Eddie Jackson

Do the Bears have the NFL's next great secondary?

Do the Bears have the NFL's next great secondary?

When general manager Ryan Pace re-signed both Kyle Fuller and Prince Amukamara this offseason, he ensured that the entire starting secondary would return for another year. In fact, assuming he can lock up Adrian Amos on a long-term extension, the Bears' secondary could be intact for several more seasons.

All four starters enjoyed something of a breakout year in 2017. Fuller had by far his best season as a pro, one that was rewarded with a massive four-year, $56 million contract. Amukamara proved he's still a reliable starter with first-round pedigree and the duo of Amos and Eddie Jackson has fans excited about what could be a combination of elite young safeties. 

The Bears' secondary is so intriguing, in fact, that it was listed as a contender to become the NFL's next Legion of Boom, a moniker made famous by the dominant Seahawks secondaries during their Super Bowl run.

It took a little free-agency finagling, but the Bears managed to hold on to every key member of their underrated secondary from last season. Cornerback Kyle Fuller was the biggest get, signed to a four-year, $56 million extension, and the fifth-year pro will have the chance to show that his breakout performance in 2017 (two picks and 22 passes defensed) was no fluke. Opposite Fuller, reliable veteran Prince Amukamara comes back on a three-year, $27 million deal, and is flanked by promising slot corner Bryce Callahan, who signed a restricted free-agent tender to stay with the team.

Adrian Amos and Eddie Jackson look primed to emerge as one of the best young safety duos in the league. The Bears have the foundation for a top-tier unit—a group that finished 10th in DVOA without pressure last season—and they have a chance to prove they belong among the elite in 2018.

It's been a while since the Bears had a secondary with this much promise. Back in 2005, Chicago's starters included Charles Tillman, Nathan Vasher, Mike Brown and Chris Harris, a group that was productive in coverage and timely with turnovers. This season's core group may be even better.

15 Most Important Bears of 2018: No. 12 - Eddie Jackson

15 Most Important Bears of 2018: No. 12 - Eddie Jackson

If the Chicago Bears are going to have any chance of competing in the NFC North in 2018, they'll need extraordinary play from the secondary. 

One of the most important pieces in the defensive backfield is second-year safety Eddie Jackson, who after joining the Bears as a fourth-round pick in 2017, is on the cusp of league-wide recognition as one of the best at his position.

Jackson wasn't supposed to start as a rookie last year. He was coming off an injury-plagued final season at Alabama and was viewed as a classic day-three pick with upside. Then came training camp.

It quickly became apparent that Jackson was one of Chicago's most talented defenders and he earned an opening-day starting job. He turned in a phenomenal rookie year that ended with 16 starts, 70 tackles, two interceptions, three fumble recoveries and two defensive touchdowns. Jackson brought that missing playmaking element back to the secondary.

RELATED: 15 Most Important Bears of 2018: 15 - Taylor Gabriel, 14- Trey Burton, 13 - Danny Trevathan

Still, Jackson has room to improve in 2018. His 77.1 grade from Pro Football Focus ranked 53rd among safeties last season. He gave Bears fans their first taste of timely turnovers since Mike Brown's departure in 2008, but it wasn't a perfect year. Jackson has to take another step in his development for Chicago's defense to become, potentially, an elite unit.

Jackson is an even more important variable than Adrian Amos, who ranked as the second-best safety in the league last year by PFF. Amos is more of a thumper. He excels against the run. But the best defenses create turnovers, and that's where Jackson can be truly special. He's a legitimate center fielder with great range and the physical makeup (length) needed to become a perennial Pro Bowler. 

If Jackson becomes that guy for the Bears in 2018, the sky's the limit for Vic Fangio's defense.

Bears safety Eddie Jackson compares Mitch Trubisky to Drew Brees

Bears safety Eddie Jackson compares Mitch Trubisky to Drew Brees

One of the surprise standouts from last season's rookie class was safety Eddie Jackson, who quickly ascended to a starting role in training camp and became the kind of playmaker the secondary has been lacking for several years. Now entering his second season, Jackson is expected to make a jump from pleasant surprise to one of the NFL's best young safeties. 

Despite Jackson's high level of play in 2017, his draft class will always be defined by the success of quarterback Mitch Trubisky. The Bears will only go as far as the former North Carolina Tar Heel takes them, and if Jackson's player comp for Trubisky is correct, a lot of wins are coming to Chicago.

In a recent appearance on SiriusXM's NFL Radio, Jackson said Trubisky reminds him of a surefire Hall-of-Famer.

"One person I think I could compare him to is Drew Brees," Jackson said. "He has that chip on his shoulder. He wants to win."

High praise indeed.

Brees is one of the NFL's all-time greatest quarterbacks. He's thrown for 70,445 yards and 488 touchdowns through his 17 years as a pro and is best known for his pinpoint accuracy and incredible leadership skills. He led the Saints to a win over the Colts in Super Bowl XLIV, earning MVP honors completing 32 of 39 passes for 288 yards and two touchdowns.

Trubisky has a long way to go before he can be in the same category as Brees and the NFL's best starting quarterbacks, but the Bears front office has done everything in its power to set him up for a big 2018 season. He's expected to have a huge jump in production, but he still could be a season or two away from hitting his long-term stride. Brees, for example, didn't throw for more than 4,000 yards in a season until his sixth year in the league (first with the Saints). He has four seasons over 5,000 yards since that time.

Trubisky threw for 2,193 yards, seven touchdowns and seven interceptions in 12 starts, numbers that if spread across 16 games would've equated to 2,924 yards and nine touchdowns. 

With coach Matt Nagy calling plays and receivers like Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Anthony Miller and tight end Trey Burton in his arsenal, Trubisky has a chance to reach the 4,000-yard mark faster than Brees and rewrite the single-season Bears passing records as soon as this year.