Final cutdown day in the NFL is 3 p.m. Central on Saturday, and the league is doing things a little bit different this year. You may remember that in previous years, the league had two separate cutdown days, but this year it’s all rolled into one massive sea of cuts.
Projecting a final roster is a practice in futility as there typically is one or two surprising moves — if not more — per season. Based upon contracts, talent, and how a player has been used throughout training camp and the preseason, you can get a basic outline of the players who will make it to the final roster. But projecting the bubble players is a lot trickier because coaches often have a much different perspective on the makeup of the roster than fans and analysts do.
Here’s my crack at projecting the 2017 Bears final roster.
Quarterbacks (2): Mike Glennon, Mitch Trubisky
In my first pass through the roster, I originally kept Mark Sanchez among the final 53. All along, the Bears have talked up Sanchez’s veteran leadership and have attempted to temper enthusiasm about the rookie Trubisky. But after looking at tight battles at other positions, my assumption is that the Bears would be better off keeping only two quarterbacks and using that extra roster spot where they might need it more. This all hinges on whether the team feels Trubisky is ready enough to be inserted into game action at a moment’s notice.
Running Backs (4): Jordan Howard, Tarik Cohen, Jeremy Langford, Benny Cunningham
This has been one of the toughest preseason battles on the roster and, thus, one of the most difficult positions to project. Howard and Cohen are locks, as the starter and rookie change-of-pace back have been impressive to-date. Langford has been on the bubble all preseason due to nagging injuries and the fact that he’s not the contributor on special teams that Cunningham and Ka’Deem Carey are. Carey has been been rumored for the PUP list, but I feel Cunningham could do what he can anyway, so the team could just reach an injury settlement with him.
Wide Receivers (6): Kevin White, Markus Wheaton, Kendall Wright, Deonte Thompson, Josh Bellamy, Tanner Gentry
With Meredith on Injured Reserve, the Bears have a mess of a receiver position to sort out. White is a lock to stay, but this could be his swan song of a season if he doesn’t prove he can stay healthy for a full year. After that, there’s a number of directions the Bears can go. The rumblings have been that Victor Cruz doesn’t make the cut as he hasn’t seen much action with the starters and hasn’t performed that well in the preseason. Wheaton would be the ideal starter opposite White, but he has to come back healthy. Wright looks to be a solid addition to the slot. That leaves three other spots, which I’ve awarded to Thompson and Bellamy, based on their special teams contributions, and Gentry — the training camp superstar — based on sheer curiosity.
Tight Ends (3): Dion Sims, Zach Miller, Adam Shaheen
The Bears might keep four tight ends here, but I believe the first three are sufficient enough that I’d rather use the extra spot at another position. Sims was a key offseason addition who has a good combination of run-blocking and pass-catching skills. Miller was rumored to be the odd man out all offseason, but with the loss of Meredith, the Bears will need another reliable set of hands — and a big body to go with them — to aid the receiving corps. That brings us to Shaheen, who has had a bit of a rough preseason with some drops but has also looked impressive in practices. Is he ready to be the primary backup? My hunch is no, which is yet another reason I chose to keep Miller around.
Offensive Line (8): Charles Leno, Kyle Long, Cody Whitehair, Josh Sitton, Bobby Massie, Hroniss Grasu, Tom Compton, Bradley Sowell
The starting five is set, although there’s still lingering questions about whether Long can suit up in Week 1. But he’ll return eventually — I hope. Teams traditionally bring along three backup offensive linemen and the hunch is that they’ll keep Grasu as backup center. If Long misses any time, Grasu may start and Whitehair may shift to guard, but Compton and Sowell are rumored to be the top backups in this unit. This projection leaves rookie Jordan Morgan on the outside looking in, but he might find his way back to the practice squad.
Defensive Line (6): Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman, Mitch Unrein, Jaye Howard, Jonathan Bullard, Roy Robertson-Harris
It’s no secret that I’ve been raving about the Bears’ Front 7 all offseason and now I’ve had the difficulty of juggling the bubble players and trying to make room for all this depth. Let’s start up front where I feel Hicks and Goldman are lock starters. Unrein and Howard could battle for that other starting spot, but I’d be shocked if Howard doesn’t start eventually. Bullard has flashed signs that he is ready to become a greater rotational player this year and the Bears really like what they’ve seen out of Robertson-Harris. The big man has good agility and pursuit of the ball carrier laterally down the line of scrimmage.
Outside Linebackers (6): Leonard Floyd, Willie Young, Pernell McPhee, Sam Acho, Lamarr Houston, Dan Skuta
Oh, Pernell McPhee. What could have been. I think McPhee still can make big plays and contribute to the defense, but obviously he can’t do that from the sideline. He needs to get healthy and stay healthy, something that has been a major issue for him. Still, I think he makes this roster and will wind up rotating with the other outside backers as Vic Fangio keeps sending waves into opponents’ backfields. Floyd looks ready to make a major leap this year and Young is a consistently strong contributor. There remains questions about the other three. Houston — like McPhee — is a nice contributor when healthy. He, once again, hurt his knee in Thursday’s preseason finale against the Browns. He was able to walk off on his own, which is an encouraging sign, and could (should?) stick around. Acho and Skuta are good special teams contributors who add nice depth. The Bears could stick to five at the position, but with McPhee’s and Houston’s injuries, I’m giving them a buffer.
Inside Linebackers (4): Jerrell Freeman, Danny Trevathan, Nick Kwiatkoski, Christian Jones
Freeman and Trevathan are locks as starters, of course. The Bears like the tenacity that Kwiatkoski brings to the table. Jones has great versatility, so I don’t see him going anywhere. The only other bubble player that I would consider here is John Timu, but he’s been a fringe player for a few years now.
Cornerbacks (6): Prince Amukamara, Marcus Cooper, Kyle Fuller, Bryce Callahan, Cre’Von LeBlanc, Sherrick McManis
Amukamara and Cooper are the starters and Fuller has really been impressive this preseason. Callahan and LeBlanc are nickel and spot-duty corners that should stick as well. McManis has been a mainstay as a core special teamer. The Bears in the past have kept up to seven cornerbacks, but I think the upgrades they’ve made at the position, plus the depth they have at safety, affords them the flexibility to keep six here.
Safeties (5): Quintin Demps, Eddie Jackson, Adrian Amos, Harold Jones-Quartey, Deon Bush
This probably was the single most difficult position to project given the quantity of bodies the Bears have at the position. That says less about the quality, though, than it does about how much effort the team has expended during the Ryan Pace regime at getting the position right. Demps and Jackson are likely your starters and are locks for the roster. Amos, as a former starter, is a near-guarantee as well. From there, the Bears can go in a number of different directions. Jones-Quartey has been an off-and-on contributor and might not make the cut, but I think he adds value. The Bears then have a tough decision to make between Bush, Deiondre’ Hall, DeAndre Houston-Carson, and veteran Chris Prosinski. The former three were all 2016 draft picks by the Bears. The latter has earned the coaches’ trust. It’s possible the Bears keep any combination of the group or let all four go. This will be interesting.
Specialists (3): Pat O’Donnell, Connor Barth, Jeff Overbaugh
O’Donnell is a lock and Overbaugh, who was brought in to replace the injured Patrick Scales at long-snapper, is likely to stick as well. That leaves the kicker competition. I just haven’t seen much from Roberto Aguayo after the Bears claimed him off waivers after the Buccaneers let him go. I think the Bears go with the veteran Barth.