With players on defense like Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks and Eddie Jackson, the Chicago Bears have one of the best and most-hyped defenses in the NFL. They also have another young talent who has been referred to as the least known member of this vaunted defense–but that’s about to change in a big way after this season.
Bilal Nichols is entering his second year with the Bears, and after being named to ESPN’s All-Rookie team in 2018 alongside teammates James Daniels and Roquan Smith, Nichols is primed for a huge second year. While he may not be the biggest name or the best player on this defense, Nichols is likely going to be the x-factor and major difference-maker on D. Here’s why:
Nichols Has Speed
At high school in Delaware, Nichols played tight end–he’s incredibly fast for a nearly 300-pound man. His pass-catching abilities were put on display this preseason when he had a diving interception during a practice scrimmage. Nichols didn’t snag any picks last year, but look for that to change.
In his rookie season, Nichols played in 14 games and started six. In limited action, he was a definite difference-maker, recording three sacks, two forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery. Nichols also displayed consistent tendencies to get past his man and get to the ball, also netting five tackles-for-loss last year. With all the attention Mack, Hicks, Floyd, and Smith will garner, opposing teams had better also game plan for Nichols because if they don’t, his stats will be terrifying.
Nichols is Versatile
In his rookie season with the Bears, Nichols played both nose tackle and defensive end, showing a versatility that allowed him to display potential at both positions.
He subbed in for both Akiem Hicks and Eddie Goldman at different points throughout the season, and in the unfortunate event that one of them would fall to injury, Nichols could provide the depth they’d need on the line in a worst-case scenario. He’s an excellent insurance policy for the Bears defense–and he’s learning from the best.
He’s Being Mentored by Akiem Hicks
Nichols said in recent interviews that he has dropped some weight this offseason. He has also been lifting weights with teammate Akiem Hicks–who has had nothing but positive things to say about Nichols:
“The thing that I thought was special about Bilal Nichols was the way that he came in,” Hicks said. “I had a lot of respect for a young man that would come in and be able to put away pride, ego, whether he was the man or not at the school that he came from. He said, ‘Hey, I want to learn. I want to be better. I want to grow. I want to do this. And be willing to receive information.’ You can’t put a value on that.”
With mentors like Hicks and a desire to keep getting better, his future is full of tipped passes and forced fumbles.
He Has the Right Attitude
Humble is a word used to describe Nichols on a regular basis. He has a unique drive and a unique perspective, perhaps due to his unique upbringing. Nichols was raised by his grandparents, and he credits them for helping him find his way.
“Honestly, I don’t know where my life would be if my grandparents hadn’t stepped in,” Nichols said in a 2015 interview when he was a sophomore at Delaware. “They put me in sports. My grandpop told me I needed to do something constructive with my life and paved the way for me. They taught me the right way to do things.”
With his genuine demeanor and game-changing play, Nichols is already a favorite of Bears fans. After the upcoming season, look for the rest of the league to take notice, as well.