Matt Nagy’s Chicago Bears will close out their preseason slate on Thursday Night against the Buffalo Bills at Soldier Field. This is the most talented group that Ryan Pace has assembled since his arrival and the drama is lacking due to limited roster battles.
There aren’t many spots up for grabs and that should be considered a good thing for once. There will be a flurry of activity across the league this weekend as teams must trim to the mandated 53 players to occupy their regular season rosters. Roughly 1,184 players will become unemployed on Saturday as teams shape their depth charts officially.
The Bears are eighth in the waiver wire order and could look to add talent in that regard on Sunday. Pace has been active in recent years and they could look to add at outside linebacker, offensive line, running back and in the secondary.
Even after the Bears settle on 53 names to occupy the lockers at Halas Hall, there will still likely be some shuffling that takes place on the roster heading into the opener vs. Green Bay. With that being said, here’s how I think the roster shakes out heading into final cuts.
Like many teams in the National Football League, it would be a surprise if the Bears kept three quarterbacks on the roster. Tyler Bray was a good guy to have around to help with the installation of the new offense but he likely won’t make the final roster.
Trubisky hasn’t seen a ton of game action in the pre-season but his head coach is happy with his progress this summer. The second-year pro out of North Carolina has the keys to the franchise and will have keys to the city if he’s successful. Chase Daniel is an excellent backup as long as he doesn’t have to play for an extended period.
Cuts: Tyler Bray
Running Back (4)
Jordan Howard is established as the feature back in Nagy’s new offense and his proficiency running out of the shotgun should suit him well. Cohen hasn’t seen a ton of action in games but was a focal point in many of the offensive formations throughout training camp. He’s a multi-purpose weapon that should be an integral piece to the offensive puzzle.
Benny Cunningham should see loads of time on special teams and is the primary kickoff return man to open the season. Ryan Nall was an undrafted free agent out of Oregon State and could be a practice squad candidate after final cuts. In this projection, Michael Burton sticks as the fullback on the roster. Running back is a spot that could be added through waivers this weekend as well.
Wide Receiver (6)
Allen Robinson was the free agent prize of the Bears’ off-season after the 25-year-old signed a 3-year contract worth $42 million. He will be relied on to be the #1 option in Chicago’s passing game. The small and speedy Taylor Gabriel was added in free agency as well and will be used in a plethora of ways.
Ryan Pace traded up to nab Memphis wideout Anthony Miller in the 2nd round of the draft and he should factor into the rotation immediately. Kevin White is seemingly healthy for the first time and has received plenty of opportunities this off-season.
Josh Bellamy is a standout on special teams and offers value as a downfield blocker. Javon Wims likely makes the roster as a 7th rounder out of Georgia. He’s had a great pre-season and wouldn’t clear waivers at this juncture. Tanner Gentry and Demarcus Ayers could be candidates for the 10-man practice squad.
Tight End (5)
Burton was signed from Philadelphia to play the important U Tight End role in Matt Nagy’s offensive system. Trey will primarily be a pass catcher and he could break the franchise record for catches in a season at the position. Second-year player Adam Shaheen flashed some of his athleticism and red zone ability before suffering an ankle sprain in the pre-season. His availability for week one is cloudy.
Dion Sims is making some big time coin for a #3 TE and he’ll be counted on heavily in a traditional in-line role. Ben Braunecker and Daniel Brown are competing for the fourth spot at the position. I think Braunecker has the edge at this point. Brown makes the team to start due to injuries at the position.
Cuts: Colin Thompson
Offensive Line (8)
Leno, Massie, Long, and Whitehair are locked in as starters for week one in Green Bay. The other starting spot is still to be determined according to head coach Matt Nagy. Veteran swingman Eric Kush has been playing guard with the #1 offense all off-season but it’s likely that rookie James Daniels will be in that spot on Sunday Night Football.
The 20-year-old former Hawkeye has played well in the pre-season and looks like a potential 10-year starter. Kush becomes the primary backup on the interior with veteran Bradley Sowell having the ability to play tackle and guard as well. Rashaad Coward was on the practice squad as a member of the defensive line last year.
He should make the football team after converting to the offensive line under tutor Harry Hiestand. The Bears could look to add tackle depth on the waiver wire but teams are unlikely to discard talented lineman.
Defensive Line (6)
Whether the Bears keep five or six defensive linemen is a legitimate question. Goldman, Hicks, Bull, rd and Robertson-Harris are staples. 5th round rookie Bilal Nichols has flashed big upside and will likely be on the roster as well. John Jenkins is a veteran space eater that was also in Chicago last year.
Jenkins may be inactive frequently on game days but should have a solid shot at landing on the initial 53-man roster. This is a pretty solid group to head into the season with. A contract extension for Eddie Goldman could come at any time and further additions to this group would be a surprise.
Outside Linebacker (5)
Pass rushers that can play on the edge are the biggest need on this roster. Leonard Floyd is seemingly ready to play in week one but he needs to play 16 contests for the first time in his career. Aaron Lynch was signed to rejuvenate his career under Vic Fangio and he proceeded to not play a snap in the pre-season. Sam Acho is a great guy and solid rotational option but he shouldn’t be seeing heavy minutes on a quality defense.
Isaiah Irving is young and offers some upside in a pass rushing role. Kasim Edebali was added in camp and the 29-year-old offers special teams value. 6th rounder Kylie Fitts doesn’t make the team in this projection. He didn’t show enough during the pre-season and should slide to the practice squad. The Bears could be very active on the waiver wire and on the trade front in order to add another pass rusher to this roster. It’s the biggest need on the team and some clubs should have some excess available.
Cuts: Kylie Fitts (Practice Squad Candidate), Elijah Norris (Practice Squad Candidate)
Inside Linebacker (4)
Roquan Smith was the major storyline of training camp. Now that he’s in the fold, he’s not playing due to injury. It shouldn’t factor in long-term or even this season but his immediate status is unclear. I’d expect him to get a lot of time against the Packers on September 9th but he needs to get back on the field first.
Danny Trevathan is healthy and makes a good defense even better. His presence is incredibly important. Nick Kwiatkoski is a solid option for a third inside linebacker. He plays special teams and could start on many units throughout the league.
Iyiegbuniwe has battled injuries as well but the 4th rounder out of Western Kentucky should make an immediate impact on special teams in his rookie season. John Timu and Jonathan Anderson have found their way onto the roster in previous seasons but they have an uphill climb this time around. A 5th ILB could possibly be kept early on depending on the status of Smith.
The Bears shelled out quite a bit of money to keep their starting cornerback duo intact this off-season. Amukamara and Fuller are important cogs in Fangio’s defensive backfield. Bryce Callahan has been above average as the nickel corner and he’s looking to stay healthy and earn a contract next off-season.
Cre’von LeBlanc is versatile and offers special teams value, as well as long-standing special teams, ace Sherrick McManis. There’s a chance that the Bears only keep 5 corners but one of the undrafted rookies could factor in. I went with Kevin Toliver II due to his length and upside but Michael Joseph and Doran Grant are definite possibilities here as well. Cornerback could be another position that Pace monitors closely on the waiver wire.
The Bears are thin at the safety position and this could be another spot in which talent is added this weekend. Jackson and Amos give Ed Donatell a pair of young ascending talents but the depth could be tested in the early going.
Deon Bush had a good summer and could fill in for one of the starters if necessary. DHC is a special teams maven but he’s injured and could start the season inactive. Deiondre Hall has speed and ball skills but will be suspended for week 1 of the regular season. His roster spot won’t count against the 53 on opening weekend.
Cuts: Nick Orr
Ryan Winslow (P)
Tanner Carew (LS)
Cody Parkey was signed to a big contract in free agency to be the team’s new placekicker. He is the only member of the specialists’ group to not have competition in camp. The Bears searched long and hard for a way to replace Pat O’Donnell at punter this year but ultimately brought him back on a one-year deal. It’s clear that the front office doesn’t believe in him though and Winslow has a shot at the roster to start.
Punter is another position that the Bears could look at in the next week. Patrick Scales was signed to be the long snapper and getting injured last year but the Bears subtly brought in competition for him last week. Tanner Carew is an undrafted free agent out of Oregon and the scouting staff did extensive pre-draft work on him. It’d be nice to not have to worry about the long snapper position for multiple years.
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