Throughout the summer we will be running a 12-part series grading each Bears position group on a standard A-F scale, including pluses and minuses based on a bell curve comparing all 32 NFL teams.
Khalil Mack has been to six straight Pro Bowls, was chosen as a first-team All-Pro three times and second-team once, was the 2016 NFL Defensive Player of the Year and is still in the conversation for the best defensive player in football as he prepares for his 30-year-old season.
Robert Quinn has been to two Pro Bowls, was voted the PFWA NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2014 and just turned 31 on May 18.
If these two are still in their primes – Mack almost certainly is, but questions remain about Quinn – they’re as good as any pair of edge rushers in the league.
Christian Jones might also be the No. 3 outside linebacker, but he was rated with the inside linebackers since he has played both positions.
There are a lot of 6-3, 260-pound athletes that can run, but just dream about being in Mack’s league. It’s Mack’s work ethic, motor, mental approach and short-area quickness, in addition to his great athleticism, natural power and strength, that make him special.
His coming up short of double-digit sacks the last two seasons has caused some concern that he could be heading over the hill, but there is nothing in any of his other stats – or more importantly on tape – to suggest there’s anything wrong with him that can’t be cured by help from Quinn, a healthy Akiem Hicks and a present Eddie Goldman. Grade: A
Asked prior to the season finale last year where his season went wrong, leaving him two sacks short of his previous low, Quinn said, “It’s just surprising. When I look at it, I’m still shocked. I still can’t believe I had a season like I’ve had this year, but there’s no excuse.”
Quinn didn’t appear to be any less active than usual or noticeably limited physically, although he did battle nagging injuries all season. It was a difficult transition for Quinn with no offseason or exhibition season, learning a new position and playing outdoors in a cold-weather city for the first time, but the offseason was the same for everybody. How much is left in the tank? Grade: B
Attaochu is similar to the departed Barkevious Mingo, but actually a better pure pass rusher. The puzzle with him is in seven NFL seasons he has been a full-time starter only once, his second season in San Diego in 2015. He has never played all 16 games, while his 15 games in 2015 was the only time he has played more than 13. Grade: B–
Vaughters is a Chicago kid signed as an undrafted rookie free agent out of Stanford. Last year, he appeared in 14 games, flashing occasionally with 15 solo tackles, two tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks. The Bears will likely keep five outside linebackers. Attaochu and Gipson will likely make the 53-man roster. So Vaughters will have to beat out Charles Snowden and Ledarius Mack to make the club. Grade: C+
The Bears traded their 2021 fourth-round draft pick to grab Gipson in the fifth round last year, and converted him from a hand-on-the-ground defensive lineman at Tulsa to an outside linebacker. He has an extremely high ceiling as an edge bender and pass rusher, but last year was strictly a developmental season. Grade: Incomplete
CHARLES SNOWDEN AND LEDARIUS MACK
Snowden was a priority free agent after going undrafted this year. Because of his unique size and athletic ability, he will almost certainly make the team or find his way to injured reserve.
Ledarius Mack is more than just Khalil’s brother, but it’s hard to see him claiming one of four or five roster spots in this group. Grade: Incomplete
Attaochu could have a breakout season, and Gipson and Snowden could eventually become special edge rushers. But at this position, this season is really all about how dominant Khalil Mack can be again with more support around him, and how much Quinn has left in the tank. Overall grade: A or B, depending on Quinn