For the first time in several seasons, the Chicago Bears are surrounded by loads of buzz in the build-up to the year. They are coming off a worst-to-first season in which they won the NFC North while making the playoffs for the first time since 2010.
The Bears are also enjoying more depth on both sides of the ball than they’ve seen in recent years, largely due to deft late-round drafting by general manager Ryan Pace. They also boast a young crop of All-Pro defensive superstars led by Khalil Mack and Eddie Jackson. Football is finally fun in Chicago again – and people are taking notice.
Eyes are certainly on the Bears’ stellar defense and it’s new coordinator Chuck Pagano, as well as their revamped backfield. After trading Jordan Howard to the Philadelphia Eagles, the Bears seem confident in their intriguing trio of third-round pick David Montgomery, speedster Tarik Cohen and Mike Davis, who signed with the Bears this offseason. Montgomery, especially, will be in the spotlight, as he’s set to replace a very productive Jordan Howard.
Each season, though, there always seems to be several breakout players very few see coming – game-breakers who were virtual unknowns to every fan base other than their own. Here are five Bears who aren’t household names quite yet, but could make a big impact this season regardless.
Last season for the Bears, Aaron Lynch proved to be an excellent role player when filling in for Khalil Mack or Leonard Floyd. The outside linebacker missed three games throughout the 2018 season due to injury, but he was a difference-maker when he did play. Over 13 games in a reserve role, he had three sacks, a nifty interception, and four tackles-for-loss. If he stays healthy, he could add an extra boost to an already dominant defense.
Lynch has recently expressed a desire to sign a long-term contract and seems happy staying in Chicago. The Bears re-signed Lynch this offseason to another one-year deal, and based on his recent comments, the linebacker will surely attempt to establish himself in a dominant fashion when given the opportunity. After all, he’s bound to seek that long-term deal again after the season is over.
During his rookie campaign in 2018, Daniels shared the starting spot at left guard with now-departed Eric Kush and clearly outplayed the veteran. Going into his second year, all arrows are pointing up for Daniels. His skill set should seemingly improve, as he already has an excellent open-field vision, and his speed is going to surprise many.
Daniels is young, athletic and is already a proven versatile talent. But this season, he could flourish more than some expect as he moves back to center, the position where he started for two seasons at Iowa and seems most comfortable playing. Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky recently noted that Daniels is much more vocal this season, a sign his confidence is growing. Kyle Long, Cody Whitehair, and Charles Leno Jr. are the most lauded and well-known offensive linemen, but that could change very quickly.
A rookie lineback last season, Iyiegbuniwe didn’t start on the Bears stacked defense, but he made a name for himself on special teams and he could be a force there again this year. The Bears have been looking for a legitimate special teams ace since Brandon Ayanbadejo went to back-to-back Pro Bowls in the 2006 and 2007 seasons. Iyiegbuniwe could finally fill that void while potentially breaking out on defense if given the opportunity.
It’s been said Iyiegbuniwe could be being groomed as Danny Trevathan’s replacement should he leave the team after this season. If any of the Bears starting linebacker corps goes down (knock on wood, Bears fans) or plays at a subpar level, Iyiegbuniwe would likely get a chance to prove his worth.
His social media following knows how scary this could be for opposing offenses. Roquan Smith has jokingly asked him for his bicep workout on one Instagram post, and he recently compared himself to the Incredible Hulk on another – which looks to be an adequate comparison. Expect Iyiegbuniwe to break out in some form this season.
The Bears’ sixth-round draft choice has been flying under the radar for a while now. After Duke Shelley wasn’t invited to the combine, he used this apparent lack of respect as motivation and seems to be playing with a chip on his shoulder.
Buster Skrine signed a three-year, $16.5 million contract this past offseason, and is the projected starter, replacing former cornerback Bryce Callahan, but Skrine has been on and off the field due to concussions and is by no means a permanent lock in the slot position.
“He’s physical,” coach Matt Nagy said of Shelley. “He has ball skills. It’s what we saw on tape. He has great energy and he’s smart. He can play inside, he can play outside, he’s done some things for us that have been good. But it’s still early in camp. Hopefully we can see more in the preseason.”
Should Shelley shine during the preseason, look for him to make an impact later in the season.
Wims isn’t necessarily under the radar where Bears fans are concerned. Those who follow the team have been aware of Wims’ breakout potential ever since he had several clutch catches last season in the Bears’ Week 17 finale against the Vikings. In a game where Taylor Gabriel and Anthony Miller left with injuries and Allen Robinson didn’t play at all, Wims caught four passes for 32 yards and helped extend a key scoring drive. He has also lit it up last preseason and is continuing on in the same fashion this year with catches like this.
Riley Ridley has had a slow start to training camp, and Wims already has a full year to learn the intricacies of Matt Nagy’s offense. Wims may prove to be a key player down the road should one of the team’s top receivers miss time.
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