Bears

Bilal Nichols eyes an even bigger impact for Bears in 2019

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USA Today

Bilal Nichols eyes an even bigger impact for Bears in 2019

Even if Bilal Nichols repeated his 2018 performance in 2019, the Bears would be lauded for unearthing a solid rotational player with a fifth-round draft pick. But Nichols isn’t resting on his rookie accomplishments, and is aiming to be an even more impactful player on the Bears’ defensive line as he enters Year 2 in the NFL. 

“More consistent, more dominant,” Nichols said. “That’s the biggest thing for me right now.”

Nichols was a top-50 run defender in the NFL last year, as rated by Pro Football Focus — he made a “stop” on 8.7 percent of his run defense plays, ranking 44th in the league (PFF defines a “stop” as a play that constitutes a failure for the offense). For reference, Akiem Hicks ranked eighth at 13.3 percent, Eddie Goldman was 17th at 11.6 percent and Jonathan Bullard came in 40th at 9.1 percent. 

Nichols’ biggest “stop” came in the Bears’ narrow Week 3 win over the Arizona Cardinals, in which he dropped running back Chase Edmonds for a three-yard loss on a third-and-two play inside Bears territory just after the two-minute warning. While Nichols debuted a week earlier against the Seattle Seahawks and recorded a pressure of Russell Wilson, that play against the Cardinals was critical in an important victory for the Bears. It also proved to Nichols that what he was doing was beginning to work. 

“That was really a situation where I had cut it loose and went,” Nichols said. “I knew what i was doing on that play, I knew the possible things I could get from the offense and that was just a situation where I cut it loose and just played football. And I happened to make a big play. 

“I can’t wait to do that this year.” 

Nichols, as he was figuring out how to form a routine and study opponents in the NFL after making the jump from FCS-level Delaware, played a shade under a third of the Bears’ snaps last year as part of a rotation that proved critical to the team’s defensive success. Hicks played the most snaps (780), followed by Goldman (552) and Roy Robertson-Harris (353). Nichols (328) pushed Bullard (298) to the bottom of the rotation, which helped keep members of Jay Rodgers’ unit fresh and at their most effective when they were on the field. 

The Bears’ defensive line is arguably their best and deepest unit, one which can collapse pockets and stymie opposing run games (the latter of which is especially important, given the Minnesota Vikings and Detroit Lions’ renewed commitments to running the ball this year). Nichols was already a big part of it in 2018, and may be an even bigger part of it in 2019. 

“Last year, I was still trying to figure things out, still trying to figure the league out, figure myself out as a player,” Nichols said. “And now that I got everything figured out, I’m just able to go. I could just play and play fast and cut it loose.”

Is Marcus Mariota the most logical QB target for the Bears?

Is Marcus Mariota the most logical QB target for the Bears?

Chicago Bears fans are sick and tired of the quarterback conversation surrounding this team as we enter the most important two month stretch of the offseason. My Twitter timeline (and vicious replies) are evidence of that. 

Duly noted.

That said, it's an unavoidable truth that GM Ryan Pace has no choice but to do something at quarterback in free agency or the NFL Draft. The most diehard Mitch Trubisky fan has to admit that. The former second overall pick hasn't developed into a franchise player through three seasons under center, and while the optimist would argue there's still time for him to become that guy, the realist is who must prevail when it comes to roster construction.

Marcus Mariota may be the perfect compromise. He doesn't have a resume that will immediately threaten Trubisky in 2020, but his sneaky upside combined with his youth and overall skill set is an ideal combination that could make him a long-term answer if Trubisky fails in the short-term.

According to Sports Illustrated, Chicago -- and coach Matt Nagy -- would be an ideal destination for Mariota, even if there's an inherent conflict of interest because both Mariota and Trubisky are represented by the same agent.

There are coaches out there—cough, Chicago, cough—who could slide him in easily under the guise that Mariota is a high-quality backup and develop him into a weapon under center who could take over when the starter falters.

Mariota, like Trubisky, hasn't lived up to the hype that he entered the NFL with back in 2015 when he was the second overall pick of the Titans. He's logged 61 starts and a career record of 29-32. He's completed just under 63% of his 1,110 career pass attempts and has 76 touchdown passes to 44 interceptions.

His stat sheet isn't impressive. His on-field play, at times, hasn't been, either. But he'd be an ideal reclamation project that the Bears can sell as the perfect backup even if the hope is for him to emerge as a starter.

There’s an advantage for QB-needy teams here who don’t want to deal with the public courting of Tom Brady, who don’t want to sacrifice mobility by signing Philip Rivers, who don’t want to roll the dice on every snap by signing Jameis Winston, and who don’t have the trade capital or cap space to go after someone like Nick Foles or Derek Carr.

Chicago won't be able to get into a bidding war for the bigger names like Tom Brady or even Teddy Bridgewater because of their limited cap space. Mariota won't command nearly as much to sign, and he's likely to get nothing more than a one-year commitment from a team hoping he can be like the guy who replaced him, Ryan Tannehill.

Of all the quarterbacks who've been pegged as a possible option for the Bears, Mariota feels like the most logical and, more importantly, cheaper targets who realistically could be lining up as the Chicago's starter by Week 4 of the 2020 season.

Bears should pay close attention to TE Cole Kmet at NFL Combine

Bears should pay close attention to TE Cole Kmet at NFL Combine

The 2020 NFL Combine kicks off on February 23, and the Bears will be one of 32 teams in attendance poking and prodding the 337 prospects who will try to run, jump and lift their way to a higher NFL draft grade.

General manager Ryan Pace will do his due diligence on all the players participating, but the Bears are without a first-round pick (again) and as a result, Pace's focus will be tailored to the cluster of prospects who are most likely to slide into Day 2. Chicago has two second-rounders and can upgrade the roster with two potential starters.

One player who should be at or near the top of the Bears' wish list is Notre Dame tight end Cole Kmet. According to former NFL general manager Charley Casserly, Kmet would be a perfect fit for Chicago in the second round and the prospect they should pay the closest attention to at the combine.

The Bears' biggest need on offense is tight end. There are several guys who would fit well in Matt Nagy's scheme, including Purdue's Brycen Hopkins, but why not aim for the best TE in his class in Kmet?

Kmet certainly checks most of the boxes for an NFL starting tight end. He ended 2019 with 43 receptions for 515 yards and six touchdowns, numbers that aren't a true reflection of his upside as a receiver in the pros. He'll be a classic case of a player who has a more productive NFL career than he had in college.  He's a good athlete who has upside as an inline blocker, too, even though he needs to get stronger to be a truly reliable player in the run game.

Even with some of the deficiencies in Kmet's game, he'd be a massive upgrade over the tight ends currently on the Bears roster like Trey Burton, Adam Shaheen and Jesper Horsted. He's a virtual lock to come off the board in the second round, so if Pace wants him in Chicago next season, he won't be able to wait long to draft him. In fact, it could require using the Bears' first pick -- No. 43 overall -- to lock him up.