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Bears: Best and Worst Performers vs. Calculated Expectations

The Chicago Bears best and worst performers so far in 2018 were graded using an analytic system.

Khalil Mack is probably the best player on the Bears roster. You don’t need stats to tell you that. His track record, his on-field production and the price (in terms of money and draft picks) that the Bears paid for him, tell the story.

The problem I have with this is that he’s good and that I expect him to be good. How do I know if he’s better than I should have expected?

Also, for other players on the roster, how should I rank them against Mack? Is it fair to compare his production with that of a guy on a minimum salary deal? Or with a rookie?

Probably not.

Leveling the playing field

In order to come up with a way of leveling the playing field for evaluation, we crunched over three and a half thousand pieces of data and built an algorithm to assess how well (or badly) players are delivering against what should be expected. We looked at on-field production, but we also looked at production proportionate to playing time, relative cost/cap hit, and NFL experience. At the mid-point of the season, the below graphic shows the best and worst performers:

Leading the pack – the top 5

These guys are delivering everything the Bears could have hoped for and more:

  • Bilal Nichols has been highly productive in limited snaps and, as a 5th round Rookie, is 48th on the roster in terms of cap hit. The model shows that he’s exceeding expectations by around 190%. If he bounces back from his recent knee injury, Bilal could be pushing for Bears Rookie of the year
  • Tarik Cohens numbers this season speak for themselves. Through 8 games he has already racked up 882 all-purpose yards. He’s such an established part of the team that it’s easy to forget that this is only his second season with the team.
  • Roy Robertson-Harris snap numbers are fairly low as he continues his D-line timeshare. His production is impressive. He has 2.5 sacks, 3 tackles for loss and is second on the team in QB hits with 7. Akiem Hicks has 8 QB hits but has played twice the number of defensive snaps.
  • Despite his enormous contract, Mack has delivered a huge amount of direct value to the team in terms of productivity. He’s also made the entire defense better through his play and infectious work ethic – that’s stuff that’s difficult to measure. We rate him as exceeding expectations by 69%. That is impressive.
  • Roquan Smith is second on the team in tackles through the first half of the season and his productivity seems to be improving week on week as he continues to learn Vic Fangio’s Defense. He leads the team in tackles for a loss. It’s early days but Smith appears to be living up to what the Bears had anticipated when they selected him with the 8th pick of the 2018 draft.

Bringing up the rear – the bottom 3

These guys just aren’t cutting it:

  • Jonathan Bullard – As a former 3rd round pick, and having one year more experience, Bullard is paid a 66% higher salary than Robertson-Harris. Their snap counts are similar, but the Bears haven’t had anywhere near the production from Bullard. Through 8 games, he’s yet to register a sack or a QB hit.
  • At this point, Kevin White is Kevin White. The decision to not dress him for the Bills game would seem to indicate that the team has lost hope. His cap hit is nearly $5.3 million. That would buy you 10 Javon Wims‘s
  • Dion Sims has caught two passes for a total of 9 yards so far this season. His cap hit of $6.3 million makes those yards expensive at over $700k each. For context, Jordan Howard’s cap hit for the entire year is only $692k.

Note–all of the above excludes O-Linemen, specialists, and players with very low snap numbers.

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Image: USA Today 


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