Throughout the 2021 NFL season, the lack of talent was clear to all NFL fans as the Chicago Bears struggled to make plays on both sides of the ball, falling to a dismal 6-11. All the talk of the town has been about quarterback Justin Fields and how he can make a possible leap from his pedestrian rookie year. However, football requires more than just a good quarterback and there are a handful of smaller name guys that are underrated and can truly have a bigger impact on the gridiron this upcoming season
A second year draft pick, Khalil Herbert flashed promising signs as a special teams returner and as a complimentary back to David Montgomery with his agile playmaking. Although with limited carries, Herbert averaged a solid 4.2 yards per carry and stepped up with productive games in weeks six and seven when trusted with 18+ carries. With the departures of Damien Williams and Tarik Cohen, Herbert is the clear backup to Montgomery and should have plenty of opportunities to showcase his skills this season.
With many Bears fans voicing their excitement for new cornerbacks Tavon Young and Kyler Gordon, I’d like to take a step back from the newcomer hype and recognize Thomas Graham Jr. and the bright future ahead of him. While inactive for most of the regular season last year, the sixth-round pick made his debut in a huge way in Week 15 against the Minnesota Vikings. Playing his first ever professional snaps, Graham Jr. allowed only 10 yards against the NFC North rival, even impressively deflecting a pass away from star Vikings receiver Justin Jefferson (who torched Bears veteran Deon Bush for a touchdown earlier in the game). Although only having a small sample size, Graham Jr. showed his high football IQ and athleticism, so he should prepare for a sophomore season with many more snaps.
As he’s a fresh face in Chicago, this might be the first time you’ve heard of Al-Quadin Muhammad. Muhammad is a young talent at 27 years old, who signed a two-year, $10 million contract with the Bears this offseason. Last year with the Indianapolis Colts, Muhammad started in every single regular season game and achieved his career high in combined tackles (48) and solo tackles (32), while also registering six sacks. More importantly, Muhammad is familiar with both new Bears coach: Matt Eberflus. With this, comes familiarity in the system Eberflus will instill as the Bears defensive play caller as Muhammad played under him for the last four seasons.
To address last season’s poor offensive line play, the Bears drafted four offensive linemen in hopes of giving Justin Fields time in the pocket to make plays. One of these young talents is fifth round pick from Southern Utah, Braxton Jones. At the beginning of training camp, 2021 draft picks Larry Borom and Teven Jenkins drew first team snaps at left tackle and right tackle, respectively. However, towards the end of camp the rookie Jones moved up to the first team at left tackle, moving Borom to right tackle and demoting Jenkins. This is a positive sign for Jones and the Bears offensive line, as Jenkins remains a promising young talent, and Jones is outperforming him in camp.
Although he may be the biggest name on this list, I had to give Byron Pringle the nod for the top spot due to his potential to be a game changer in 2022. The Bears added many viable targets for their second year Quarterback, including Tajae Sharpe, Velus Jones Jr., N’Keal Harry and Equanimeous St. Brown. However, none of these options have the experience nor the ceiling that Pringle possesses. Having limited opportunities with the high-powered Kansas City Chiefs, Pringle’s signing with the Bears for $4.4 million was a clear indicator that he will be starting across from number one option Darnell Mooney. A slight setback occurred when Pringle was arrested for “reckless driving” and “driving with a suspended license,” but he has since moved on and impressed general manager Ryan Poles and the rest of the Bears coaching staff.