The Bears are entering a rebuilding/retooling year. While expectations aren’t super high in terms of wins, there are certainly ways this season can be a success. These are the top 10 most important players on this Chicago Bears team:
1. QB Justin Fields
This is no surprise. Justin Fields is the biggest key to the success of the franchise moving forward. That includes this year, 2023, and beyond. It’s a noticeable trend over the past 10 years that you will know after a Quarterback’s second season if they will be a great player or not. The only outlier is Josh Allen, but even he looked pretty good at the end of year 2. However, he really blossomed into a superstar in year 3. It’s going to be interesting to see Fields in an offense that features a lot of what he does well, which is mainly him using his legs. Bootlegs, play action, and designed runs are all areas of Fields’ game where he has succeeded. He doesn’t have the offensive line like he did in college to sit back in the pocket to pick defenses apart. So now since his offensive line is a question mark, it’s on his coaches, mainly Offensive Coordinator Luke Getsy, to put him in position to succeed.
2. LT Braxton Jones
It says a lot about the state of the Chicago Bears that the second most important player on the whole football team is a Rookie 5th round Left Tackle out of Southern Utah. Many Bears fans were frustrated about how the team addressed the Offensive Line this offseason, but it appears the team could have struck gold with Braxton Jones. I was intrigued by his upside in college and during the draft process, but even I though it’d be a year before he had a chance at being a full time starter on the offensive line. However, by the time the first preseason game came around, Jones had established himself as the starting Left Tackle. It’s important for Justin Fields to build trust in Braxton Jones, as he will be protecting Fields blindside. Jones did look good in preseason, so I’m intrigued to see how he progresses.
3. TE Cole Kmet
It’s not breaking news to anyone that the Bears offense lacks weapons for Justin Fields to throw to. Cole Kmet is entering his third year in the NFL. The 2020 second round draft pick hasn’t quite lived up to the expectations, but it seems like a breakout is on the way for Kmet. A lot of Tight Ends don’t fully breakout until their third season, two of them being top 3 Tight Ends in the league in George Kittle and Mark Andrews. Kmet is expected to be the second option in this offense behind Darnell Mooney. If he doesn’t have an above average season at the Tight End position, the Bears will likely look to upgrade in the draft and Kmet will no longer have a bright future with his hometown team.
4. RG Teven Jenkins
This offseason has been a roller coaster for Teven Jenkins. He’s played multiple positions, been in trade rumors, been buried on the depth chart, and now he’s the starting Right Guard. Jenkins has been through a lot and he’s only entering his second season. He was selected in the second round in 2021 and he was viewed as the biggest cornerstone on the offensive line to protect Justin Fields. He’s not quite viewed at that level now. Most people are just hoping he can be a solid starter for years to come. Any young offensive lineman that the Bears can develop and hold on to is a plus. That’s why Jenkins’ development is extremely important for this season and moving forward. He and Braxton Jones are in very similar positions heading into 2022.
5. WR Darnell Mooney
Darnell Mooney is the clear cut best weapon at the disposable for Justin Fields, which to many is not an ideal situation. However, I view Mooney as a star in the making. He had over 1,000 receiving yards last year and many expect that production to increase. I’m hesitant to say that though. Last year, Allen Robinson was still in Chicago and drawing attention from opposing defenses. Specifically, most number 1 Cornerbacks. The counterargument is certainly an intriguing one. That argument is that Mooney had the same amount of 100 yard games with Robinson on the field as he did when Robinson wasn’t on the field. So truthfully, it’s a bit of a wildcard in terms of how Mooney will produce in 2022.
6. FS Eddie Jackson
Eddie Jackson was one of the stars of the 2018 Bears team. Jackson played like the best player at the Safety position, then got paid like one at the end of the 2019 season. Since then, let’s just say Eddie Jackson has been on a downward path on the field. His play has gotten worst every year. He hasn’t had an interception since the final game of 2019 against the Minnesota Vikings, and hasn’t scored a touchdown since week 7 of the 2020 season. Jackson missed too many tackles and often didn’t seem fully aware of what was happening on the field. A bounceback season from Eddie Jackson would be a huge boost to an already promising Bears secondary.
7. EDGE Trevis Gipson
Trevis Gipson was probably one of the more underrated players on the Bears in 2021. He had 7 sacks and was 5th in the whole NFL in Forced Fumbles with 5. He’s starting the season as a backup to the newly signed Al-Quadin Muhammad. My prediction is that it’ll be more of a rotation at that Defensive End position opposite of Robert Quinn. If Quinn gets traded by the trade deadline like many expect, both Muhammad and Gipson will be thrusted into starting roles, which paves the way for Gipson to have the breakout season that many Bears fans want to see. The other way for that to happen is for Gipson to play his way ahead of Muhammad on the depth chart, which is extremely possible.
8. DT Justin Jones
Justin Jones became the backup plan to Larry Ogunjobi, whom the Bears tried to sign, but that didn’t end up happening due to a failed physical. Jones has some upside as an interior pass rusher and is still only 26 years old. Of all the free agents that the Bears signed to short and cheap deals this offseason, I’d say Jones has probably the best odds of sticking around for the long haul. With a relatively decent EDGE group, Jones will mainly be asked to stuff the run, with any sacks or pressures being a bonus. The DT depth chart currently has Justin Jones and Angelo Blackson as starters, with newly signed Armon Watts and Mike Pennel Jr. as backups. It’s a thin group, but one of those guys becoming a solid starter would be great for the front seven.
9. LB Nicholas Morrow
I view Nicholas Morrow the same way I view Justin Jones. I think he has a very good chance to stick around for the long haul beyond just this year. Morrow joins the Linebacker room with Roquan Smith, who is in the final year of his deal and has yet to be signed. If Morrow impresses and has a good year, I can see a world where the Bears choose to keep Morrow instead of Smith, simply because of how much money each of those players will want. Morrow’s athleticism sticks out on tape, and that’s why he’ll be playing the Mike Linebacker position.
10. CB Kyler Gordon
Kyler Gordon is starting his NFL career as the No. 2 Cornerback opposite of Jaylon Johnson. The Bears don’t have much depth at Corner, so they’re relying on their top draft pick to come in and make an impact right away. Gordon has some positional versatility. He can play both outside corner and at slot corner. I predict the Bears to move him around a good bit to keep the opposing offenses. Gordon has been in and out of the lineup during training camp with some minor injuries. Him staying on the field will be super important, because behind him are the likes of Kindle Vildor, Lamar Jackson, and Jaylon Jones. Thomas Graham Jr. is also on the practice squad. I think Gordon is going to be a great fit in this scheme. I’m predicting for him to have multiple interceptions in year 1. He compliments Jaylon Johnson’s game well. Johnson is more of a true shutdown cover Corner, where as Gordon is an absolute ball hawk.