Will the bearish arrow point up or down after 2022? Our annual test of fan optimism

The Bears are getting trashed in preseason power rankings, analyses, and predictions — and all Bears fans can do is shake their collective heads. After all, it is by design.

First-year general manager Ryan Paul began a rebuild with a roster tear-down. He traded pass rusher Khalil Mack. He made no effort to keep the Bears’ most productive free agents — wide receiver Allen Robinson, defensive end Akeem Hicks and guard James Daniels. His biggest free agent signings were intentionally modest — defensive tackle Justin Jones ($7 million guaranteed), center Lucas Patrick ($4 million guaranteed) and wide receiver Byron Pringle ($3.9 million guaranteed).

The purge left the Bears with a roster that lacked NFL talent. The Bears have just four players who have gone to the Pro Bowl or been named to an All-Pro team — and defensive end Robert Quinn, who earned his third Pro Bowl berth last season with a team-record 18.5 sacks, is Gone a week ago. 1.

Under new coach Matt Eberflis, the Bears still hope that new schemes under offensive coordinator Luke Gatsey and defensive coordinator Allen Williams will make the Bears’ roster better than people thought. And while it may be, several players legitimately have room to grow — quarterback Justin Fields, wide receiver Darnell Mooney, tight end Cole Kmitt, offensive tackles Tevin Jenkins and Larry Borrom, cornerback Jaylon Johnson and two others. Round rookies who want to start. Cornerback Kyler Gordon and safety Jaquan Brisker.

But on paper in July, the Bears aren’t very impressive. And the preseason reviews have been possibly unkind:

  • The Bears are in the bottom five in most power rankings (although 26th according to the Sun-Times). walterfootball.com He ranks 32nd and last in the NFL.
  • The Bears’ offensive line is ranked 32nd and last in the NFL by former NFL offensive lineman Ross Tucker. “The Bears have the potential to have not only the worst offensive line in the NFL this year, but perhaps the worst offensive line we’ve seen in the NFL in quite some time if their young tackles don’t come through,” Tucker wrote.
  • The Bears’ wide receiver corps is ranked 32nd and last in the NFL by Pro Football Focus. “Relying heavily on Pringle, Taje Sharpe, Willis Jones, Jr. and Aquinas St. Brown is not where you want the offense to be,” PFF’s Ben Linsey wrote.
  • Justin Fields ranked 24th among potential starting quarterbacks. sbnation.com — behind even the Steelers’ Mitch Trubisky (22nd) — ranked only the Jets’ Zach Wilson, the Giants’ Daniel Jones, the Texans’ Davis Mills and the Seahawks’ Drew Lock.
  • Smith is the only Bears player in the top 100 Madden 23 ratings – his 89 rating is 86th.
  • The Bears are anywhere from 80-1 to 150-1 to win the Super Bowl. Their win total is 6.5.

With that in mind, here’s our annual test of Bears fans’ optimism/pessimism for the upcoming season. Rate these categories, 10 points for an optimistic vote, minus-10 for a pessimistic vote and zero for a neutral vote.

Scoring

90-100: Skip the Kool-Aid.

70-80: Must be new in town.

30-60: realistic.

20 to minus -20: Seeing is believing.

Minus -50 to Minus -70: Waiting for Ditka’s return.

Minus -80 to Minus -100: Packers fans.

Justin Fields

Optimists: No longer a hindrance to an offense that confines him, Fields blossoms into Gatsey’s offense — one that protects him, opens up receivers and plays to his strengths out of the pocket. The quarterback — not the head coach — is ultimately the star of the offense.

disappointing: Instead of a bad scheme, Fields is held back by a subpar supporting cast — with a poorly constructed offensive line and a replacement-level receiving corps he has no chance to grow. The Bears ended the season looking for a franchise quarterback, after never giving him a chance to show what he could do.

Matt Eberfels

Optimists: Ryan Paul’s odd decision to hire a defensive coach alongside a franchise quarterback turned out to be a masterstroke. Eberfels is a skilled manager who delegates responsibility and prepares his players to not only play hard and play well, but at a fast pace. And—this is the best part—he’s just as good on Sunday as he is the rest of the week.

disappointing: Eberflus is the Brand-X coach he sounds like, whose cliché plan to get his players to play fast and aggressive falls short of NFL reality — you need talent to win. Meanwhile, Brian Daboll — the Bears’ hot quarterback guru passed away — replaces Daniel Jones as an NFL quarterback and the Giants make the playoffs.

Luke Gatsey’s Crime

Optimists: Aaron Rodgers taught him well. Gatsey gives the Bears’ offense what it’s been lacking – a design that creates assignment conflict, keeps defenses guessing and keeps receivers open. With the wind at his back, Gatsey’s offense turned Justin Fields into a dual-threat star on the edge of the elite tier of NFL quarterbacks.

disappointing: As it turns out, coordinating the passing game is a lot easier when you have one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. With subpar talent, Gatsey is struggling like many other Bears coordinators before him. And Fields’ status quo leaves the Bears in quarterback trouble heading into 2023.

Alan Williams’ defense

Optimists: With a deep, almost uncanny, ability to put the right players in position to succeed—and a monster year from Roquan Smith—Williams’ repeat of the success Aberfels achieved in his first year with the Colts (in scoring 30th to 10th) cutting the Bears defense a takeaway from 2018.

disappointing: With plenty of new faces and plenty of playmakers, the Bears continue their defensive slide from the 2018 season. Without the support of a strong front seven, rookies Kyler Gordon and Jaquan Brisker have had a rough introduction to the NFL, despite showing flashes of playmaking ability.

Offensive line

Optimists: With Tevin Jenkins and Larry Borom making big second-year leaps, the Bears have a viable unit where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Four Ryan Pace holders contributed, but the key is Lucas Patrick, who emerges as a unified leader and Pro Bowl-caliber player.

disappointing: What did they expect? Ten Jenkins can’t stay healthy. Larry Borough went silent. Braxton Jones plays like a fifth-round rookie. With mostly unproven talent and injury issues, the Bears never seem to find the right combination and the offensive line is a “work in progress” throughout the season.

Rookies

Optimists: Playing in a defense that doesn’t complicate matters, cornerback Kyle Gordon and safety Jaquan Brisker are playmakers from the start. Wide receiver Willis Jones plays more like a 25-year-old than a rookie. And defensive end Dominique Robinson was drafted in a fifth-round pick. A random player emerges.

disappointing: Surrounded by players learning a new defense, Gordon and Brisker come across as rookies — making more mistakes than big plays. Raw Jones doesn’t dispel the notion that he was overdrafted. And reality sets in – eight of the 11 players were taken in the fifth round or later.

Rokan Smith

Optimists: The Bears quickly signed their best player to the long-term deal he deserved after a short stint — and Smith responded by playing the role of Darius Leonard in an even better Aberphiles defense than Darius Leonard. Roquan blossoms into an elite-level star, as the Eberflus/Williams defense unleashes him as a flashy, sideline-to-sideline Urlacher-level playmaker.

disappointing: Smith is locked out of training camp in a contract dispute that changes the feel of the new regime, lasts longer than it should and creates unnecessary tension. Smith still plays at a high level despite the late start, but without the supporting cast of playmakers the Bears have, he has a lot to do and doesn’t play at the level of a rookie contract.

KOL KMET

Optimists: Third-year tight end Gatsey becomes the offense’s second-leading receiver (behind Fields) and is much easier to catch the ball when he’s open. He excels as a blocking/receiving weapon and produces near peak Kyle Rudolph numbers, with 60+ receptions for 700+ yards and seven touchdowns.

disappointing: After much anticipation, reality proves that the Kmet range is lower than initial expectations. His production in Gatsey’s offense isn’t much better than Nagy’s. He’s good, but he can’t get open at will like Travis Kelce and the NFL’s elite.

Darnell Mooney

Optimists: As expected, the biggest star of the Nagy offense took a big leap into the better — 90+ receptions for 1,400+ yards and 10 touchdowns. He turns short passes into big plays and becomes the guy who is open downfield late in plays when he breaks the containment of Fields.

disappointing: The Bears’ only real wideout threat, Mooney is well defended because of the player defenses know they have to stop. He’s still productive with his understanding of the nuances of the position — but he’s Darnell Mooney, not Deontay Adams, and doesn’t make the big leaps expected under Gatsey.

Weather

Optimists: Never underestimate the mediocrity of the NFL. The Bears play six games against teams in the bottom five of the most preseason power rankings and, with Eberflus’ solid, steady, no-freeze approach, stay within striking distance of .500 and play surprisingly well. Challenge for off birth. A big improvement in 2023, with massive cap space and better draft capital.

disappointing: The Bears end up in no man’s land – winning too many games for a top-five draft pick, but not enough to compete for the playoffs. Fields has struggled in Gatsey’s offense, and the Bears are again looking for a franchise quarterback in 2023.

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