Bears PFF grades: Best and worst performers, by position, through first 9 weeks

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The Chicago Bears are in the midst of a much-needed bye week, where they’re sitting at 3-6 through the first half of their season after losing the last four games. While they’re not contenders this year, rookie quarterback Justin Fields is doing a good job giving a purpose for the remainder of the season.

Pro Football Focus handed out player grades for those who took a snap during the first nine games this season, and we broke them down by offense and defense, analyzing the players by position.

Here’s a look at how these players have graded out through the first nine weeks:

Quarterback

AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

Dalton is the highest-graded quarterback through the first nine weeks, but he only played in a game and a half before Fields took over. While Dalton was a fine quarterback for the Bears, he wasn’t Fields. Despite some typical rookie growing pains for Fields, which included some brutal outings against some great teams, he’s taken a huge step forward over the last couple of games, where he’s been the highest-graded quarterback in that span.

Running back

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  • Khalil Herbert – 82.4

  • Damien Williams – 73.7

  • David Montgomery – 72.1

  • Ryan Nall – 71.5

  • Artavis Pierce – 59.9

Herbert has been one of the biggest surprises this season, and given his impressive performance in relief of an injured Montgomery, it’s not a total surprise to see Herbert as the top-ranked running back for Chicago through the first nine games. Herbert was the lead back for four games, where he never rushed for less than 70 yards in a game — including for 100 yards against the league’s best run defense. Montgomery was having an impressive season before he suffered a knee sprain in Week 4, which caused him to miss four games. But we caught a glimpse of his old self against the Steelers. When healthy, the Bears have arguably the best running back room in the NFL, which also includes Williams.

Wide receiver

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  • Jakeem Grant – 74.5

  • Darnell Mooney – 73.8

  • Allen Robinson – 67.6

  • Marquise Goodwin – 64.7

  • Damiere Byrd – 46.9

Grant might be the top-graded wide receiver at this point, but he’s been used sparingly on offense. With that in mind, it’s Mooney that’s Chicago’s highest-graded receiver this season, and he’s been Fields’ No. 1 guy so far. Mooney leads the Bears in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns. Robinson, who has been the team’s best offensive weapon for the last three years, has been virtually invisible on offense. That’s been due to struggles in the passing game as well as a developing chemistry with Fields. But Robinson is coming off his best game of the season — a 68-yard receiving effort — and the hope is he’ll continue to develop that connection with Fields through the final stretch of games.Goodwin and Byrd haven’t been involved that much on offense, which isn’t a surprise given Robinson and Mooney have struggled to get opportunities in the NFL’s worst passing attack.

Tight end

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  • Jesper Horsted – 76.9

  • Jesse James – 63.6

  • Cole Kmet – 63.3

  • Jimmy Graham – 61.6

  • J.P. Holtz – 59.7

It’s taken several weeks, but the Bears are finally getting their tight ends involved in the passing game. Horsted is the team’s highest-graded tight end, although that’s based on roughly one game when he was the recipient of Fields’ first touchdown pass in Week 5. James, who had an instant connection with Fields during training camp, has been used in blocking situations but occasionally in the passing game, where he’s made the most of that chemistry. Kmet had another slow start to his season, but he’s become increasingly more important in the passing game over the last couple of weeks as his chemistry with Fields develops. Graham has had no impact in this offense whatsoever this season, as he’s managed just two catches in nine weeks.

Offensive line

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  • Jason Peters – 76.7

  • James Daniels – 68.4

  • Cody Whitehair – 66.8

  • Elijah Wilkinson – 65.7

  • Germain Ifedi – 60.5

  • Larry Borom – 55.0

  • Sam Mustipher – 51.3

  • Alex Bars – 45.1

Funny how a 39-year-old offensive tackle who was fishing a couple of weeks before he was called to come save the day has been the Bears’ highest-graded offensive lineman. Peters has been good at left tackle for the Bears, but it hasn’t been as solid across the board. Mustipher has been a liability at center, and it’s clear Chicago needs to make the interior of the offensive line a priority this offseason. While Borom’s grade is low, it’s an example of how grades are up for debate. Borom has gone against two of the league’s best edge rushers in Nick Bosa and T.J. Watt in back-to-back starts, and he’s allowed just one pressure and one sack in that span.

Defensive line

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  • Akiem Hicks – 67.0

  • Bilal Nichols – 60.4

  • Margus Hunt – 50.9

  • Angelo Blackson – 50.2

  • Mario Edwards – 49.1

  • Khyiris Tonga – 45.3

  • Damion Square – 44.9

  • Eddie Goldman – 38.5

Hicks remains the best defensive lineman on the Bears, and despite some struggles with injuries, he’s come through when they need him. Nichols, who’s in a contract year, has been decent this season. With the exception of Hicks and Nichols, the Bears defensive line hasn’t received high marks this season. Goldman, who is returning after a season off, hasn’t been his old self this season, as evidenced by him receiving the lowest grade of any Chicago defensive lineman. But Goldman did look like his old self against the Steelers, and it’s performances like that the Bears need to win games.

Outside linebacker

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  • Khalil Mack – 73.5

  • Trevis Gipson – 72.2

  • Robert Quinn – 66.8

  • Cassius Marsh – 66.3

  • Jeremiah Attaochu – 62.0

  • Sam Kamara – 49.0

Mack was the highest-graded edge rusher last season at PFF, but his grade through these nine weeks doesn’t reflect his production this season. Mack, who has missed the last two weeks, has 6.0 sacks in seven games this season — all while battling an injured foot since Week 3. Quinn, who is third on the list, has had his best season for the Bears, where he leads the team with 6.5 sacks in eight games. Gipson, who has seen increased playing time in place of either Mack or Quinn, has had his moments in his second season. Attaochu suffered a torn pec back in Week 5 and is lost for the season.

Inside linebacker

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  • Roquan Smith – 53.2

  • Danny Trevathan – 45.1

  • Christian Jones – 40.2

  • Alec Ogletree – 28.8

PFF grades are always controversial, as evidenced by Smith receiving a 53.2 when he’s been one of the best linebackers in the NFL this season. Smith leads the NFL with 93 tackles, averaging the fifth-most per game, and has one sack, one interception and one touchdown. His grade isn’t reflective of his contributions on defense. Interestingly enough, the Bears’ other starter, Ogletree, has been the team’s lowest-graded inside linebacker at 28.8, and his grade also doesn’t reflect his overall performance. He hasn’t been great, but he hasn’t been terrible either. When you look at all of the inside linebackers, not one of them has a grade of 55 or higher.

Cornerback

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  • Xavier Crawford – 66.3

  • Jaylon Johnson – 59.7

  • Duke Shelley – 57.7

  • Kindle Vildor – 54.5

  • Marqui Christian – 29.8

Cornerback has been one of the biggest concerns this season on defense with the inexperience and performance at the season. While there’s optimism for Johnson, who was once among the highest-graded cornerbacks with PFF, he has been tested recently against some of the league’s best receivers. But aside from Johnson, there hasn’t been much to love. For the most part, Vildor has struggled on the outside and Shelley has struggled in the slot, although they’ve both had their moments.

Safety

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  • DeAndre Houston-Carson – 74.0

  • Teez Tabor – 71.6

  • Deon Bush – 58.8

  • Eddie Jackson – 55.0

  • Tashaun Gipson – 47.7

Chicago’s starters in Jackson and Gipson are the two lowest-graded safeties on the team with 55.0 and 47.7, respectively. While the struggles with the cornerbacks was expected, the same can’t be said at safety. But the biggest surprise has been the performance of Houston-Carson, who was seen increased opportunities to start in place of an injured Jackson and Gipson. Houston-Carson has shown that he deserves starting reps at safety, regardless of injury status, with some strong performances.

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