As the Chicago Bears look to turn the page and improve next year, the upcoming off-season will be important for the front office, the coaching staff and a number of players whose futures with the team have yet to be decided.
It’s a critical off-season, particularly for a former first-round pick whose career with the Bears might be in jeopardy.
Cornerback Kyle Fuller underwent arthroscopic knee surgery last August. The "knee scope" forced him to the PUP list to start the year but he was expected back sometime during the season. Yet he never returned and missed the entire 2016 season, a serious setback for the once-promising rookie.
The injury came after a 2015 season in which it seemed like Fuller had turned things around.
Now, after missing the entire 2016 season, he finds himself in danger of not being on the roster come Week 1 in 2017.
“I’m not giving up on Kyle Fuller,” GM Ryan Pace said. “He was a high draft pick by this organization and it’s on us to do everything we can to get him playing back at a top level. You guys know it’s a position of need for us and getting him back where he can play would be huge for this organization. So, he’s got to have an important, big offseason. He knows that.”
Fuller was taken with the 14th overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. He was the last first-round pick of the Phil Emery era, which ended in embarrassment.
The former Virginia Tech standout had an impressive outing in Week 2 of his rookie year, picking off San Francisco 49ers QB Collin Kaepernick twice to help the Bears to their first win of the year.
But after that, we saw a steady decline in Fuller’s play.
Opposing quarterbacks targeted Fuller a total of 98 times in the 2014 season. It seemed like week after week, quarterbacks tried to go right at Fuller and expose the rookie.
His worst game came against Calvin Johnson on Thanksgiving Day. Fuller covered Johnson throughout the game and was targeted 16 times. He yielded 11 receptions for 146 yards and 2 touchdowns.
The 2015 season started off slow for Fuller as he continued his struggles from his rookie year. In the first seven games, Fuller gave up four touchdowns and quarterbacks had a 137.8 rating when targeting him.
Fuller turned it around and showed some promise after the Bears bye week.
Opposing quarterbacks had a 50.2 rating when throwing in Fuller’s direction and he gave up just one touchdown in the final nine games.
In the 2015 season, Fuller was targeted once every 8.3 snaps he was in coverage. That was the fifth fewest in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus. His total targets dropped to just 60 in his second season.
It wasn’t the only part of his game that improved that season.
In 2014, fuller committed a total of 8 penalties including 4 accepted pass interference calls. That number fell to just 3 penalties in 2015.
Things were starting to come around for the cornerback and Chicago’s secondary was starting to take shape.
But then Fuller hurt his kne and it could change the course of his career.
Fuller was activated off PUP late in the year but he never saw the field and his work ethic was brought into question by defensive coordinator Vic Fangio.
With Fuller out, the Bears had a revolving door in the secondary. As a result, only the Jacksonville Jaguars finished with fewer interceptions than the Bears (8) in 2016.
“We re-signed Tracy Porter and I had expectations that Fuller would be healthy this year,” said Pace. “I think Tracy battled some [injuries] this season. Obviously, Fuller wasn’t available and [Bryce] Callahan was another player that we really had high expectations for and he was kind of in and out of the lineup. It’s a position that is going to be a major need going forward. And I just think we had too many injuries and bumps that kind of derailed that a little bit.”
With a secondary overhaul likely forthcoming, Fuller’s fate rests in the hands of Chicago's coaching staff, as well as Pace, who must decide if Fuller is a worthwhile investment going forward.
His $1.74 million base salary is fully guaranteed in 2017, so Pace could look to move the cornerback in a trade. However, the market might not be big for a cornerback who missed an entire season with a knee injury. If Pace can somehow get a draft pick for the former first rounder, even a late-round selection, it would be considered a win.
Expect Chicago’s secondary to look a little different in 2017. Whether or not Fuller is part of that group will depend on how he performs once team activities begin in May.null