Is Duke Shelley ready to start for Chicago Bears in 2021

Chicago Bears (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
Chicago Bears (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images) /

The Chicago Bears released Buster Skrine, which was expected. Beyond poor play in 2021 came concussions which ended his season. With a history of concussions and a long absence, Skrine may consider stepping away from football. Nonetheless, this puts the Chicago Bears in a spot where they can either add a slot corner or promote from within.

The first man up would be Duke Shelley, a sixth-round pick from the 2019 NFL draft. Shelley competed with Skrine in training camp in 2019 but hardly saw the field. In 2020, he wound up playing 6 games due to the absence of Skrine. The question now is whether he is the man to step up?

Should Chicago Bears trust Duke Shelley in the slot?

On one hand, he was better than Buster Skrine. According to PFF, he allowed 1 yard per snap, which is better than the 1.65 allowed by Skrine. Shelley was also targeted every 7.4 snaps which is less often than Skrine at every 5.4. Lastly, Skrine allowed a reception every 6.8 snaps which is more often than Shelley who was at 9.6.

Still, these are not gaudy numbers, they more so speak to the issues of Skrine. Skrine was bottom five in most slot coverage categories while Shelley was closer to average or slightly below. He was better, but not a strong start to his career.

One of the biggest issues Shelley had was communication and passing off crossing routes when in zone coverage. Teams would also line up more talented receivers such as Davante Adams in the slot to neutralize that matchup.

To be fair, the same would have been done to Skrine. Also, Shelley had the inconvenience of seeing a lot of his playing time beside rookie Kindle Vildor. Vildor had his issues as well, and the duo was being picked on rather than just Shelley.

How will the Chicago Bears address the slot?

Whether the Bears think Shelly can use his six-game experience to improve or not is unknown. For how late of a pick he was, he is not guaranteed a starting spot. Still, the Bears are unlikely to splurge on the slot.

They are up against the cap as it is and have to add to the offense. They could go for a cheap veteran, perhaps similar to how they added Skrine. Or, they could go with another later-round pick. They did find Bryce Callahan and Cre’Von LeBlanc who are both starting in the NFL still.

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Expect the Bears to add a depth name at the very least to come in and compete with Shelley next season. Still, do not be surprised if Shelley gets a chance to grow from an up and down second season.