The Bears invested a lot of capital in the CB position before the 2018 season, and they got their money’s worth.
A year after tying for second in the NFL with 22 pass breakups, Kyle Fuller led the league with 21 breakups in 2018. He also tied for the NFL lead with a career-best seven interceptions and tied for fifth on the team with 55 tackles, living up to the four-year $56-million contract he signed in the offseason that included $19 million in guarantees. The 2014 first-round pick (14th overall) made his first Pro Bowl and his first All-Pro team.
“All of Kyle’s success goes to his preparation,” said DB coach Ed Donatell before departing to become the Broncos’ defensive coordinator. “This guy is in his playbook, he studies film about as much as anybody we have in the building. So when he makes a play, its something he’s earned through his preparation, and the way he leads our team.”
After playing on one-year deals in 2016 and ’17, Prince Amukamara got a three-year, $27-million deal with $18 million in guaranteed money. He tied a career high with three interceptions and started 15 games. Only in 2013 when he started all 16 in his third year in the league, has the former first-round pick (19th overall) started more games.
Nickel CB Bryce Callahan also had his best season as a pro, establishing personal bests with 13 games played, 45 tackles and two sacks before a foot injury ended his season after 14 weeks. Undrafted out of Rice in 2015, he tied individual records with 10 starts and two interceptions. The 5-foot-9, 188-pounder proved valuable enough that the Bears will make it a priority to re-sign him before he hits free agency, where he could attract a lot of attention.
“He's gotten better and better,” Bears G.M. Ryan Pace said. “He's a great example of a college free agent that just has grown here and developed here and that we're really proud of. He played really well. He's on the right track with his recovery. Obviously, that's something that we're going to monitor. We know he's a free agent. We like Bryce. But that's got to play out.”
Sherrick McManis is a longtime leader of the Bears’ special teams but has rarely been a factor on defense. But his streak of finishing in the top three in special-teams tackles ended last year when he was fourth. That was partly because he was asked to play much more on defense, stepping in as the nickel for the final three games after Callahan was injured, setting individual highs with 21 tackles and getting his first career sack and second career interception.
The Bears love the size and athleticism of Kevin Toliver, who went undrafted after a roller-coaster career at LSU. He remains a project, but one with a high ceiling.
Most improved: Callahan.
Best play: Amukamara, who had voiced an unlikely goal of 10 interceptions heading into training camp – he had seven in his first seven seasons – got his first of 2018 with 6:37 left in the fourth quarter in Week Two. Amukamara returned the pick of Seattle’s Russell Wilson 49 yards for a touchdown, the first of his NFL career, and it provided the difference in a 24-17 victory, the Bears’ first under coach Matt Nagy.
Key stat: After three straight seasons in which the team established and then twice tied the franchise record for fewest interceptions with eight in 2015, ’16 and ’17, the Bears got 13 picks – just from the cornerbacks. Fuller’s seven tied for the league lead, Amukamara had three, Callahan two and McManis one.
Room for improvement: There isn’t much, but if Callahan isn’t re-signed, he’ll be tough to replace. McManis wasn’t bad as a stopgap over the final three games, but he’s 31 and will be out of contract after the 2019 season.