Bears arrow is pointing up ... right? Our annual Optimist/Pessimist test is here

Will Justin Fields take the next step toward elite status ... or stagnate/regress like so many other Bears quarterbacks before him? The offensive line ... DJ Moore ... the pass rush ... Chase Claypool — judge for yourself how confident you are in a Bears revival in 2023.

SHARE Bears arrow is pointing up ... right? Our annual Optimist/Pessimist test is here
Bears quarterback Justin Fields (celebrating a touchdown against the Lions at Soldier Field last Nov. 13) threw for 2,242 yards, 17 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, while rushing for 1,143 yards and eight touchdowns in 15 games last season.

Bears quarterback Justin Fields (celebrating a touchdown against the Lions at Soldier Field last Nov. 13) threw for 2,242 yards, 17 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, while rushing for 1,143 yards and eight touchdowns in 15 games last season.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

The Bears don’t have a name for their rebuild — like “The Process” or “The Plan.” General manager Ryan Poles and coach Matt Eberflus only tacitly acknowledge that it’s even a rebuild.

But so far, it’s working.

The Bears threaded a fine needle last season — underperforming as a team while still boosting Justin Fields’ standing as a potential franchise quarterback.

They finished 3-14 to get the No. 1 overall draft pick — falling from the bottom-10 in preseason power rankings to bottom-five at the end. But as the team failed, Fields’ star rose — albeit modestly — as he confounded NFL defenses with scintillating runs. In a weekly ranking of NFL quarterbacks by The Ringer last season, Fields improved from 28th in Week 1 to 20th after the regular season — despite going 3-12 as a starter, getting sacked an NFL-high 55 times and ranking last in the league in passing yards per game.

Now the real work begins with Stage 2, with a quarterback who can’t be easily dismissed. Fields still has a lot to prove. But the addition of wide receiver DJ Moore, rookie offensive tackle Darnell Wright (the 10th overall pick in the draft) and veteran guard Nate Davis among other newcomers has helped quell the biggest criticism of Fields’ development — that the Bears set him up to fail by giving him a weak receiving corps and a subpar offensive line.

It remains to be seen if those additions will fortify the Bears’ offense as Poles and offensive coordinator Luke Getsy hope. But the expectation is that it will make a difference. In February, Fields was 40-1 to win the NFL’s MVP award by Caesars Sportsbook. Now, he’s 25-1 — 20-1 by BetMGM. Fields was ranked among the bottom 10 quarterbacks in the NFL at this time last year. Now he’s in the 13-18 range, often in a tier with potential breakout players.

The Bears still are a 3-14 team with a long way to go. But, with so much room for improvement, their arrow is pointing up. The Bears are generally 23rd or 24th in preseason power rankings (though 19th by Pro Football Focus; 29th by Peter King). They are 40-1 (PointsBet), 50-1 (Caesars) and 66-1 (BetMGM) to win the Super Bowl.

(For what its worth, the last time the Bears were coming off a three-win season — in 2017 — they were 100-1 to win the Super Bowl. That team had Mike Glennon and rookie Mitch Trubisky at quarterback. This one has Justin Fields. For now, that makes a difference.)

But a lot will have to happen for the Bears to take the next step. Only one player on the Bears’ roster has been named an All-Pro (safety Eddie Jackson in 2018) and only three have been to the Pro Bowl (Jackson in 2018 and 2019; linebacker Tremaine Edmunds in 2019 and 2020; and center Cody Whitehair in 2018). The Bears have no players in the top-100 Madden24 ratings. Only Fields (No. 78) and Edmunds (No. 93) made the top-100 list by Pete Prisco of CBS Sports.

The Bears’ win total of 712 looks inviting to many, but it’s still the Bears. It could go either way.

With that in mind, here is our annual test of Bears fans’ optimism/pessimism for the upcoming season. Rate these categories, with 10 points for an optimistic vote, minus-10 for a pessimistic vote and zero for a neutral vote.

Scoring

90-100: Lay off the Kool-Aid.

70-80: Must be new in town.

30-60: Realist.

20 to minus-20: Seeing is believing.

Minus-50 to minus-70: Waiting for Ditka’s return.

Minus-80 to minus-100: Packers fan.

JUSTIN FIELDS

Optimist: Anchored by an instant connection with DJ Moore, Fields finds a run-pass sweet spot that vaults him past Lamar Jackson as the most dangerous dual-threat quarterback in the NFL — 3,995 yards, 28 touchdowns, 10 interceptions; 675 yards, eight touchdowns rushing.

Pessimist: With more pieces in place, Fields elicits hope with splash plays, but struggles with the nuances of the position that turn a quarterback into a maestro. He leaves the Bears in no-man’s land — not sure if they have their franchise quarterback or not.

DJ MOORE

Optimist: Ryan Poles looks like a genius, as the dependable, grounded Moore is just what this offense needs — 100 receptions, 1,295 yards, 12 touchdowns. Moore has a ripple effect that turns Darnell Mooney, Chase Claypool and Cole Kmet into bigger playmakers than ever.

Pessimist: The chemistry with Justin Fields turns out to be just another offseason narrative that falls flat when the lights are on, as Moore is productive but can’t spark a struggling offense. He finishes with 64 receptions, 750 yards, four touchdowns.

OFFENSIVE LINE

Optimist: Rookie right tackle Darnell Wright plays at a Pro Bowl level from the start and Braxton Jones takes the next step to anchor a line that perfectly fits Luke Getsy’s scheme and vaults into the top-10 in fewest sacks allowed after finishing 29th with 58 last season.

Pessimist: Rookie right tackle Darnell Wright struggles to get acclimated to the NFL, Braxton Jones stagnates in his second season, Cody Whitehair shows his age and Teven Jenkins’ transition to the left side is tougher than they thought as the line makes only marginal improvement.

LUKE GETSY’S OFFENSE

Optimist: With an efficient offensive line, a tone-setting running game and Justin Fields emerging as a dynamic passer/runner, the Bears offense parlays scheme-fit into a giant leap to the top-10 in scoring — with room for growth — and Getsy heads off to Tampa Bay.

Pessimist: With too many new faces and Fields dogged by inconsistency, the necessary precision and timing of Getsy’s offense proves problematic, and the Bears remain stuck in work-in-progress mode — with intermittent hope dashed by inconsistent play.

CHASE CLAYPOOL

Optimist: Motivated to get a long-term contract but inspired through a connection with Fields to put the team first, Claypool toes the line, accepts a complementary role to Moore and Mooney and gives the Bears a third No. 1 receiver. He finishes with a productive and efficient 62 receptions for 873 yards and nine touchdowns.

Pessimist: Claypool’s 24-hour stint on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list turns out to be yet another red flag, as he gets off to a slow start and is frustrated by a secondary role. His modest production diminishes throughout the season, proving the cynics right — there’s usually a reason why Mike Tomlin gives up on you.

Tremaine Edmunds takes a breather during Bears OTAs in May.

Tremaine Edmunds takes a breather during Bears OTAs in May.

Michael Reaves/Getty Images

TREMAINE EDMUNDS

Optimist: Playing behind an upgraded defensive front, the 6-5, 250-pound Edmunds flourishes in Matt Eberflus’ defense as an imposing, athletic tackle machine whose coverage skills exceed Roquan Smith’s. Shows a nose for the ball with double-digit takeaways — more than he had in five seasons with the Bills (seven).

Pessimist: As it turns out, Edmunds was a beneficiary of a stout Bills defense rather than an initiator. Playing behind a work-in-progress defensive front, he struggles to make impact plays. His size cannot trump Roquan Smith’s football-gene instinct.

ALAN WILLIAMS’ DEFENSE

Optimist: Andrew Billings, Gervon Dexter and Zacch Pickens provide interior strength that creates opportunities for edge rushers Yannick Ngakoue, DeMarcus Walker, Trevis Gipson and Dominique Robinson, and others blossom — Jaquan Brisker, Kyler Gordon, Tyrique Stevenson and T.J. Edwards among them — as the Bears become a top-10 scoring/takeaway defense.

Pessimist: The notion that an improved interior rush will create opportunities for under-achieving edge rushers turns into just another flawed narrative. The Bears are better at stopping the run and rushing the passer, but not nearly enough to create playmakers and ignite a revival of the Vic Fangio era.

JAYLON JOHNSON

Optimist: Motivated to earn the Jaire Alexander-level contract he feels he deserves, a focused Johnson takes his game to another level — Johnson Island — by regularly shutting down No. 1 receivers, with a career-high five interceptions to boot.

Pessimist: Despite playing at a high level, Johnson isn’t as good as he thinks. He stops some elite receivers, but is beaten by others, and even less-than-elite receivers get the best of him. And he still can’t take the ball away. He’s good, but not great.

THE ROOKIES

Optimist: The scouting staff’s ability to find scheme-specific players for Matt Eberflus and Luke Getsy hits its stride, as Wright, Dexter, Pickens and Stevenson are productive starters. Roschon Johnson and Travis Bell justify the Bears’ infatuation with them.

Pessimist: A rookie class that looks good on paper is still a rookie class, and inexperience shows. Wright’s mistakes put Fields in jeopardy. Dexter and Pickens can’t beat out Justin Jones and Billings. Stevenson learns the hard way. Johnson and Bell aren’t ready for the NFL.

THE 2023 SEASON

Optimist: The supposed embarrassment of tanking in 2022 is long forgotten as Moore and an improved offensive line sparks a Fields leap to the cusp of the elite tier of NFL quarterbacks. Not only do the Bears finish 11-6 and make the playoffs, but the Panthers finish 4-13 to give the Bears the No. 2 pick in the draft.

Pessimist: As it turns out, Fields’ inability to carry the Bears over the finish line in close games in 2022 was a red flag that shouldn’t have been ignored. Even with better support, Fields struggles to improve. The Bears finish 6-11 with a familiar quandary: What do they do at quarterback for 2024?

The Latest
Chicago’s severe weather left the Chicago Tribune Co., which prints and delivers the Tribune, Sun-Times and other papers, facing “production issues.”
Co-worker claimed he’d broken up with his ex and she was out of the picture, but now he’s getting back together with her.
Olympian opens up about her sadness after the 2020 Games and her marriage to the Bears’ Jonathan Owens.
“It’s always good to get a win under your belt and just try to build off that momentum,” Sky coach Teresa Weatherspoon said. “Now you got a chance to take that when we come back and build off of it.”