Bears' rookie class bodes well for future

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The Chicago Bears' season went off the rails weeks ago, but the organization can take solace in the rookie class.

Six players drafted by the Bears last spring have started games, and three members of the group (Leonard Floyd, Cody Whitehair and Jordan Howard) have all but locked up starting jobs for 2017.

The Bears' franchise hit rock bottom for multiple reasons, one being its failures in the draft. There is not a single member of the 2011 class left on the roster. Alshon Jeffery is all that remains from 2012, and Kyle Long, Cornelius Washington and Marquess Wilson are the only holdovers from 2013. Chicago's top pick in 2014, Kyle Fuller, has largely been forgotten.

General manager Ryan Pace's first draft in 2015 yielded only one surefire core player (Eddie Goldman), but Pace's second effort looks more promising.

Grade: B+

Best rookie: This is a tie between running back Howard (fifth round) and center Whitehair (second). Howard seized control of the Bears' backfield when former starter Jeremy Langford sprained an ankle in Week 3 at Dallas. While Langford has impressive breakaway speed, Howard is a powerfully built runner who gains most of his yards after contact. He leads the team with 969 rushing yards and five touchdowns. Meanwhile, Whitehair played left guard throughout the preseason but switched to center when Chicago signed Josh Sitton prior to Week 1. Whitehair's transition has been close to seamless.

Most improved rookie: Top pick Floyd (seven sacks) spent a lot of time in training camp on the sidelines, but he's shown he can rush the passer. Floyd still has to stay healthy. He's been inactive three times in the regular season, but when Floyd is on the field, he is a difference-maker. If Floyd can play a full 16-game schedule, he should be a double-digit sack guy for the Bears for many years to come.

Most disappointing rookie: Third-round choice Jonathan Bullard was a healthy scratch in Week 13. The coaches felt Bullard needed a wake-up call after the defensive lineman gave lackluster effort in practice. Bullard flashed a quick first step off the line in the preseason, but he needs to rev up his motor to flourish in the NFL.

The jury is still out on ... Deiondre' Hall: The fourth-round pick out of Northern Iowa has been injured much of the year, but did return versus the Lions. Hall looks like a potential playmaker. At 6-foot-2, Hall is blessed with incredibly long arms. Hall displayed a knack for breaking up passes in the preseason and in the early portion of the regular season before he suffered a serious ankle injury. The Bears need to address cornerback in the offseason, and Hall might be a solution.

Undrafted rookie check-in: Harvard tight end Ben Braunecker is playing more in the aftermath of Zach Miller's season-ending foot injury. Braunecker could be in line for a larger role on offense in 2017. Cornerback Cre'Von LeBlanc was an undrafted rookie originally signed by the New England Patriots, but Chicago claimed him off waivers at the beginning of the year. LeBlanc has been a full-time contributor in the secondary since the midway point of the season and returned an interception for a touchdown in Detroit.