When the 2019 season began, inside linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski wouldn't have been one of the first defensive players mentioned when discussing this Bears team. In fact, he might not have been mentioned at all.

But following another standout effort in Week 13's win over the Detroit Lions, Kwiatkoski has emerged as a critical piece to the future of the Bears' defense while filling in for an injured Danny Trevathan, who happens to have an expiring contract at year's end.

Kwiatkoski's rookie deal is up after 2019, too. General manager Ryan Pace will be forced to choose between the them this offseason; there's little-to-no chance the Bears can re-sign both.

Kwiatkoski's resume of impressive performances added another page on Thanksgiving Day when he finished tied for the Bears' highest-graded defender, per Pro Football Focus. His 78.6 was the same score as cornerback Kyle Fuller and was better than Bears stars Eddie Jackson and Khalil Mack. He ended the game with seven tackles and a near-interception and was seemingly all over the field. It was the second time in four weeks that Kwiatkoski was Chicago's best. In Week 10, also against the Lions, he registered PFF's highest grade of any linebacker in the NFL.

Kwiatkoski's recorded 35 tackles, two sacks and an interception in 12 games (four starts) in 2019.

The combination of Kwiatkoski and Roquan Smith (who finished the Lions game with 15 tackles and two sacks) has become an encouraging development in an otherwise frustrating season. Now it's up to Pace to make sure he keeps the pair together for the prime seasons of their careers.

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