Chicago Bears 2016 Midseason Awards

Before they start the second half of the season, it’s time to hand out some midseason awards for the Chicago Bears.

We have been witness to the good the bad and the ugly throughout the first 8 games of the year. Amidst both the cheers and jeers for the Chicago Bears, it’s time to recognize the players who have stood out on a consistent basis for the Monsters of the Midway.

A look at the awards:

Comeback player of the year– The definition of a fighter. Regardless of injuries or performance in the past, this player has fought back to make a difference.

Most improved– Peyton Manning wasn’t a day one Hall of Famer. The NFL requires a rigorous cycle of hard work and improvement. In fact, some people could consider this player’s performance at the start of the season disappointing. However, due to hard work in the film room and at practice, this player may not be recognizable from his week 1 tape to his week 8 tape.

Rookie of the year– Drafting has changed drastically over the last 10 years. Most rookies were supposed to be backups in their first year and steadily work their way to a starting spot. Instead, the majority o a draft is now expected to come in and make an impact in their first year. This player has done exactly that, and the team is better because of it.

Defensive/Offensive player of the year– Being an outstanding, consistent player isn’t good enough for this award. The recipient of this award not only shows up on Sundays, but is also a strong presence in the locker room. Where this player goes, his squad follows.

MVP – Stats play a factor, but this award is so much more. This player brings the most value to the team both on and off the field. This player is simply irreplaceable.

Sep 11, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Chicago Bears wide receiver Eddie Royal (19) celebrates after scoring a touchdown during the second quarter against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Comeback Player of the year: Eddie Royal

Heading into the 2016 season, Eddie Royal was one of the few Ryan Pace signings that could be considered a bust. After signing a 3 year, $15 million contract in 2015, Royal spent the majority of his first season injured. He only suited up 9 times for the Chicago Bears in 2015, and didn’t gain more than 60 yards in any one contest. After the abysmal season, most gave up on the veteran slot receiver.

2016’s training camp brought along a familiar storyline: Eddie Royal out today with ____. The news gathered collected groans with most seeing it as the beginning of the end for Royal. However, the 9th year veteran made a big statement on opening day in Houston. Royal diced up the Texans for 57 yards as well as a dramatic end of half touchdown. Royal would go on to prove the performance was anything but a fluke. He has surpassed 50 yards 4 times this year including a 111 yard outing against the Lions.

Royal has also reasserted his worth as a punt returner this season. His return touchdown against the Eagles came in garbage time, but his ability to assist in the field position battle has been key.

Throughout the first 8 games this season, Royal has proved last season was an exception rather than the rule.

Oct 31, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bears outside linebacker Leonard Floyd (94) reacts after making a sack on Minnesota Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford (8) during the first half at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Most improved: Leonard Floyd

The draft day trade to acquire Leonard Floyd garnered some controversy in Chicago. Taking a chance on a raw prospect like Floyd was one thing, but trading up to get him was another. His college career checked all the boxes, but he lacked one major NFL quality, size. Anyone who had the privilege of attending Chicago Bears training camp saw first hand that Floyd was small for his position. He looked like David amongst Goliaths such as Willie Young and Will Sutton.

Despite efforts to beef up Floyd, he was still underweight by the start of the season. While he logged a sack in the season opener, injuries and inefficiency plagued much of his early going. Many people concluded that Floyd’s size would be his ultimate undoing as offenses were able to nullify his speed with brute strength and size. However, Floyd would turn the corner in Green Bay.

After weeks of being criticized, Floyd logged two sacks and a touchdown on the Frozen Tundra. He followed up his performance by logging another sack against the Vikings. While size still holds Floyd back in some respects, it appears that the game has slowed down for him. After looking outmatched in the early going, Floyd is beginning to look like the edge rusher the Bears needed.

Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Rookie of the year: Cody Whitehair

He’s not as sexy of a choice as Jordan Howard, but the stability Whitehair has brought to the Bears is nothing short of astounding. The Chicago faithful were in full panic when starter Hroniss Grasu went down with an ACL tear in training camp. The Bears’ most shallow position had taken a substantial blow with only a below average veteran and a rookie to fill the gap. Needless to say, the rookie has come in and played lights out.

Coming into the season, the strength of the Bears’ offensive line was established in its two Pro Bowl guards. After 8 games, it’s safe to say the whole interior line of the Bears is loaded. While the  success of Jordan Howard is remarkable, it’s easy to argue that Whitehair is a significant part of his success. The middle of the field opens up like a truck with Whitehair paving the way.

Whitehair’s effect can also be seen in the passing game. He struggled throughout the first three games and the offense followed suit. However, when Whitehair tightened up his play, Brian Hoyer had plenty of time in the pocket.

What was considered to be a critical weakness after Grasu’s injury has become one of the most stable positions due to Cody Whitehair.

Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Defensive player of the year: Jerrell Freeman

Coming into the season, many had their eyes fixated on the big name free agent signing, Danny Trevathan. His Super Bowl winning pedigree was bound to bring stability to the Bears’ linebacking corps. However, when Trevathan went down with injury, the Bears’ other free agent signing at linebacker began to shine all the brighter.

Jerrell Freeman came to Chicago as one of the best run stuffers from his time in Indianapolis. Opponents managed 4.5 yards per carry on the ground last year. With the addition of Jerrell Freeman, that number has dropped to 3.9 yards per carry. Granted, Freeman isn’t the only reason for the improvement, but he has been instrumental in the Bears’ steady improvement.

Moreover, Freeman has also brought forth another element of his game in pass defense. While he hasn’t registered an interception this season, he has shut down crossing routes for minimal gains. Freeman has also shown his ability to cover out routes in man coverage. Where most linebackers lose ground on tight ends and running backs, Freeman has maintained tight coverage no matter the personnel or route combination.

Most importantly, Freeman has asserted himself as the leader of the Bears’ defense. His strong, steady, and even keeled style has anchored the Monsters of the Midway through the first half of the season.

Oct 31, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bears wide receiver Alshon Jeffery (17) makes a catch against Minnesota Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes (29) during the second half at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Offensive player of the year: Alshon Jeffery

Injuries and inconsistency have been the story of the offense for Chicago. However, there has been one player whose impact has been felt in every game, Alshon Jeffery. His numbers haven’t been anywhere near what he is capable of, but that isn’t entirely his fault.

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For the vast majority of the year, Jeffery has had Brian Hoyer under center. While Hoyer put up significant numbers, he was dreadful when it to came to the deep ball. Unfortunately for Jeffery, the deep ball is how he opens up the field. Despite the best part of his game being taken away, Jeffery managed over 70 yards a game in 4 full games with Brian Hoyer.

It may be no coincidence that Jeffery logged his first touchdown when Jay Cutler returned in week 8. Jeffery logged a 34 yard fade route which opened up the middle of the field for his touchdown on a slant route.

However, Jeffery’s biggest impact has been opening up his fellow receivers. Despite the deep ball being all but out of play, Jeffery still managed to stretch defenses and open up his fellow teammates. While Eddie Royal, Cameron Meredith, and Zach Miller all have good qualities, they have all been significant beneficiaries to Jeffery’s presence on the field.

Through it all, Jeffery is still the leading receiver by nearly 200 yards. Without him, the Bears offense would be all but dead.

Sep 19, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bears inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman (50) reacts after making a tackle against the Philadelphia Eagles during the second quarter at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Chicago Bears MVP: Jerrell Freeman

If you don’t want to take my word for it, Pro Football Focus has rated Jerrell Freeman as the top middle linebacker in the NFL. In the wake of Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs, and Charles Tillman retiring, the Bears have been desperately searching for their next leader. After years without a marque player in the NFL, Freeman could finally be the man Bears fans have been yearning for. A player who is recognizable not just to Bear fans, but NFL fans in general.

Above all, the Bears have a long history of bone crushing defense. When Trestman took over as head coach in 2013, the defense bottomed out. With John Fox now leading the charge, defense has once again taken center stage. Leading the charge has been Jerrell Freeman who has already managed 72 tackles in just 8 games. While half a season doesn’t put Freeman with all time greats like Butkus and Singletary, it does hint at the bright future in store for Chicago with Freeman at the helm.

Freeman has not only spearheaded the defenses’ return to form, but perhaps the Bears returning to a contender in the NFC North.

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