The 2021 NFL season is on the horizon, and few divisions are as intriguing entering the new year as the NFC North. The Packers may or may not have reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers on the field. The Vikings are entering somewhat of a critical year with Kirk Cousins. The Lions are kicking off a new era under coach Dan Campbell. The Bears, meanwhile, are maybe the biggest wild card of the bunch. Coach Matt Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace are both on the hot seat, but now they have a new quarterback waiting in the wings in Justin Fields.
What's new and what's familiar about the Bears entering 2021? Here's a full rundown of their depth chart heading into OTAs and training camp, including projected Week 1 starters at every position on both sides of the ball:
Note: Asterisks denote rookies.
Nothing matters more than QB and that was especially true for the Bears this offseason, with Chicago committing to an attempted upgrade on the departed Mitchell Trubisky. Instead of connecting on a home-run swing for a veteran, they settled on a stopgap comparable to Foles, the current No. 3, in Andy Dalton. But then they made up for it by rolling the dice on Fields, who required a big move up in the draft. Now it's a matter of when he takes over for Dalton, who hasn't been a winning starter since 2015. If/when the bigger, stronger and more athletic rookie assumes QB1 duties, there are still serious concerns about his supporting cast.
Why? Just take a look at those set to catch passes and block up front. Robinson is a bona fide No. 1, and Mooney has explosive traits, but your receiver depth is sorely lacking if Marquise Goodwin is in play for a No. 3/4 role. Jenkins, meanwhile, could be a solid long-term addition at left tackle, but he's also a rookie set to line up alongside a subpar group. Fields may be talented enough to overcome these deficiencies, but for how long amid a tough 2021 schedule? The one thing he and/or Dalton should have going for them is an underrated stable of running backs, with Montgomery, Cohen and Williams all primed for decent roles.
Mario Edwards Jr.
Tashaun Gipson Sr.
Not so unlike the offense, Chicago's defense is a grab bag of solid foundational pieces and questionable depth. Mack is always a physical force, Smith is a tackle magnet in the middle and Johnson should be due for a bigger leap in year two. The starting lineup as a whole is more than capable of keeping the Bears in the playoff mix. But the unit isn't without some holes: Hicks is getting older, and if he can't stay healthy, the trenches will be lacking. Even more concerning is cornerback, where the Bears said goodbye to Kyle Fuller to save money but are now forced to bank on a late-career turnaround from Trufant, who flopped in Detroit.
That's not to say some of the Bears' youngsters can't step up. Eddie Jackson has proven he can be better, and a guy like Artie Burns could end up winning more snaps in the secondary. Still, this is a team that's almost certainly going to need the "D" to stand strong, whether it's Dalton or the rookie Fields under center. You just wonder if the depth chart, as currently assembled, is a bit past its prime. The strength remains in the pass rush here, where Mack still brings double-digit sack ability, Quinn is capable of more production and reserves like Attaochu have the potential for bigger numbers.