Players Who Made the Difference for Bears in 2020

Most valuable, most improved and the other players who stood out for bad or worse in an 8-8 Bears playoff season.
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The Pro Bowl honors top players in each conference, and snubs Bears like Allen Robinson and Roquan Smith.

The AP does the same with All-Pro status.

The Bears have found it difficult to gain positive recognition from anyone in a second straight 8-8 regular season and second playoff berth in three years.

There were difference makers on their team, though, and here are those who defined their 2020 season. 

Surprise Player of the Year

1a) Sam Mustipher: A practice squad player last year and into this season, he was promoted to the 53-man roster in desperation and now players talk of him the way they speak of veteran leaders. As an undrafted player, he's a total success story. Offensive line coach Juan Castillo speaks of him as a long-term answer at center, which would free up James Daniels and Cody Whitehair to focus on guard spots.

1b) Darnell Mooney: A fifth-round draft pick, the Bears thought they knew what they had but he far exceeded this by setting a franchise rookie record for number of receptions (61) by a wide receiver. The only disappointing part of his season has been they haven't managed to get him open deep despite his great speed, and also he was unavailable for the playoffs due to injury.

Most Disappointing Player

1a) Robert Quinn: When you pay $70 million over five years for a pass rusher, including $33 million guaranteed, it's safe to say more is expected than the two sacks and six quarterback hits Quinn had. The goal was to have a force off the other edge who would occupy blockers to free up more one-on-ones for Khalil Mack. Even this aspect of signing Quinn didn't work as Mack had only half a sack more. The impact across the line should have been felt but the interior pass rush from Akiem Hicks produced less this season, as well—just 3 1/2 sacks and none over the final 14 games including the playoffs.

1b) Nick Foles: After all the talk about how he knew this offense like the back of his hand, he didn't even know it well enough to avoid wearing a wristband with the plays on it. Foles produced their victory of the year, 20-19 over Tom Brady and Tampa Bay. However, the Bears couldn't move the ball against the Minnesota Vikings in a key game at Soldier Field with Foles at quarterback and he had 106 yards passing against a defense ranked 25th against the pass this season.

Comeback Player of the Year

Jimmy Graham: He was done, the Packers fans said on Twitter. The Bears and Ryan Pace were dumb with this move. Instead, he caught nine touchdown passes, eight in the regular season. The eight TD catches were three more than he had in his two Packer seasons combined. He had 12 more receptions (50) than in 2019, as well, and did it for a team using two struggling quarterbacks and not Aaron Rodgers. He also had a real positive impact on the development of rookie tight end Cole Kmet as a mentor.

Most Improved Player

1a) David Montgomery: A year after a mixed rookie debut with 889 yards, six touchdowns, 3.6 yards an attempt and 25 receptions, Montgomery put up 1,070 yards, a 4.3-yard average with eight touchdowns and 54 receptions for 438 yards. Montgomery easily was the chief reason their offense did enough after the loss to Green Bay to get the Bears to the playoffs.

1b) Roquan Smith: He struggled early against the run and really didn't draw attention until about six games into the season, so it wasn't a total triumph. But by the time Smith reached the halfway point it was evident he'd arrived. Leading all NFL linebackers in tackles for loss and finishing second in solo tackles was one aspect of it, but his strength was in pass coverage.

Most Missed Player

1a) Eddie Goldman: When he opted out due to COVID-19, it had a tremendous impact on the defense. They dropped from ninth to 15th overall against the run, and two years ago when they had both Goldman and a healthy Akiem Hicks they were first against the run. The holes in their run defense then made it more difficult to both pass rush and then defend the pass. It's a major reason why they dropped out of the top 10 in defense overall for the first time since 2016.

1b) Tarik Cohen. When Cohen suffered a torn ACL making a fair catch (how was there no penalty???) against Atlanta in Week 3, the Bears lost the speed threat in their backfield for third downs or passing situations. When they faced a situation like third-and-2 in Sunday's playoff game, and lined up in a shotgun, they had a much better chance of getting a first down with Cohen carrying the ball because one step inside froze everyone, then a run to the edge would almost always be a guaranteed 2 yards. They lost a player who had more yards after the catch the previous three years than anyone on the team. In short, it was a crippling blow.

Clutch Player of the Year

Cairo Santos: Their practice squad kicking acquisition never let them down the entire season on bigger kicks. He made the field goal against the Saints to force overtime in a loss, made huge field goals against the Vikings and Jacksonville in their late three-game winning streak and against Tampa Bay in a one-point win. What a contrast over last year when Eddy Pineiro was almost a coin flip on a big kick and over 2018 when Cody Parkey was even money to hit the upright.

MVP

Allen Robinson: His statistics only tell part of the story, but they told enough of the story. His 67% on passes thrown his way was the highest of his career, as were the 102 catches. He had 68 first-down receptions, and saved the offense time and time again with contested catches. Robinson's work ethic and attitude had shown a group of younger receivers how to get the job done, until they decided to start throwing punches against New Orleans. The question before the Bears is whether Robinson does enough to pay him the kind of money he's asking, or whether they'd be better off spending the money on a quarterback and bringing in a young receiver in the draft.

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