With the football right around the corner, here are five bold predictions for the Chicago Bears 2019 season.
5. David Montgomery will be the Offensive ROTY.
The Bears’ first selection in this April’s draft, running back David Montgomery, isn’t being talked about maybe as much as he should be this offseason. Brought in as the hopeful heir to Jordan Howard, Montgomery should receive the lion’s share of touches right off the bat.
Of course, running mate Tarik Cohen will still see backfield snaps in his specialized role. However, head coach Matt Nagy has made it clear that Montgomery will have a big role in Chicago’s offense.
As the highest-graded back (91.1) by Pro Football Focus from this year’s draft class, the Iowa State alum has a chance to take the league by storm in his rookie campaign. If he can prove his college production was no fluke, he’ll have a realistic shot at being this year’s Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Throughout history, it’s been a common theme for running backs to take home the prize. As Kirby Lee of USA Today Sports points out, in the past 62 years, a whopping 40 award recipients were running backs. So why not Montgomery?
Josh Jacobs, N’Keal Harry, Dewayne Haskins, and of course no. 1 overall pick Kyler Murray are all fine candidates for the award. However, Montgomery, CFB’s most elusive tailback over the past two seasons (211 missed tackles forced), is as good of a dark-horse bet as anyone.
4. Eddie Jackson and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix will combine for more than 10 interceptions.
Although the Bears didn’t pursue any big-name free agents this offseason, they were able to fill a key void left on defense by Adrian Amos who walked via free agency. In his absence, the team managed to ink former division rival Ha Ha Clinton-Dix to a one-year, $3.5 million contract.
Even though Amos was seen as one of the better safeties in the NFL, being graded luxuriously by PFF (top-8 grade each of the last two seasons), one giant knock on his game was his inability to create turnovers. Over the last three seasons, Amos has managed just three interceptions compared to Clinton-Dix’s 11.
Still just 26 years old, the ball-hawking safety will have a fine chance to have a bounce-back campaign paired alongside one of the league’s best safeties in Eddie Jackson. In 2018, Jackson picked-off six passes, 4th-most in the NFL.
The two should have no problem building quick chemistry on defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano’s defense, as the former teammates at Alabama (2013) will start alongside each other once again. This was perhaps the biggest reason Clinton-Dix chose the Windy City as his new home.
On what should remain one of the league’s best defensive units, Clinton-Dix has a legitimate shot at a career year. He’s already got a five-interception year under his belt (2016), and if Jackson can have an encore performance from 2018, this tandem could easily surpass 10 interceptions. As Jackson continues to grow in Year 3, the two could become a nightmare for opposing QBs.
3. The Bears offense will place top-8 in total yards.
Although this one may seem a little far-fetched, it’s not as inconceivable as some may think. Now entering the second year of the Nagy regime, this offense is a good bet to take a big step forward. The history of the Andy Reid coaching tree shows something that should have fans excited about what’s to come in 2018.
The most-recent descendant (aside from Nagy) from Reid’s coaching staff, Eagles head coach Doug Pederson showed what this West Coast-style offense is capable of in Year 2. When Pederson took over as Philadelphia’s head coach in 2016, his team, led by a rookie QB Carson Wentz, placed just 22nd in the league with 5,398 total offensive yards.
However, 2017 was a complete turnaround for them. By the end of Pederson’s second season at the helm, the Eagles placed 7th in total offensive yards with 5,852. Last year the Bears offense managed just over 5,500 yards. In a similar situation, both with high-capital draft selections at QB, a leap into the top-8 this season remains in the realm of possibilities.
Nagy’s scheme/playbook that he brought with him to Chicago isn’t one that can be learned overnight. Growing pains in Year 1 were imminent. Now that Mitchell Trubisky and co. have had the opportunity to really digest Nagy’s playbook over the course of several offseasons, they could prove this year that 2018 was only the beginning.
2. Leonard Floyd will lead the Bears in Sacks.
That’s right, fourth-year edge rusher from Georgia Leonard Floyd, not Khalil Mack, will lead the navy and orange in sacks in 2019. Don’t get me wrong; Mack is still the lead-dog on this defense and should remain one of the league’s premier defenders. However, Floyd, the Bears’ former first-round pick, could be ready to de-throne Mack as team’s top pass-rusher.
Floyd comes into 2019 at full health, which is big news for this team. While he’s flashed potential both as a pass-rusher and run-defender in his stint with the Bears, a handful of injuries have made it hard for No. 94 to reach his ceiling.
Last season, Floyd was knocked out of preseason action when he suffered a broken right hand. While he was ready for Week 1, he severely underperformed while having to wear a club on his right hand (zero sacks through the first eight weeks, the longest dry spell of his career). In the second half of the season is where the 6-foot-4, 250-pound athletic specimen began to show life, compiling four sacks from Week 9 on.
Hoping his injury woes are now a thing of the past, Floyd will have a good opportunity to dominate in his new role under Pagano. The ever-aggressive defensive coordinator has an extensive history of producing top-tier sack-artists. To name a couple, Erik Walden (11 sacks in 2016), Robert Mathis (19.5 sacks in 2013), Terrell Suggs (14 sacks in 2011) have all seen their play elevated under Pagano.
New Bears outside linebacker coach Ted Monachino (coached under Pagano in BAL and IND) raved about his edge-rusher back in May, stating, “I think Leonard Floyd as a pure, natural pass rusher has a bigger toolbox than anybody else I’m coaching right now. The better rusher right now is Khalil Mack but the natural pass-rush ability, the pass-rush gene? 94 has it.”
He proceeded to gush over the Georgia alum’s rare combination of size and burst. “ His [Floyd] length. His short-area quickness. Long speed,” Monachino continued. “The ability to cover and change direction. All of those things are very special with this player.”
It’s no secret that Floyd has the potential to be special, which is exactly what Chicago envisioned when general manager Ryan Pace decided to move up two spots to select him No. 9 overall back in 2016. As he settles into his newly-defined role in Pagano’s blitz-happy defense, he’s got 15-sack upside arguably. While offensive linemen are forced to focus their attention on proven playmakers on the Bears’ D-line like Mack and Aikeem Hicks, Floyd should see plenty of one-on-one opportunities.
If Floyd is ever going to break out of his shell, 2019 is going to be the year. You heard it here; in what will be a career-year, Floyd will record more sacks than the fan-favorite Mack by season’s end. Final prediction: Khalil Mack – 11.5 sacks, Leonard Floyd – 12.5 sacks.
1. Mitchell Trubisky will have the highest total QBR in the NFC North for the second year in a row.
Of course, for the Bears to notch a top-8 offensive season, they’ll need stellar play from their third-year signal-caller, Mitchell Trubisky. I’ve already outlined my love for Mr. Biscuit this season in my previous article, Mitchell Time: 3 Reasons Trubisky will Soar in 2019 (check it out here), explaining the growth we should see from the 24-year-old this fall.
If you’re unfamiliar with what total QBR (quarterback rating) is, the statistic measures the performance of quarterbacks. It takes into account all the ways in which a QB contributes to his team, using each of his pass attempts, completions, yards and touchdowns while gauging his expected points added (EPA). This formula then produces a grade from a minimum value of 0 to a max value of 100 (around 50 being the league average).
While Trubisky’s passing statistics aren’t as appealing as some of the other QBs in the NFC North, he produced one of the best total QBRs in the league last season. According to ESPN.com, he ranked third-best in the NFL with a rock-solid score of 73.0. The biggest reason? Unlike passer rating, total QBR measures the impact Mitch was able to make with his legs.
As far as his rushing ability goes, Trubisky is one of the best in the game at eluding pressure and moving the chains on the ground (5th in QB rushing yards in 2018).
Many can admit that each of Bears’ NFC North rivals had a down-year in 2018, especially their quarterbacks. Matthew Stafford allegedly played multiple weeks with fractures in his back, Aaron Rodgers threw just 25 touchdowns (third-lowest of his career) at a 62.3 percent completion rate (second-lowest) while butting heads with head coach Mike McCarthy, and Kirk Cousins failed to live up to his record-breaking contract in his first year with the Vikings.
The trio listed above may be in for bounce-back seasons, but too many people are quick to write-off Trubisky as one of the division’s best signal-callers. In Year 2 under Nagy, Trubisky should only get better.
Both Nagy and Trubisky both will have plenty of weapons at their disposal with a suddenly-loaded receiving corps featuring wideouts Allen Robinson, Anthony Miller, Taylor Gabriel, Cordarrelle Patterson and Riley Ridley along with the dangerous pass-catching RB-tandem of Cohen and Montgomery.
After it was reported earlier this offseason that the offense is “years ahead” of where they were last season, Trubisky will silence his critics by having the top total QBR in the NFC North once again.