Where does your squad stand in 2023? Adam Rank sets the table by providing a State of the Franchise look at all 32 teams, zeroing in on the key figures to watch and setting the stakes for the season to come.
Members of the Bears organization, Bears fans around the world and those who know the difference between being from Chicago and being from the Chicagoland area ...
This is one of the most anticipated seasons in Bears history. For the first time in what feels like forever, the Bears have a franchise quarterback to rally around. Excitement is at an all-time high. Can the Bears reach those expectations?
Before we dive in, let me note right off the bat: I am a Bears fan. I'm originally from Schaumburg, and my dad once got in trouble rooting for the Bears at Comiskey Park during a game between the Bears and Cardinals, back when the Cardinals were a Chicago team and played in that stadium. Anyone who is even a little bit familiar with me likely knows about my allegiances, but I just wanted to put that out there.
One high from last season: Beating the Patriots on Monday Night Football in Week 7. The Bears endured a horrific loss to the Commanders in Week 6 on Thursday Night Football. I mean, that game was in their grasp, and, well, mistakes were made. Chicago used the mini-bye provided by the 11-day gap between TNF and the following week's MNF to retool the offense, launching a new-look approach that energized the fan base.
One low from last season: Not winning many games. It was fun watching this team play -- Bears fans were not used to enjoying a high-flying offense. It was kind of like if you were watching Friends reruns and Phoebe just started cussing up a storm. It's like: Whoa, I've never seen anything like this before. But now you kind of like it and wish it was always that way. The tough part was, they didn't win again after that Patriots victory, losing 10 straight to end the year.
Quarterback: Justin Fields. It's really difficult to describe what it's like for Bears fans -- a group that, again, I belong to -- to have Justin Fields as their quarterback. Imagine you've never listened to music before, and then somebody gives you a Metallica album, preferably Ride the Lightning. You would have sensory overload; you wouldn't know how to deal with your emotions. That's what it's like watching Justin, because most Bears fans have never witnessed this dynamic type of quarterback play. At least not from a player in a Bears uniform. He's one of the most exciting quarterbacks in the NFL. Few move the needle -- as they say -- as much as Fields. Don't believe me? Just look at the amount of social media graphics that have been devoted to him this offseason. You want to anger Bears fans? Call him a running back. Yes, he did rush for a whopping 1,143 yards last season, but calling him a running back is nonsense. He was one of the best passers in college football at Ohio State, and he made some major improvement in that area in 2022 compared to what we saw from him as a rookie in 2021. Look, it's fine to say that he needs to continue to develop. He knows it, too. It's why we seem to always see him at Halas Hall or at the gym. But make no mistake, this guy is the Bears' QUARTERBACK!
Projected 2023 MVP: Fields. It's not completely up to him. The Bears did surround him with a lot of talent in the last 18 months. The receiving room has been rebuilt. (More on that in a moment.) Same with the offensive line (again, more on that in a moment). And Robert Tonyan joins Cole Kmet at tight end. There are a lot of new pieces in place. But ultimately, it comes down to Justin to make the plays.
New face to know: DJ Moore, wide receiver. Josh Allen needed some help when he was developing, so the Bills acquired Stefon Diggs. Jalen Hurts needed some help last year, so the Eagles acquired A.J. Brown. The Bears followed suit with Moore, who was included in the trade with Carolina for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. Moore has been one of the more productive receivers in the NFL, notching three straight 1,100-yard receiving seasons from 2019 to 2021. He will have a similar type of impact for Fields. You can already see it in OTAs. This offense is going to look a lot more complete with DJ this season. I also want to give a small shoutout to rookie Tyler Scott, a fourth-round pick, whom I recently talked to on my Bears podcast, and who ranked 31st in the FBS in receiving yards per game at Cincinnati last season (81.7); he could be special.
2023 breakout star: Braxton Jones, offensive tackle. The Bears drafted Jones out of Southern Utah last year in the fifth round, slotting him at left tackle -- and he played really well, all things considered. Pro Football Focus graded him as the top tackle among rookies and 19th-best league-wide in 2022, and there is reason to believe he's going to be able to take that next step this year. One thing he's really focused on is improving his strength, because he was frequently bull-rushed as a rookie. There is no doubting his athleticism, however. He moves better than most linemen, and the Bears will hope to take advantage of that this season.
|Special teams coordinator
- It's tough to really judge Eberflus on his first season on the job, because Chicago won just three games. But it really seemed the players bought in to his acronym-heavy approach and played hard for the coach; they were in the middle of a massive rebuild being done on the fly, and yet, their effort never seemed to wane.
- Speaking of rebuilding, credit to Poles for quickly turning this team around. Hired in January 2022, he made a number of huge moves last offseason, trading away Khalil Mack and letting Allen Robinson and Akiem Hicks walk. Then, before the 2022 trade deadline, he dealt Robert Quinn and Roquan Smith and acquired receiver Chase Claypool from Pittsburgh. Right now, that Claypool move doesn't look great, because what the Bears traded away to Pittsburgh ended up being the 32nd overall pick, while Claypool caught just 14 passes for 140 yards after joining Chicago. But if dude hauls in 10 touchdowns this year, nobody is going to care. And then, of course, Poles really made the most of his draft capital, coming away with a 10-player class, an extra first-rounder in 2024 and a veteran No. 1 receiver.
- It was a wild ride for Getsy last year. Some fans wanted him fired in the first three weeks. Then, by midseason, everyone was seemingly concerned the Bears would lose him to a head-coaching gig elsewhere. Ultimately, he was a first-year offensive coordinator who, like his quarterback, was learning on the job. We're excited to see what Year 2 brings.
Below is a rundown of the Bears' most notable roster developments for the 2023 season, including this year's draft class, as well as key acquisitions and departures via free agency and trade.
|Draft class (round-pick)
|Darnell Wright, OT, Tennessee (1-10)
|PJ Walker, QB
|Tim Boyle, QB
|Gervon Dexter Sr., DT, Florida (2-53)
|D'Onta Foreman, RB
|Trevor Siemian, QB
|Tyrique Stevenson, CB, Miami (2-56)
|Travis Homer, RB
|David Montgomery, RB
|Zacch Pickens, DT, South Carolina (3-64)
|DJ Moore, WR
|N'Keal Harry, WR
|Roschon Johnson, RB, Texas (4-115)
|Robert Tonyan, TE
|Byron Pringle, WR
|Tyler Scott, WR, Cincinnati (4-133)
|Nate Davis, OG
|Riley Reiff, OT
|Noah Sewell, LB, Oregon (5-148)
|Rasheem Green, Edge
|Michael Schofield, OG
|Terell Smith, CB, Minnesota (5-165)
|DeMarcus Walker, Edge
|Al-Quadin Muhammad, Edge
|Travis Bell, DT, Kennesaw State (7-218)
|Andrew Billings, DT
|Armon Watts, DL
|Kendall Williamson, DB, Stanford (7-258)
|Tremaine Edmunds, LB
|Nicholas Morrow, LB
|T.J. Edwards, LB
|Joe Thomas, LB
|DeAndre Houston-Carson, S
Three key dates:
- Week 1 vs. Green Bay Packers. Bears fans have waited for years to be done with Aaron Rodgers. And if they can't beat the Rodgers-less Packers in Week 1, well ... I hate even putting that thought out in the universe. It's too terrible to even think about. Chicago newcomer Justin Jones recently said what many Bears fans have likely been thinking for years about the Packers: "Their fans are really s----y. So, yeah, I wanted to go back up there and I wanted to play them and I wanted to beat them. And I wanted (Aaron Rodgers) to be there so he could see it. But the fact that he's gone, it's cool. I guess it's better for him not to be here. But yeah, I'm ready to take it over. It's a good time to be a Bears fan. I'm not even gonna lie to you."
- Week 5 at Washington Commanders (Thursday night). If last year's prime-time showdown against the Commanders hadn't turned into a gut-punch loss, might the Bears have gained some confidence and reeled off some wins? We'll never know. But the matchup makes for a very winnable game this year.
- Week 11 at Detroit Lions. I'm of the mind the NFC North is going to be flipped this year, with the Lions and Bears finishing on top. After this one, the Bears visit the Vikings for Monday Night Football, have a bye in Week 13 and face the Lions in Chicago in Week 14.
Will the Bears be able to ...
... play some defense? I mean, defense carried the Bears for years -- generations, really. But that obviously flipped in 2022. The offense went on a stretch where it seemingly scored at will, but Chicago couldn't stop anybody. In Weeks 8-11, the Bears' offense averaged 28.8 points per game, but the defense allowed 35.5 points per contest. The Bears couldn't get to the quarterback after trading away Mack and Quinn, so the key will be finding a pass rush this year. There are still players available on the open market who would help this cause, but as the roster stands right now, we're looking at Dom Robinson -- who was excellent with 1.5 sacks in the Week 1 win over San Francisco -- or Trevis Gipson to make a huge leap this season.
... protect Justin Fields? Don't pretend like the Bears didn't completely retool the offensive line during the offseason. I mean, they had to after Fields was sacked 55 times last season (tied for most in the NFL with Russell Wilson). Teven Jenkins -- the team's best lineman last year -- has been kicked over to left guard to play alongside Braxton Jones. Poles added Nate Davis in free agency at right guard and drafted offensive tackle Darnell Wright 10th overall. Wright is obviously going to be in the spotlight as the player the Bears landed after passing on Jalen Carter with the No. 9 overall choice, which they traded to the Eagles. But Wright was a player my colleague Brian Baldinger called out to me when I was working on my mock draft with a twist. I believe that the rookie is going to be a good one.
One storyline ...
... people shouldn't overthink: Who will be the lead running back. Obviously the only people truly concerned about this are the fantasy dorks looking to draft one of the Bears' running backs. There were five instances of a Chicago player topping 100 yards in a game last season, and Justin Fields was responsible for three of them. One of those games was authored by 2021 sixth-round pick Khalil Herbert, who has looked good at times. (The other was put up by David Montgomery, who left in free agency.) Newcomer D'Onta Foreman topped 100 rushing yards five times with the Panthers last year. The one name you might want to keep an eye on: Roschon Johnson. The fourth-round pick could end up being the steal of the draft. A former quarterback converted to running back (stop it), he likely would have been a bigger prospect if he hadn't played behind this guy named Bjian Robinson at Texas.
For 2023 to be a success, the Bears MUST:
- Close out some games. The Bears lost a bunch of games in 2022 because they couldn't close out their opponents, whether by making a key stop on defense or a crucial play on offense. I expect this to change as Justin Fields continues to evolve as a passer.