For all intents and purposes, the 2016 season is a lost campaign for the Chicago Bears. Unless a miracle happens, the Bears will miss the playoffs for the sixth straight season.
That's the sobering reality for a once-proud franchise that has been one of the league's basement dwellers since firing Lovie Smith following a 10-6 campaign in 2012.
Yet in spite of the poor record, there are a number of Bears players who have performed at a very high level through the first eight weeks of the season. Let's take a look.
RB Jordan Howard
Chicago's fifth-round selection out of Indiana, Jordan Howard has emerged as arguably the best young player on this roster. He was a healthy scratch the first week of the season and touched the ball just five times in Week 2, after which he became the de facto starter. Since then, Howard has shown outstanding vision, balance, patience and top-tier power. His 505 rushing yards are 15th most in the NFL, while his 5.1 yards per carry ranks 4th among qualifying runners. He's had 15 runs of 10-plus yards and three runs of 20-plus yards (69, 57, 36). He's also added 18 catches for 177 yards and he's averaging 10.2 yards after the catch, which is 4th best in the league among players with at least 18 catches. Howard has broke 27 tackles this year, 7th most in the NFL. He's averaging a broken tackle 23.1 percent of his total touches, which is 12th best in the NFL among players with 15 or more broken tackles. Howard's presence was felt immensely in last week's victory over the Vikings, in which he tallied more than 200 yards from scrimmage (153 rushing, 49 receiving). With 5:37 left to play in the game, the Bears inherited the ball with a 10-point lead. On that final drive, Howard ran the ball seven times and picked up three first downs, effectively killing the clock and sealing the game for the Bears. Not only is Howard the best rookie on Chicago's roster, he might be the best rookie in the NFL.
C Cody Whitehair
After signing G Josh Sitton a day before the start of season, the Bears moved Cody Whitehair to center, where he had never before played. Whitehair was a tackle at Kansas State and played guard throughout training camp and the preseason. The new-look offensive line struggled in Week 1, giving up 7 sacks to the Texans. Over the following seven games, they allowed just seven total sacks. Chicago's 14 total sacks allowed are 9th fewest in the league, while their 7 sacks allowed since Week 2 are 3rd fewest. The Bears are allowing pressure on just 13.2 percent of dropbacks, which is 4th best in the NFL. Much of that has to do with the play of Whitehair, who has been rock solid at the pivot. He's used his athleticism to mirror defenders in pass protection -- he allowed just 1 QB hurry last week -- and he's been very good as a run blocker in OC Dowell Loggain's zone-blocking system. Whitehair excels at the second level and has the balance to stymie bigger nose tackles in pass protection. His ability to immediately adapt to a new position has been impressive. With Whitehair, it appears the Bears have found their long-term center of the future.
OLB Leonard Floyd
Leonard Floyd, the team's top pick in this year's draft, has struggled to stay healthy. He missed time in OTAs and training camp, sat out the third preseason game and has missed two regular-season games already. He did very little the first six weeks of the season, picking up just half a sack and a handful of tackles. Yet over the past two weeks, Floyd has had a major impact as a pass rusher. In Weeks 7-8 combined, he picked up 3.0 sacks, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and a TD. He's shown speed around the edge as well as the power to fight through double teams and finish. His 3.5 sacks are second most amongst NFL rookies. He's also demonstrated the ability to shed blocks and set the edge against the run, despite his slender frame. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio has stopped dropping Floyd into coverage continuously -- he's dropped back just once in each of the last two games -- which has sparked the rookie's pass rush.
ILB Jerrell Freeman
The most consistent player for the Bears on either side of the ball has been Jerrell Freeman. He's currently 5th in the NFL with 72 tackles, putting him on pace for 144 tackles, which would be one less than his career high of 145 set in 2012. As a downhill run stopper, Freeman has been just as good as advertised. In coverage, he's been even better. According to Pro Football Focus, Freeman has the top coverage grade of any inside linebacker in the NFL. He's not a flashy player but Freeman does everything well and he could be en route to his first ever Pro Bowl appearance.
LT Charles Leno
Charles Leno has had a quiet season, and that's a good thing. Leno hasn't been perfect protecting the blindside -- he allowed the only sack of Jay Cutler last week -- but he's been far better than average and is one of the big reasons the Bears are allowing sacks on just 4.1 percent of passing plays (6th best in the NFL). Yet Leno has been even better as a run blocker, particularly on the move, where he's shown surprising athleticism. Per Football Outsiders, Chicago's run game has been most successful running around the left edge, averaging 5.1 yards per carry. Running off-tackle left, the Bears are averaging 4.68 yards, which is the team's second highest directional average. Running behind Leno, who has the look of a long-term left tackle, has proven to be very fruitful for the Bears this season.
CB Tracy Porter
The Bears have done a very good job of limiting opposing No. 1 wide receivers due in large part to the under-the-radar play of Tracy Porter. The 30-year-old cornerback has been playing through a knee injury for most of the year but it hasn't slowed him down in the least. Over the last three weeks, he has shut down Jordy Nelson (1 catch for 9 yards), Allen Robinson (3 catches, 49 yards) and Stefon Diggs (4 catches, 25 yards). With so many uncertainties in the secondary, Porter is the player the Bears can least afford to lose.
OLB Willie Young
It took him a while to find his footing but Willie Young has been the most consistent pass rusher on the team for most of the season. He currently has 6.0 sacks, which is tied for 8th most in the league. He didn't pick up a sack against the Viking be he tied for the team lead with 4 QB hurries, per Pro Football Focus, and elicited a holding call. With injuries pummeling the team's OLB position all season, Young has been the dependable constant.null