Somewhere between the Bears organization’s decision to tear the roster down almost to the studs, and the blind faith of the eternal optimists who promote the idea these Bears may only be a handful of young playmakers away from contending again, lies the reality of a 2022 season that must be played.
How many games can they win?
When it comes to predicting wins and losses obviously what matters most is talent, the ceilings of each player on the roster and how close to those ceilings are they likely to get.
Do these Bears have enough talent to win?
Quarterback: Most experts agree, Justin Fields’ ceiling is as high as any signal caller in the league, but his ability to get there and play there every week is more dependent on his teammates and coaches than it is for players at any other position. He can and hopefully will be much improved, but realistically he is most likely to still be at least a year away from being a QB you win because of, not just with.
Also, what if Trevor Siemian or Nathan Peterman are called on to start for any length of time?
Running back: If healthy for 16 or 17 starts, David Montgomery should contend for a Pro Bowl spot, and Khalil Herbert is probably good enough to start for a number of clubs right now. This is a group that could win a lot of games with the right teams.
Wide receiver and tight end: WR Darnell Mooney and TE Cole Kmet have high No. 2 receiver ceilings but have yet to prove they can or ever will be No. 1s. They could get there, but we’re still waiting to see it. There are no other wideouts or tight ends with better than average No. 3 ceilings, most are actually No. 4s or less. This group will have to significantly overachieve to win a lot of games.
Offensive line: Perhaps Teven Jenkins has a Pro Bowl ceiling at right tackle, but we’ve seen nothing yet to prove it. Left guard Cody Whitehair can be better than good, and we’re told center Lucas Patrick will be better than average. Beyond that, it’s a collection of journeymen backups and Day 3 draft choices, which by definition indicates low ceilings.
The line could be average if absolutely everything goes right or maybe slightly better, but how many games will that win you?
Defensive line: Robert Quinn is an aging superstar, and the hope is Trevis Gipson and Dominique Robinson have very high ceilings as pass rushers. But other than that, this is another group that you hope can get to or be slightly above average. Average isn’t going to start the tunes or the disco ball in Club Dub often.
Linebacker: Roquan Smith’s ceiling is as high as any in the league. Nicholas Morrow may have a very high ceiling as well, but this is the year he has to prove it. There is no third starter yet, but there is decent depth. This position could deliver some wins if Morrow is who general manager Ryan Poles thinks he is.
Secondary: Measured strictly by their ceilings this is the most talented position on the team, but only safety Eddie Jackson has touched his, and he’s been struggling to get back to it the last season and a half. If head coach Matt Eberflus’ H.I.T.S. principles take root, and the secondary take the ball away consistently, this group could lead the way to a handful of wins.
Special teams: Cairo Santos can be money with a ceiling among the top seven or eight kickers in the league, but there is no one with ceilings that approach the departed punter Patrick O’Donnell and return man Jakeem Grant from last year’s six-win team.
At the end of the day, of the 48 players most likely first and second stringers on the depth chart come Week 1, the Bears have just three former first-round draft choices, six second-round picks and and three third-rounders.
Just nine players you’d expect to come with pretty high ceilings and only Montgomery, Mooney, Whitehair, Quinn, Smith and Jackson have touched theirs so far.
I genuinely hope I’m wrong, but this Bears roster sure looks and feels like one heading for a top five draft choice next spring.