Following a franchise-worst 3-13 campaign in 2016, Chicago Bears fans were calling for the heads of GM Ryan Pace and head coach John Fox.
That refrain continues today, albeit somewhat muted, from diehards who feel the team is under the guidance of incompetents.
It's an understandable reaction following a season that was one snowballing disappointment, yet injuries must be accounted for when evaluating the Bears 2016 season.
Chicago finished with a league-high 19 players on IR. Sure, they didn't look great before the injuries but any in-season improvement -- which many NFL teams accomplish during a 16-game campaign -- was impossible due to mounting injuries to the team's best players.
The Bears were one of the oldest teams in the league when Fox and Pace took over in 2015. Just two years later, they have one of the youngest rosters in the league. Building through youth is a tried-and-true formula for long-term success in the NFL.
While last season was an embarrassment, the injuries resulted in extended playing time for a number of the club's young players.
In 2016, 10 Bears rookies combined to start 73 games, which was second most in the league, behind only the Browns. Four of Chicago's rookies started eight games or more, which tied for the league-high: C Cody Whitehair, RB Jordan Howard, OLB Leonard Floyd and CB Cre'Von LeBlanc.
The growing pains were hard to watch at times last season but those rookie reps were critical and could pay off in the long run. At the very least, it definitely didn't hurt for the club's youngest players to receive extended field time.
|Rank||Team||Starts||Players||Eight-plus starts (round)|
|1||Cleveland||82||16||4 — DE Emmanuel Ogbah (second), 16; WR Corey Coleman (first), 10; G Spencer Drango (fifth), 9; QB Cody Kessler (third), 8.|
|2||Chicago||73||10||4 — G Cody Whitehair (second), 16; RB Jordan Howard (fifth), 13; LB Leonard Floyd (first), 12; CB Cre'Von LeBlanc (UDFA), 9.|
|3||Dallas||58||6||4 — QB Dak Prescott (fourth), 16; RB Ezekiel Elliott (first), 15; DT Maliek Collins (third), 14; CB Anthony Brown (sixth), 10.|
|3||Indianapolis||58||10||3 — C Ryan Kelly (first), 16; OT Joe Haeg (fifth), 14; LB Edwin Jackson (UDFA), 8.|
|5||Jacksonville||56||7||3 — CB Jalen Ramsey (first), 16; DE Yannick Ngakoue (third), 15; LB Myles Jack (second), 10.|
|6||Atlanta||51||7||4 — S Keanu Neal (first), 14; LB Deion Jones (second), 13; LB De'Vondre Campbell (fourth), 10; CB Brian Poole (UDFA), 9.|
|7||N.Y. Giants||50||9||3 — WR Sterling Shepard (second), 16; S Andrew Adams (UDFA), 13; CB Eli Apple (first), 11.|
|7||N.Y. Jets||50||13||3 — LB Jordan Jenkins (third), 11; LB Darron Lee (first), 9; WR Robby Anderson (UDFA), 8.|
|9||Pittsburgh||46||8||4 — NT Jacon Hargrave (third), 13; CB Artie Burns (first), 9; S Sean Davis (second), 8; WR Eli Rogers (UDFA), 8.|
|10||L.A. Chargers||41||9||2 — DE Joey Bosa (first), 11; TE Hunter Henry (second), 10.|
|11||Oakland||40||7||2 — DE Jihad Ward (second), 13; S Karl Joseph (first), 9.|
|12||Detroit||38||6||2 — OT Taylor Decker (first), 16; G/C Graham Glasgow (third), 11.|
|13||Tennessee||37||6||2 — OT Jack Conklin (first), 16; WR Tajae Sharpe (fifth), 10.|
|13||New Orleans||37||8||2 — S Vonn Bell (second), 13; WR Michael Thomas (second), 12.|
|15||San Francisco||36||5||2 — DE DeForest Buckner (first), 15; G Joshua Garnett (first), 11.|
|16||Baltimore||35||7||3 — OT Ronnie Stanley (first), 12; CB Tavon Young (fourth), 11; G Alex Lewis (fourth), 8.|
|16||New England||35||9||1 — G Joe Thuney (third), 16.|
|18||Philadelphia||34||7||1 — QB Carson Wentz (first).|
|19||Houston||33||5||1 — WR Will Fuller (first), 13.|
|19||Seattle||33||6||2 — G Germain Ifedi (first), 13; OT George Fant (UDFA), 10.|
|21||Carolina||30||4||2 — CB James Bradberry (sixth), 13; CB Daryl Worley (third), 11.|
|21||Miami||30||5||1 — OT Laremy Tunsil (first), 14.|
|23||Arizona||29||7||1 — OT D.J. Humphries (first), 13.|
|23||Tampa Bay||29||5||1 — CB Vernon Hargreaves.|
|25||Kansas City||26||6||1 — DT Chris Jones (second), 11.|
|28||Washington||18||3||1 — RB Rob Kelley (UDFA), 9.|
|29||Green Bay||17||6||1 — LB Blake Martinez (fourth), 9.|
|30||Buffalo||15||3||1 — DT Adolphus Washington (third), 11.|
**Thanks to Bill Huber at PackerReport.com for doing the research and compiling the numbers.null