Bears

Chicago Football Madness: Khalil Mack, Matt Nagy headline 2018 Region

Chicago Football Madness: Khalil Mack, Matt Nagy headline 2018 Region

Excitement for the Bears is at an all-time high, so while March Madness and the NCAA Tournament begin, we still have Bears on the mind. So we've created Chicago Bears Football Madness, pitting players from the three best Bears teams and legends head-to-head. This is the 2018 region.

1.   Khalil Mack
16. Cody Parkey

Mack: Good players are hard to find in the NFL. Great players are even tougher. Elite players? Those guys rarely become available. So when the Oakland Raiders were willing to trade an elite player, Ryan Pace did what he had to do, surrendering two-first round picks and a boatload of cap space in the process. Mack immediately transformed the Bears’ defense from a good unit to a great one, with his mere presence scrambling opposing quarterbacks and coordinators. No player had a bigger impact on the Bears’ 12-4 season from not only a production standpoint, but from a mental one, too. Mack was worth every bit of draft capital and cap space the Bears parted with to acquire him in 2018. 

Parkey: Someone had to be sacrificed for Mack to move on to the next round. Before his double-doink and ill-advised “TODAY” appearance, Parkey missed 10 kicks in the regular season, including that comical four-miss game against the Lions in which he hit an upright four times. Parkey’s time in Chicago will not be remembered fondly, except perhaps for the time news choppers flew over Soldier Field to watch him practice in November. 

- By JJ Stankevitz

2.   Matt Nagy
15. Jordan Howard

Nagy: From the moment Nagy first addressed his team in early April of last year, his message resonated. It wasn’t just the offense quickly buying into him — it was the defense, too, appreciating his genuine personality and swagger. “Club Dub” became a massive hit, as did him yelling “Boom!” after wins later in the season. Innovative plays like “Willy Wonka” and “Santa’s Sleigh” became almost an expectation near the goal line. Not only did Nagy make the Bears good again, he made them fun, too. 

Howard: Howard’s going to lose this matchup, but let’s not forget that the 24-year-old is still a pretty good running back. He’s just not the right running back for Nagy’s offense. Howard is the only player in franchise history — the same franchise history that has Gale Sayers, Walter Payton and Matt Forte — to rush for over 1,000 yards in each of his first two seasons in the NFL. The Bears may hang on to Howard as a goal-line touchdown vulture/insurance policy, or they may trade him after drafting a running back in April. But for what it’s worth, Howard was the Bears’ leading rusher in 2018. Maybe that counts for something. 

- By JJ Stankevitz

3.   Akiem Hicks
14. Leonard Floyd
 

Akiem Hicks: Ryan Pace's biggest hit in free agency. Hicks is your #3 seed in a bracket that some might consider the favorite to come out of the region. While he might not have the flare of a Mack or a Nagy ahead of him, his hard nosed and nasty presence anchored arguably the NFL's top defense to the tune of 7.5 sacks, 41 tackles, and 3 forced fumbles. Freezer Left made him the most beloved Bears DL since the Fridge. 

Leonard Floyd: Floyd represents the bigger name school that drops to a lower seed, but one that can show flashes of competing with anyone. While Floyd hasn't exactly lived up to the #9 pick billing, he's had moments that make you think there's something special (2.0 sacks against the Packers to clinch the North, anyone?) and if March Madness is known for one thing, it's those types of special moments.

- By Matt Rooney

4.   Eddie Jackson
13. Danny Trevathan

Jackson: The undisputed breakout start of the 2018 Bears, Eddie Jackson is extremely the real deal. PFF had him as their top safety in football all year, and the NFL seemed to agree when he was named All-Pro. He has a knack for finding the end zone, and at one (late) point this last season had as many touchdowns as a BUNCH of Pro Bowl receivers. 8 interceptions, 3 touchdowns, and 94 solo tackles over 30 games is incredible, and Jackson’s set to be a staple of the Bears’ defense for years to come. And you think Landon Collins got paid … 

Trevathan: Almost the polar opposite of Jackson. Trevathan doesn’t pile up stats or make flashy plays, but the veteran’s presence on the Bears defense cannot be understated. A leader in the locker room and on the field, spend two minutes in Halas Hall and you’d get a great understand of just how much respect Trevathan, a Super Bowl champ on a team with not many, commands. With that said, Trevathan had a great 2018, putting up his 2nd-best season in terms of solo tackles and forced fumbles, so it’s not like like he’s some chump, either. 

- By Cam Ellis

5.    Mitch Trubisky
12.  Vic Fangio

Trubisky: Were there head-scratching moments for Trubisky in 2018? Of course. Does he need to be better in 2019? Definitely. But we saw the upside of just how good he can be in wins at Soldier Field over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Detroit Lions, and he showed an ability to dial back some of his more aggressive/ill-advised throws over the final few games of the season. Also, his running ability was a sneaky weapon for Matt Nagy’s offense (421 yards, 6.2 yards/attempt). Trubisky took command of the Bears in 2018, and going forward, they’ll go as far as he’ll take them. 

Fangio: The “evil genius,” as Khalil Mack called him, was the mastermind behind not only the NFL’s No. 1 defense in 2018, but a group that continued the Bears’ legacy of elite defenses. Yes, Fangio is now the coach of the Denver Broncos, but his scheme was mesmerizing to watch, especially with how he disguised coverages and sent calculated blitzes. Players were, understandably, sad to see him go, but he left Chicago as one of the best defensive minds to ever come through the franchise. 

- By JJ Stankevitz    

6.   Kyle Fuller
11. Trey Burton

Fuller: All Fuller did to prove he was worth the Bears matching Green Bay’s 4-year $56M offer in free agency last year was to tie for the NFL lead in interceptions (7) while leading the Bears ball-hawking defense. Crazy to think that at this time two years ago, it was looking like his future was all but assured to be in some place other than Chicago. He is more than capable of snatching a few wins from unsuspecting opponents…as long as he doesn’t let a sure game-winner slip thru his hands. 
 
Burton: Much like a mid-major darling who excels in the underdog role (early 2000s Gonzaga anyone?), Burton didn’t fare as well in his first go round as a household name with lofty expectations (yup, 2004-2013 Gonzaga). Trending like a bubble team that falls apart down the stretch, Burton still manages to back into the tournament but that’s where his Bears big dance off stops. He certainly had his moments & 6 touchdowns show what kind of a weapon he can be in Matt Nagy’s offense. But he was inconsistent and fluke injury or not, he disappeared when it mattered most.

- By Paul Aspan

7.   Tarik Cohen
10. Taylor Gabriel 

Tarik Cohen: The other half of Ryan Pace’s prized 2017 4th-round draft, Cohen was arguably the most valuable member of the Bears’ offense last season. Whether it was his 444 rushing yards, 725 receiving yards, or eight total touchdowns, Cohen improved across the board in his sophomore campaign. He also led the league in punt return yards, went to the Pro Bowl, and was named the NFL’s All-Pro punt returner. It’s not a coincidence that the Bears’ double-doink loss also saw Cohen only touch the ball four times. Right now, at least, Matt Nagy’s offense flows through him. 

Taylor Gabriel: After starting no more than four games during any season while with the Falcons, Gabriel came to Chicago and started 11. He set career highs in receptions, yards, and catch percentage. Though his production took a dip after a *huge* October, Gabriel emerged as a surprising deep threat, and his highlight catches against Miami, Tampa Bay, and Minnesota became must-watch TV. If Gabriel is still the Bears’ best deep option next season, something’s gone terribly wrong, but during an era when every team needs a reliable slot receiver, Gabriel fits the mold. 

- By Cam Ellis

8. Roquan Smith
9. Allen Robinson

Smith: There may have been a touch of disappointment among Bears fans when Bradley Chubb and Quenton Nelson didn’t fall to number eight in the 2018 NFL Draft. And while both had great rookie campaigns, their ultimate pick - Roquan Smith - had one of the best rookie seasons in Bears franchise history. No training camp? No problem. Despite waiting until mid-August to finally sign, Smith racked up a team-leading 121 tackles, falling just a few shy of Brian Urlacher’s rookie record. He only started 14 of the Bears’ 16 games, but Smith logged six games of 10+ tackles, ranked third on the team with 5.0 sacks, and picked off a pass too. 

Robinson: The main prize of Ryan Pace’s 2018 free agent class? Allen Robinson. Despite playing only 13 games due to some nagging injuries, Robinson still led the Bears in receiving yards and targets. His four touchdown output might be a bit disappointing, but considering the amount of trickery Matt Nagy deployed in the red zone last season, it’s not entirely surprising. Perhaps more important, Robinson was integral in the Bears comeback efforts against the Eagles in the playoffs with 10 catches, 143 yards and a score. He and Mitchell Trubisky could have a marriage that lasts a long time in Chicago.  

- By Slavko Bekovic

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How much better did the Bears' NFC North opponents get in the first round of the NFL Draft?

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USA Today

How much better did the Bears' NFC North opponents get in the first round of the NFL Draft?

The Bears collectively kicked their feet up Thursday night, watching the NFL Draft unfold with a few Khalil Mack highlight clips thrown in there to remind them why they didn’t have anything to do. 

The Bears’ competition in the NFC North, though, made four picks Thursday night, infusing significant talent into the division. A look at who Bears players on offense and defense will have to deal with twice a year starting in 2019:

Detroit Lions: TE T.J. Hockenson, Iowa (No. 8 overall pick)

Where he’s ranked: 6th (Dane Brugler/The Athletic), 12th (Danny Kelly/The Ringer), 13th (Josh Norris/Rotoworld), 21st (Pro Football Focus)

Why it makes sense: Hockenson is one of the best tight end prospects to be drafted in recent history. He’s a true combo in-line tight end, someone who can create mismatches against any defense with his ability to both block and catch. He’s regarded as a high-character player, too, someone who the Lions may believe can help change a deteriorating culture inside their locker room

Why it doesn’t: Hockenson is only the third tight end in the last 20 years to be dated with a top-10 pick, and the last one was…Eric Ebron, who flopped with the Lions after being the 10th overall pick in 2014. The big question for how this pick is viewed may not be how good Hockenson is, but how the guy drafted one pick after him — defensive tackle Ed Oliver — winds up being. 

Green Bay Packers: EDGE Rashan Gary, Michigan (No. 12), S Darnell Savage, Maryland (No. 21)

Where Gary ranks: No. 13 (Brugler), No. 13 (Kelly), No. 15 (Norris), No. 48 (PFF)

Where Savage ranks: No. 28 (PFF), No. 33 (Norris), No. 39 (Kelly), No. 58 (Brugler)

Why it makes sense: Gary and Savage inject loads of talent into a Green Bay defense that underwent a massive overhaul during free agency. Gary will join a pass rush featuring Za’Darius Smith, Preston Smith, Kenny Clark, Mike Daniels and Kyler Fackrell, giving defensive coordinator Mike Pettine excellent depth to pressure opposing quarterbacks. The super-athletic Gary has tremendous upside, even if his college production never matched former ranking as the nation’s No. 1 recruit. If the Packers can harness that raw talent, he could be a menace in the division for years to come. 

Savage, meanwhile, looks like a solid partner to pair with Adrian Amos in the back end of the Packers’ defense. He picked off four passes in 2018 and possesses the kind of traits — physicality, speed, ball skills — that teams desire in safeties. Perhaps the Packers see him as a version of Eddie Jackson, who paired well with Amos in 2017 and 2018 with the Bears. 

Why it doesn’t: A couple of instant reactions to the Gary pick didn’t paint it in a positive light:

Gary finished his three-year college career with only 9 1/2 sacks, two fewer than Bears 2018 sixth-round pick Kylie Fitts had in his three years at Utah. He also had a labrum injury pop up that could be of some concern. Further back: Gary, perhaps, could remind you of Alonzo Spellman — the Bears’ 22nd overall pick in 1992 who had nine sacks in three years at Ohio State and took a few years to get off the ground in Chicago (he had 32 sacks in six seasons with the Bears). 

There’s less to not like with Savage — he was a late riser and is a little undersized, but pairing him with Amos seems to make all the sense in the world on paper. 

Minnesota Vikings: C Garrett Bradbury, N.C. State (No. 18)

Where he ranks: No. 17 (Brugler), No. 18 (Norris), No. 23 (Kelly), No. 41 (PFF)

Why it makes sense: The Vikings desperately need offensive line help, and likely felt fortunate that there wasn’t a run on offensive linemen prior to their pick. Bradbury can immediately step in and improve the interior of Minnesota’s offensive line, keeping pressure out of Kirk Cousins’ face and opening holes for Dalvin Cook. His bi-annual battles against Eddie Goldman should be fun to watch. 

Why it doesn’t: A few analysts noted Bradbury being undersized and not having ideal length, though his athleticism and technique should overcome whatever those deficiencies may be. This feels like a smart pick by the Vikings. 

Briefly

— The Oakland Raiders were the only team to pick a running back in the first round, and used the pick the Bears sent them — No. 24 overall — to grab Alabama’s Josh Jacobs. 

— If you’re looking for a position that could see some talented players fall to the Bears’ No. 87 pick: Wide receiver and cornerback. Only Hollywood Brown (No. 23, Baltimore Ravens) and N'Keal Harry (No. 32, New England Patriots) went among receivers; the first cornerback didn't go off the board until the New York Giants traded back into the first round and picked Georgia's Deandre Baker 30th overall. If the Bears have a few players with high grades at either of those positions, there's a chance of those guys slipping deep into the third round and giving Ryan Pace an opportunity to take a clear-cut best player available.

Kyle Long "disappointed" that the Long family couldn't join the Bosa family as first round selections

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USA TODAY

Kyle Long "disappointed" that the Long family couldn't join the Bosa family as first round selections

When the Arizona Cardinals selected Ohio State DE Nick Bosa with the No. 2 overall pick, he helped his family make some incredible history.

Bosa became the 4th member of his family drafted in the 1st Round in Common Draft Era, with his brother Joey being the most recent draftee in 2016. The Bosa family will now be discussed in the same vein as the Manning and Gronkowski families, who each have had three or more members of their family play in the NFL.

The Bears have a connection to the great football families in the nation, as three-time Pro Bowler Kyle Long’s brother Chris is a member of the Philadelphia Eagles, and their father Howie is an NFL Hall of Famer. But nonetheless, looking at Bosa complete the string of 1st round selections for their family made Long take to Twitter to tell the world how he really felt about the accomplishment.

The humorous tweet from Long elicited some great responses.

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