Chicago Bears: Potential Break Out Players (Defense)

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Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

Ego Ferguson

Was considered a developmental prospect when drafted so in fairness not much should have been expected from Ferguson last year. He was forced to play more than planned due to multiple injuries on the D-line last season.  Ferguson appeared in all 16 games, seeing significant snaps in five of them when Ratliff was injured. He showed flashes of competence early in the season (NYJ, GB, CAR) with 2 sacks, 2 QB hurries, and 2 deflected passes in that 3 game stretch, but Ferguson struggled during the 2nd half of the season. Maybe it was a conditioning issue, but he hit bottom in week 14 against the Cowboys (who do have a great O-line) when he was pancaked multiple times in the first half and ultimately benched for UDFA Brandon Dunn.

Ferguson has ideal size (6’3 | 315) and athletic ability, but only had one year of starting experience in college so is understandably raw. DC Vic Fangio has had a track record of success developing talented, but raw D-linemen, so hopefully he can work his magic with Ferguson because the Bears really need him this season.

Whether Ferguson is ready or not, the Bears are so thin on the D-line that he will be pushed into a role at either NT or DE. He has the size and athleticism to be a factor against both the run and the pass and showed glimpses of it last season (weeks 3-6) but will need to be much more consistent this year. According to reports from OTAs, Ferguson is in much better shape which could avoid the late season collapse Ferguson went through last year.

Fersuson has the strength to occupy two blockers and the explosiveness to generate pass rush, he just needs to do it more consistently to hold down a starting role. He’s only 24 years old and has the talent to be something special… Ferguson will get a chance to prove whether he is or not this season.

Sam Acho

The Bears have a lot of depth at OLB, but very few of those players have any experience at OLB in a 3-4, except free agent signings Pernell McPhee and Sam Acho. McPhee is locked in at one starting OLB slot and could be primed for a big year, but after leading a very good Ravens defense in QB hits and hurries, it wouldn’t be considered a breakout for McPhee to have a solid season. Acho, on the other hand, hasn’t been a regular starter since 2012 and hasn’t had a good season since he had 7 sacks in a promising rookie year back in 2011.

The Bears signed Acho to a veteran minimum deal and he’s listed as the 5th or 6th OLB on most depth pre-season depth charts, but I’m not sure why. Despite his lack of sack totals last year, Acho did have 23 QB hurries in just 483 regular season snaps last season. His 4.7% hurry per snap ratio was 7th in the NFL among 3-4 OLBs, so the talent is there to get to the QB. Acho has long arms, uses his hands well, has a decent burst off the snap, innate football awareness, and a non-stop motor. There has been almost no press about the Acho signing, but he has more 3-4 experience than most OLBs on the Bears roster, elite football instincts, was strong against the run last season (5.0 grade) and has legit pass rush talent.

Acho lacks length (6’1) and strength which hurts him in coverage, but OLBs aren’t asked to cover much in Fangio’s scheme. His edge in experience as a 3-4 OLB, Lamarr Houston’s slow recovery from his ACL injuty, Acho’s ability to rush the passer, and the overall inexperience of the rest of his competition could earn Acho the majority of snaps across from McPhee. If Acho earns a spot in the Bears base package, he could surpass his rookie year mark of seven sacks while providing solid D against the run and still being a factor on special teams.