
He also could add some value on special teams. We will have to see where Matt Nagy and his staff put Iggy during training camp.
Nick Kwiatkoski has proven to be a solid ILB. There is a reason to believe Fangio could use him as an edge rusher in 2018 though. He was actually very effective when asked to blitz last season. Using him in a similar role this season, while not ideal, could create pressure on the QB.
— Jake Perper (@BearsBacker) November 19, 2017
Free Agent/Trade Options
Like most fans, I’m somewhat surprised Pace hasn’t done more to improve the edge rusher position. Here are two players that the Bears should consider bringing in.
Houston was solid for the Bears in two different stints last season, while Barwin can still contribute in the NFL. Houston would be the more likely of the two given his familiarity with Fangio’s system.
After breaking down the Bears group of players at the edge rusher position, there is plenty to be concerned about. Health, as always, will be huge for the Bears in 2018. If Pace decides to add some talent via free agency than my outlook on the position may change, but nothing is imminent.
Many people are predicting the Bears to be the next Los Angeles Rams. It’s hard to see that happening with an, at best, suspect pass rush. In a division with Aaron Rodgers, Kirk Cousins, and Matthew Stafford, you have to be able to get to the QB. I’m not sure the Bears can do that.
Follow Nick on Twitter: @TLS_Petrusevski–Feature Photo Credit: H. Rick Bamman