Heading into the 2015 regular season, the Chicago Bears had high expectations for defensive lineman Jeremiah Ratliff. The veteran was expected to anchor the team's defensive line alongside rookie Eddie Goldman and second-year defender Ego Ferguson.
Yet Ratliff dealt with an ankle injury that kept him on the sidelines the first month of the regular season. As a result, the Bears signed Mitch Unrein in Week 3 after his contract was terminated by the San Diego Chargers.
Unrein was originally signed as an undrafted free agent out of Wyoming by the Denver Broncos in 2010, where he spent the next four seasons playing under John Fox. When the Chargers waived Unrein, Fox went back to the well and signed a player with whom he had familiarity.
A depth player for the Broncos, Unrein filled the same role with the Bears and eventually started four games due to Ratliff's insanity and Ego Ferguson's season-ending knee injury.
A player from whom no one expected much, Unrein exceeded expectations. Known for his run-stopping prowess, he fit right in as a two-gapping, space eater on run downs, showing tremendous power at the point of attack. He finished the year with 18 total tackles, 14 of which came at or near the line of scrimmage.
Before last season, Unrein didn't have a single sack in the NFL, yet he picked up his first career sack in Week 14 against the Washington Redskins. He also added 10 QB hurries - which was actually four more than Will Sutton - and 1 QB hit.
In addition, Unrein also served as the club's goal-line fullback and was pretty solid as a lead blocker.
So should the Bears re-sign Unrein this off-season?
Like a lot of Chicago's free agents, Unrein is a marginal talent who is best suited in a rotational role. He doesn't offer very much as a pass rusher and he's not a penetrating, distruptive defender against the run. He's a solid 5-technique on 1st and 2nd down but that's about as high as his ceiling goes.
Yet there is a place for players of Unrein's skill set on most NFL rosters. His ability to eat up space and create room for inside linebackers to make plays goes unnoticed by the casual fan but in terms of the big picture, that's important.
He's not a 16-game starter and shouldn't be on the field very often on passing downs but Unrein is a solid NFL player who won't cost anything more than the veteran minimum. The Bears should feel very good about again adding him to the defensive line rotation in 2016.