First-and-10: 2016 draft class giving Bears something to grow on

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Bears rookie running back Jordan Howard scores one of three touchdowns against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday at Soldier Field. Howard rushed for 117 yards on 32 carries in the Bears’ 26-6 victory. (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

It’s always dicey to judge anything off a victory against a team as woeful as the 1-11 San Francisco 49ers, but this disappointing Bears season might have one redeeming quality — a foundation-quality draft class.

Six rookies started against the 49ers, including five draft picks. Running back Jordan Howard (32 carries, 117 yards, three touchdowns),  outside linebacker Leonard Floyd (two sacks, one for a safety) and inside linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski (nine tackles, two tackles-for-loss, two pass break-ups) were quantifiable impact players.

Center Cody Whitehair has been solid most of the season under difficult circumstances — playing a position he had never played in college. And his performance Sunday came with a bonus that can’t be discounted — he suffered what looked like a significant injury and only missed two plays.  The Bears need more players with his kind of luck.

In all, rookies combined for 35.1 percent of the defensive snaps and 21.5 percent of the offensive snaps against the 49ers. Safety Deon Bush didn’t make any big plays, but he couldn’t even get on the field a few weeks ago and now has started three consecutive games. Cre’Von LeBlanc, an undrafted free agent picked up off waivers from the Patriots prior to the regular season, shared a sack with nose tackle Eddie Goldman off a corner blitz. Wide receiver Daniel Braverman, the Bears’ seventh-round pick, played six snaps and was not targeted. Free agent tight end Ben Braunecker played 29-of-63 snaps, mostly as a blocker.

There’s a long, long, long way to go, but Ryan Pace’s second draft class has potential — and Floyd’s development is evidence he knows what he’s reaching for.

Then again, the Bears have had several rookies start who were unable to sustain anything — or stay healthy enough to sustain anything. The Bears, in fact, haven’t had a draft class produce three players who started for five years or more since 1989 (Donnell Woolford, Trace Armstrong, Jerry Fontenot). This class has the potential to exceed that.

2. There’s no question the Bears have lost the NFL’s war of attrition this season, but here’s how badly: Only 16 of the 29 players (55.1 percent) who played 20 percent or more of the snaps in the season opener against the Texans were active against the 49ers — and that includes guard Josh Sitton, who was only used in an emergency situation when Whitehair missed two plays in the second half.

No other team in the NFC was even close to that level of attrition in Week 13. The conference average was 79.1 percent. The next most afflicted team was the Redskins (20-of-28, 71.4 percent).

The top five: Falcons (87.1 percent); Rams (85.7); Cowboys (84.4) and Eagles, 49ers and Buccaneers (all 82.8).

The bottom five: Giants (79.3), Panthers and Lions (76.7), Redskins (71.4) and Bears (55.2).

3. By holding the 49ers to two field goals — both off short fields following special-teams mishaps — the Bears’ defense did not allow a touchdown for the second time this season. They also held the Lions without a touchdown in a 17-14 victory in Week 4. The Lions’ only touchdown was on a punt return.

The victory over the 49ers marked the first time the Bears did not allow a touchdown in any phase since Oct. 7, 2012, a 41-3 rout of the Jaguars under Lovie Smith.

3a. And while inclement weather obviously played a part in containing the 49ers’ offense, the Bears’ offense, which ranks 31st in the NFL in points, scored 24 points in the same conditions.

4. Call off the tanking dogs: The Bears (3-9) have dropped to a tie for fourth with the Jets (3-9) in the 2017 draft order, but it’s not worth lamenting the victory over the 49ers costing the Bears a top-3 draft pick. Better to show some hope for the future than to play poorly enough to lose to the wretched 49ers. 

As it is, even if the Bears split their final four games and finish 5-11, they’ll still likely end up with a top-eight pick.

4a. For what it’s worth, the Bears and Jets are tied in the strength-of-schedule tie breaker (.513). If they have the same record and strength-of-schedule at the end of the season, a coin flip would determine which team drafted first in the first round. The Bears are 4-8 in coin flips this season — 2-4 when they call it; 2-4 when their opponents call it.

5. Jordan Howard became the first Bears player to rush for 100 or more yards and score three touchdowns since Rashaan Salaam (27-134) did it against the Buccaneers in 1995. Matt Forte rushed for three touchdowns in a loss to the Redskins in 2013, gaining 91 yards on 16 carries.

Quarterback Bobby Douglass is the only Bears player since the 1970 merger to rush for four touchdowns in a game. He did it (on runs of one, one, two and one yard) in a 31-17 victory over the Packers in 1973.

5a. With an average of 91 yards in his nine starts, Howard is on a pace for 1,246 yards, which would break Forte’s franchise rookie record of 1,238 rushing yards set in 2008. Forte averaged 3.9 yards per carry in his rookie season. Howard is averaging 4.9 yards per carry this season.

6. Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford is getting MVP consideration for having his best season with the league’s 29th-ranked run game and without Calvin Johnson. But he had his worst game of the season against the Bears in Week 4 — 213 yards, no touchdowns, two interceptions and a 56.8 passer rating in a 17-14 loss on Oct. 2 at Soldier Field.

In eight games since then, Stafford has thrown 14 touchdown passes to only one interception for a 104.4 passer rating.

7. Rookie safety Deon Bush hasn’t made any memorable plays in three starts for Harold Jones-Quartey, but he’s making progress. Bush, a fourth-round draft pick, was slowed by a hamstring at the start of the season.

“I think we’ve seen a lot,” coach John Fox said. “They’re rewarded on how they perform in practice and the comfort level with their coaches.

“He missed a lot of time in the formative time of the season. You’re trying to mix and match what you’re doing and who you’re playing, and obviously he impressed our coaches, and you reward guys with opportunities to play in games.”

7a. Though he played only six snaps, wide receiver Daniel Braverman had a memorable NFL debut. He was open on one play but Matt Barkley threw incomplete to Jordan Howard.

“I think I’ll remember my first game being a win,” Braverman said. “This is pure Chicago football, man — being in the snow with these guys was just awesome. I had so much fun. I was just happy to be out there with the guys. They’re great teammates and the snow made everything [better] … Soldier Field, you dream about games like that.”

8. Mitch Trubisky Update: The North Carolina junior won’t play until the Tar Heels face Stanford (8-3) in the Sun Bowl on Dec. 30 in El Paso, Texas. For what they’re worth — not a whole lot at this point in time — several mock drafts have Trubisky going No. 1 overall to the Browns.

9. Ex-Bears Player of the Week: Linebacker Shea McClellin led the Patriots with nine tackles and also had a sack and a quarterback hit in a 26-10 victory over the Rams on Sunday at Gillette Stadium. McClellin played 39-of-52 snaps on defense and 25 snaps on special teams.

10: Bear-ometer: 4-12 — at Lions (L); vs. Packers (W); vs. Redskins (L); at Vikings (L).

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