Welcome back for year 29 of the Eyes of the Guru column. Last summer, I started a new tradition with the EOTG, posting team-by-team rather than a division at a time. The goal here is to give our customers a more steady diet of information in smaller doses.
These teams have been covered so far:
There is another step in the evolution of the column this year as well. I have talked about the need for positional realignment among edge defenders and interior defensive linemen for several years now, and the True Position format has finally arrived. Not every league host site has come to see the light, but many have. The rest are eventually sure to follow.
Going forward, I will be treating and labeling all edge defenders as defensive ends. This will include 4-3 defensive ends, 3-4 outside linebackers, and anyone else in the new hybrid schemes of today's NFL that makes a living by chasing quarterbacks off the edge. Likewise, the defensive tackle position will include all interior defensive linemen in 4-3 schemes and all down linemen in 3-4 alignments. As a result of this approach, we have eliminated the constant arguments and flip-flopping of positions among these players.
For reference, when mentioning where players finished in the rankings last season, my model will be the standard Footballguys scoring system. This is the basic stuff:
- Tackles = 1.5
- Assists = .75
- Sacks = 4
- Forced fumbles = 3
- Fumble recoveries = 3
- Interceptions = 4
- Passes defended = 1.5
- Touchdowns = 6
When tackle numbers are mentioned, solo stops and assists are generally not lumped together. Unless there is a reference one way or the other, tackles refer to solo stops. When talking about the total number of takeaways for a player, I am counting interceptions, fumble recoveries, and fumbles forced since all of these are scored very similarly in most leagues. Keep in mind that based on scoring systems, rankings will vary (sometimes greatly) from league to league.
From time to time, the rookie corner rule will be referenced. For those who are new to IDP or the EOTG, the rookie corner rule is the basic fact that in the NFL, starting a rookie on the corner is like throwing chum to the sharks. Offensive coordinators will target young and inexperienced players as weaknesses. Thus, these guys have an accelerated number of opportunities. Often these players are the cream of the crop at the position (which is why they are starting so soon), and their numbers will begin to drop steadily after their rookie seasons.
The only thing that kept the Bears' pass defense from being the worst in the league was a run defense that was. Chicago gave up so much on the ground that opponents just ran and virtually gave their quarterbacks a week off. With a pass defense that allowed a 67.2% completion rate and a league-worst 7.7 yards per attempt, it's a good thing they faced the second-fewest pass attempts on the year.
Versus the run, Chicago was tied for 26th at 4.9 yards per carry, 31st in total rushing yards, and dead last in scoring with a whopping 31 rushing touchdowns surrendered. By the way, they were last in sacks with a mere 20 as well. Between all of that and giving up the most points of any defense in 2022. It's no wonder the Bears used seven of their ten draft picks on defense. The good news is, there is no place to go but up, but don't expect a big jump this year. The Bears have a long way to go, personnel-wise.
Even before they used three draft picks, including a second on the defensive line, Chicago spent some money there. Former Texan Rasheem Green and former Titan DeMarcus Walker, will both have significant roles at defensive end. Walker projects as a starter, while Green will compete with holdovers Trevis Gipson and Dominique Robinson for the other spot. I could say that I'm optimistic that this group will show significant improvement in sack numbers, but that would be a lie.
Walker is a good player, but he is not a dominating pass rusher. In fact, he has never played on the edge as a pro, having been a down-linemen in 3-4 schemes for all six years of his career. At 6-foot-4 and 280 pounds, Walker holds up well as a point-of-attack run defender, so that is a start. He did manage a career-best of seven sacks while with the Titans in 2022, but Walker's previous best was four and a half with Denver in 2020. There is little threat of him hitting double-digit sacks, but Walker should be good for five or six, had has the potential to put up enough tackles to be relevant as depth in most leagues.
Most early depth charts speculate that Gipson will start opposite Walker. That may be the case, but my money is on Green. The 2018 third-round pick of the Seahawks did little over his first three seasons. When Seattle finally gave him a significant role in 2021, he responded with 47 combined tackles, 6.5 sacks, and 4 batted passes. Green quickly turned that success into a pay raise, bolting to the Texans in free agency. Green failed to impress at Houston, but he did see the second most snaps among their defensive ends. After posting 28-14-3.5 on 568 plays, he was not invited back and landed with the Bears.
There are no pro bowls in Green's future, but he is a capable edge defender that can stay on the field on all three downs. He has to offer as a pass rusher than Walker but is not as stout against the run. That said, I believe Green has the most upside of all Chicago defensive ends. That could mean seven or eight sacks and 35-40 combined tackles but probably not much more.
Regardless of which one holds the title of starter, both Green and Trevis Gipson are going to see plenty of action. Gipson didn't get on the field much as a rookie in 2020. When his chance came in 2021, he looked pretty good, going 23-16-7 while forcing 5 fumbles and recovering one. That left the team with a great deal of optimism entering last season, but instead of taking the next step, Gipson regressed substantially. That might have had more to do with poor play by the entire unit than just regression by Gipson himself. He will get another shot at proving himself in what is now a contract year.
Dominique Robinson is the other defensive end that will see a fair amount of playing time. He got on the field as a rookie, working as the third man after Robert Quinn was shipped to Philadelphia. Robinson got off to a hot start with five tackles, two assists, and a sack and a half on 28 snaps in the season opener, then pretty much vanished for the rest of the season. Rookies usually improve in year two, but Robinson is unlikely to have enough opportunity to be fantasy relevant. He is worth keeping an eye on, though.
Justin Jones, Andrew Billings, rookies Gervon Dexter Sr, and Zacch Pickens should be the players that see the most action at the tackle positions. Jones managed 51 combined stops with three sacks and five swatted passes with the Bears last year. That represented the most productive season of his five-year career, and it was enough to make him a decent option as a low-end DT2 or quality depth in leagues requiring two interior linemen. He should put up similar production in 2023, but there is not much upside.
Billings is a good veteran player but has never been an IDP factor. That is not going to change six years into his career. Checking in at six foot six and 310 pounds, Dexter figures to see most of his playing time at nose tackle, AKA the one-technique. He doesn't have much to offer as a pass rusher and is not likely to put up enough tackles to be an IDP factor. Pickens is an interesting prospect. He is an athletic big man that is best suited as a disruptive, one-gap penetrator with the power to push the pocket and a little wiggle to his pass rush. He put up respectable tackle numbers and had seven and a half sacks at South Carolina. Pickens will rotate with Jones at the three-technique and could become a decent IDP option down the road. The rest of the depth chart at tackle is made up of late-round and undrafted developmental players as the team added quantity in the hope they would find a diamond in the rough.
- DE DeMarcus Walker – DL3 candidate without much upside
- DE Rasheem Green – Possible DL3 with a little upside
- DE Trevis Gipson – DL3 at best
- DE Dominique Robinson – No impact expected
- DT Andrew Billings – No impact
- DT Justin Jones – Marginal DL2 or solid DL3
- DT Gervon Dexter Sr No impact expected
- DT Zacch Pickens – No impact
- DT Jalen Holmes – No impact
- DT Travis Bell – No impact
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