Excitement for the Bears are 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
8. Roquan Smith
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.
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.
- Slavko Bekovic
2. Matt Nagy
7. Tarik Cohen
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.
- Cam Ellis
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.
- JJ Stankevitz
3. Akiem Hicks
6. Kyle Fuller
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.
- Matt Rooney
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.
- Paul Aspan
4. Eddie Jackson
5. Mitch Trubisky
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 …
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.
-JJ StankevitzClick here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Bears.