Who Will Step Up in the Absence of Khalil Mack

Sep. 1 2018 – The Chicago Bears complete a blockbuster trade for outside linebacker Khalil Mack in a deal with the Oakland Raiders (now the Los Angeles Raiders) that includes two first round picks, a sixth round pick and a third round pick.

Mack becomes the highest paid defensive player in NFL history shortly after with the signing of a $141 million 6 year extension that includes $90 million guaranteed.

2018-2020 NFL Seasons:
Mack opens up his first season for the Bears with the best season he will ever have for the organization. He collects 12.5 sacks, an interception, six forced fumbles, AP Defensive Player of the Year runner-up, First Team All Pro and the first of three invites to the Pro Bowl during his time with Bears. In the following two seasons production by the numbers decreases slightly, but his effect on the team does not. With opponents forced to dedicate extra personnel to blocking Mack on the line, other Bear’s players such as Akeim Hicks and Eddie Goldman get their own chance to shine.

2021 NFL Season:
Mack only suits up for seven games this season due to a foot injury requiring surgery. As the season ends and the Bears have salary cap worries, Mack is traded away to the Los Angeles Chargers for a second round pick.

The Bears have lost not only their best defense player, but also their de facto face of the franchise for the past four years. Do any of the Bears current defensive players have a chance to take his place? Let’s look at the three most likely candidates:

Robert Quinn

Perhaps the most obvious answer, as veteran Robert Quinn is the hardest hitter left on the Bears defense. Taking on the roll of an outside linebacker, Quinn could serve to replace Kahlil Mack in a sense. While Quinn did not have a great inaugural season with the Bears in 2020, extra time in the system greatly aided him. In 2021, Quinn had one of the best seasons of his career, netting 18.5 sacks, Second Team All Pro and a Pro Bowl invite. This strong athletic ability coupled with his 10 years of experience could very well make Quinn the Bear’s next defensive leader.

Roquan Smith

For the past four years, Bears fans have watched Roquan Smith grow into a linebacker who is becoming a fan favorite. As long as he continues his high production output, he very well could achieve the status of yet another elite linebacker produced by the storied Chicago Bears Defense. Across his first years he has recorded five interceptions, 14 sacks, and must importantly – a whopping 524 tackles. In the 2021 season alone Smith recorded three sacks, one interception and 163 tackles. In layman’s terms, he is a workhorse through and through. Smith gets the job done and doesn’t shy from physicality, making him a prime candidate to become the new face of the Bears defense. He is one of the NFL’s rising stars, and on his way to becoming a household name.

Jaylon Johnson

Jaylon Johnson is more of a dark horse candidate, as typically defensive backs don’t become the major faces of a team’s defense. Alongside this, while Johnson started the season off as a continual lockdown defensive back, his performance did begin to taper off. However, 2022 will only be his third year in the league and brings along a new defensive coaching staff with it. He showed great improvement from his first to his second season – can he do it again? Can he maintain the skill ceiling he showed early in the 2021 season? If so, Johnson will become a well known name, and you won’t catch quarterbacks throwing to him anytime soon.