Welcome to Boom or Bust, a weekly segment where I predict which NFC North players will flourish and which will flounder. In a week one matchup against the San Francisco 49ers, the unproven Chicago Bears roster is filled with boom or bust candidates. Below are my pick to boom, and more importantly, my pick to bust:
Boom: Darnell Mooney
If there is any player from the NFC North that fans are expecting to break out in 2022, it is Darnell Mooney. Favorably for Mooney, that should begin in Week 1 against the 49ers. Despite a loaded defense, the 49ers’ weakest position group was by far the defensive backs in 2021. This will likely continue but to an even greater extent to start this season. After losing safety Jaquiski Tartt to free agency and with safety Jimmie Ward on injured reserve, the 49ers will be depending on the much less experienced Tarvarius Moore and Talanoa Hufanga in the back end. To make matters worse for San Francisco, starting cornerbacks Emmanuel Moseley and Charvarius Ward suffered injuries in early August. Although nothing serious, these injuries hindered the two from practicing for a few weeks. Both Moseley and Ward should be able to play against Chicago, but are unlikely to be 100%. This opens up a significant opportunity for Mooney to have a big game. The 49ers’ dominant front seven paired with the Bears’ unstable offensive line should result in quick passes from Justin Fields. And who else to look to but his most reliable target and by far the Bears’ best separator in Mooney. The season opener may not be the most competitive of games and could lead to plenty of targets for Mooney while trailing. Mooney should feast against an injury riddled and inexperienced secondary, beginning his 2022 breakout campaign.
Bust: Roquan Smith
Roquan Smith emerged as one of the league’s best linebackers last season, but the 49ers offense may pose some problems for him in Week 1. Last season when the two teams met, 49ers running back Elijah Mitchell recorded a season-high 137 rushing yards, averaging 7.6 yards per carry. Meanwhile, Smith recorded his second lowest tackle total of the season. Kyle Shanahan’s offense is predicated on the running game, so it is possible for a similar story to unfold this week. Smith also loses the benefit of playing behind two terrific run defenders in Akiem Hicks and Khalil Mack, who now play for different teams. A lack of elite run defenders will allow offensive linemen to reach the second level to engage with Smith and mitigate his impact. Although Smith will have to work hard against the run, expect for Shanahan to force him to move all over the field. A mastermind in motions and misdirections, Shanahan will undoubtedly throw several challenges at Smith, the centerpiece of the Bears’ defense. With Trey Lance as the team’s starting quarterback, the 49ers will feature a playbook designed around him that is yet to be witnessed. Smith will have to play several roles on Sunday to slow down this complex offense. While he is certainly capable, he is much less likely to shine in this matchup in comparison to others. Not to mention, Smith recently requested for a trade and then decided to play out the rest of his contract in Chicago. He may only be playing for a paycheck in 2022 which could hurt his quality of play.