NFC North Reporter
Which NFL teams have the best young cores? FOX Sports took a deep look at every team’s core of players drafted between 2019 and 2023 to ascertain which franchises have the most promising base of young talent. Our writers ranked all 32 individually, and the final result is an aggregate of all those lists. We’ll count them down for you before the start of the 2023 NFL season, starting with the worst (No. 32) all the way up to No. 1.
For a team in the process of a total rebuild, you’d think the Chicago Bears would have a little more to show for it in terms of young talent. Their key pieces are young but unproven. Quarterback Justin Fields leads their young core but is still accompanied by a gigantic question mark. In fact, the Bears spent all offseason fortifying the offense around Fields so they can get a firm grasp on the player he is and whether he’s their quarterback going forward.
Two of Chicago’s most exciting players, safety Jaquan Brisker and cornerback Kyler Gordon, are in just their second seasons. No one, especially at the national level, knows where their ceiling is. Left tackle Braxton Jones played every single snap for the Bears last season, but took his lumps in the process.
With so many young contributors, it’s hard to know what to make of the Bears this season at all.
QB Justin Fields
RT Darnell Wright
S Jaquan Brisker
CB Kyler Gordon
LT Braxton Jones
LB Jack Sanborn
RB Khalil Herbert
WR Chase Claypool
TE Cole Kmet
CB Jaylon Johnson
WR Darnell Mooney
RG Nate Davis
LG Teven Jenkins
LB TJ Edwards
Standout: S Jaquan Brisker
It’s hard to find a standout on a three-win team but the Bears can take solace in the fact that multiple players in general manager Ryan Poles’ first draft class played significant roles for the Bears last season. As a rookie, and as a safety, Jaquan Brisker led the Bears in sacks last season. Of course, the defense only had 20 on the year — but Brisker accounted for a fifth of them. I’ll let you do the math.
Those sacks ranked second among all defensive backs league-wide. Brisker had four quarterback hits as well, which ranked third among DBs.
And while Brisker has already shown his affinity for hitting people, he also has an excellent field of vision. He’s come up with multiple interceptions in training camp so far. It’s probably safe to say he’ll be able to sniff out more come the regular season and improve upon the one pick he had last year. If he can do that while maintaining sack numbers, something Chicago will likely lean on him to do again, Brisker will stand out even more than he already has. He’ll be a surefire feather in Poles’ cap.
Potential breakout: QB Justin Fields
Quarterback Justin Fields could break out in his second year under offensive coordinator Luke Getsy — and the team needs him to do so. The Bears focused heavily on the offense this offseason, aiming to equip Fields with everything he needs to be successful. But they also loaded up on capital for next year, hedging their bet. If Fields can’t become the future of the franchise, they will be in prime position to draft a top quarterback in 2024 regardless of whether they end up one of the NFL’s worst teams.
Fields has 27 starts in two seasons for Chicago, throwing for 4,112 yards, 24 touchdowns and a 59.7% completion rate in that span. He also rushed for 1,143 yards, the second-most by a quarterback in a single season in NFL history behind only Lamar Jackson. That was the seventh-most of any player last year, including running backs.
If he can amass those same numbers in a single season, the Bears will know they have something.
The pressure is absolutely on now for Fields, but the good news is all that focus paid off. He has a true No. 1 receiver in D.J. Moore now. The Bears also added Chase Claypool, who Fields now seems to have chemistry with, as well as tight end Robert Tonyan, who was one of Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ most trusted targets in Green Bay. Fields now has an offensive line that at least knows its starting five, which was a luxury they didn’t have last season. Not to mention, he has a defense that should be drastically improved with the additions of defensive end Yannick Ngakoue and linebacker Tremaine Edmunds.
Translation: it really is breakout or bust for Fields this year.
Justin Fields & Tua Tagovailoa highlight Acho’s list of players with most to prove
Contracts to consider
QB Justin Fields
The need for an evaluation on Fields this season has a lot to do with his contract. The Bears have to make a decision on whether to pick up Fields’ fifth-year option by May and they’d have the cash to sign him to a long-term deal if they so choose. With quarterback contracts topping $40 million these days, it’s best to be prepared and think a couple years in advance. That starts with seeing if it’s worth holding onto Fields for his fifth year and beyond.
CB Jaylon Johnson
Cornerbacks aren’t paid like wide receivers, but they’re valuable. Johnson is the closest Chicago has to a shutdown corner and he’s on the fourth year of his rookie deal. The former second-round pick will become a free agent following this season and the Bears will likely want to hold onto homegrown talent. The good news: the Bears should have salary-cap space to burn next season. They’re projected to have the second-most cap space of any team with about $69 million to play with. Top corner salaries are inching ever closer to $20 million and if Johnson takes yet another step forward, he will likely be aiming for at least half of that, if not three-quarters.
LG Teven Jenkins
Jenkins is on his third position with the Bears as he transitions to left guard this season. He’s been nothing but a team player, playing 736 snaps in 19 games across two years. Chicago won’t have to pay him huge money after moving him away from right tackle (and then from right to left guard) but with the fifth-highest run blocking grade of all guards according to PFF, Jenkins’ contract won’t exactly come cheap either.
Bears, Jets, Ravens among J-Mac’s 10 most improved teams
- QB Justin Fields rushed for 70+ yards in five straight games this past season, the longest streak by any QB since at least 1950.
- LG Teven Jenkins had the 15th-highest offensive grade among all offensive linemen in 2022, at 80.7 (per PFF)
- RT Darnell Wright ended his career at Tennessee not having allowed a sack in his last 19 games.
- Wright was the only SEC offensive lineman with more than 850 snaps played and a pass-blocking efficiency of over 99.1, according to PFF
Jaquan Brisker:: “Explosive, physical safety who excels at blitzing and playing the run. He also has great vision and awareness in the pass game. Well-rounded safety.” —AFC position coach
Darnell Wright: “I watched his tape. Liked him a lot. Big, strong dude. His tape at Tennessee last season was pretty good but his Senior Bowl week was amazing. I don’t know if he dropped weight but he moved much better. Should be a good starting OT for the Bears based on his talent.” —NFC scout
Carmen Vitali covers the NFC North for FOX Sports. Carmen had previous stops with The Draft Network and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. She spent six seasons with the Bucs, including 2020, which added the title of Super Bowl Champion (and boat-parade participant) to her résumé. You can follow Carmen on Twitter at @CarmieV.
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