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Elevating Their Game

A group of 10 Bears elevated their games in 2021 despite a 6-11 record, and in some cases it led to league-wide honors.

A 6-11 record failed to mask the individual improvement shown by 10 Chicago Bears in particular over their 2020 performances.

In some cases, the improvement marked the first time climbing a ladder after they hadn't been used much in the past. With others, they simply proved you're never too old to improve.

Others had injuries they bounced back from and did it in a big and timely way.

There are ascending players for the new coach and GM to build with, whoever those two will be.

Here are the 10 most improved Bears from 2020 to 2021.

1. OLB Robert Quinn

Quinn not only improved but did it when they needed it most, as Khalil Mack went out for the year after Week 6 due to a foot injury. Quinn went from two sacks to 18 1/2. He had 49 tackles, 29 more than last year. He made no tackles for loss in 2020 but had 17 in 2021. His quarterback hits increased from six to 22 and his QB pressures from 16 to 34. Quinn also had one more forced fumble with four and set the team record with his 18 1/2 sacks while making second-team All-Pro and making a good case for Comeback Player of the Year.

2. WR Darnell Mooney

He stepped into the No. 1 receiver role with Allen Robinson suffering through a down season, and went from 98 targets to 140, with 81 receptions after 61 as a rookie. Mooney wanted bigger gains and did it with 1,055 yards after 631 last year, for a 13.0-yard average after he had averaged 10.3 last year. He had the same four touchdown catches, increased his first down receptions from 33 to 49 and scored a rushing touchdown.

3. TE Cole Kmet

His numbers increased but he needs a bigger impact. Kmet went from 28 catches on 44 targets as a rookie to 60 catches on xx targets this season. His yardage increased from 243 to 612 and his yards per catch climbed from 8.7 to 10.2, while he had 29 first-down catches after just 12 as a rookie. What Kmet didn't do was catch a TD pass after making two as a rookie.

4. OLB Trevis Gipson

Went from a scout team player who was a healthy scratch nine times last year with five tackles and three QB hits, to making seven sacks, seven QB hits, 39 tackles and seven for loss largely due to nine starts made after Mack's season-ending injury. He actually started this season as a healthy scratch, too, but rebounded big time.

5. RG James Daniels

In a contract year, Daniels stepped up to play a full season after missing 11 games last year due to a torn pectoral muscle. Pro Football Focus ranked him the league's 18th best overall guard and the 18th best run blocker, with grades of 71.8 overall and 72.4 as a run blocker.

6. RCB Jaylon Johnson

His numbers didn't show a huge boost from Year 1 to Year 2 but there was a good reason. He was good enough that the Bears let him cover the best opposing receiver all over the field this season after he manned his own right cornerback spot all of lsat year. Johnson's tackle total of 44 was down two from last year and his nine pass defenses after 15 as a rookie reflected defenses trying to stay away. He made his first career interception while lowering his passer rating against when targeted to 101.9 from 107.5.

7. LT Jason Peters

Improve at age 39? He was better at 39 and healthy most of the year unlike when he was 38 and played in Philadelphia. Peters allowed six sacks a year after he gave up eight for the Eagles. He had a 77.9 overall and pass-blocking grade according to PFF, making him the 20th-ranked tackle in the league. A year ago he had a 67.6 overall grade and 66.1 pass-blocking mark.

8. ILB Alec Ogletree

It's hard not to be better when you start almost the entire season after being cut following two games played in 2020 with the Jets. Ogletree made slightly more tackles than when he played in 2019 for the Giants, with 87, and had one more tackle for loss (5) than in 2019. While Ogletree was obviously better by holding a starting spot almost all year after being cut in 2020, he was ranked 88th out of 89 linebackers graded in the league by PFF.

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9. S Deon Bush

A sub who enjoyed good numbers in a relief role, despite giving up occasional big plays. Bush had career highs of two interceptions and 40 tackles stepping in when Eddie Jackson and Tashaun Gipson missed games. His passer rating against was an outstanding 36.0 and he allowed 39.1% completions while playing about a quarter of the starting snaps this year.

10. S DeAndre Houston-Carson

He made a career-high 51 tackles and had ridiculously high PFF grades, although his total plays were less than a quarter of the defensive snaps. He also had a touchdown return on a fumble while playing special teams, his major role with the team.

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