The Bears Holding Greater Residual Impact Than Others
Last week's NFL Next Gen stat revelation about the impact of losing Akiem Hicks on Khalil Mack, and accompanying statistics from this website, combined to show big overlap is in this league between players at their positions.
Losing Hicks didn't merely cause Mack's stats to drop, it also helped lead to a decline in secondary production. Less pressure on opposing quarterbacks meant a chance to double- or triple-team Mack and even less pressure all around, which gave opposing quarterbacks time to throw.
The Bears have several other players whose loss could trigger a similar chain of events, although not quite to the same degree.
Here is the list in order of those with residual effects:
1. Cornerback Kyle Fuller
Remove the two-time Pro Bowl cornerback and former All-Pro and the Bears are left with a rookie at one cornerback in Jaylon Johnson and either an undrafted free agent with Kevin Toliver or a former starter elsewhere in Artie Burns, playing for Fuller. Burns has experience but doesn't know the defense as well and has failed once already in Pittsburgh.
Losing a starting cornerback in the league is always difficult enough, but losing one of the top 10 cornerbacks in the league when the drop afterward is huge can be devastating. Even a strong pass rush can't always make up for losing a cornerback.
2. Outside Linebacker Khalil Mack
They saw in 2018 what Mack's absence or a slowed-down version was, and last year saw what he looked like when trying to fight through double- and triple-teams without Hicks. Without Mack on one side they're left without the pass rush force who helps bind their defense, whether on the front or the second. His pressure helps force incompletions and interceptions. The alternative without Mack is either Barkevious Mingo, who has 10 sacks in a seven-year career, or fifth-round rookie Trevis Gipson. There's also Isaiah Irving and James Vaughters but they've had opportunities to show their abilities in the past and the team drafted Gipson. None of these options can provide anything close to the all-around force Mack exerts on an offensive line.
3. Safety Eddie Jackson
Until the Bears signed Tashaun Gipson, Jackson might have ranked higher than Fuller even because the role he has backs up the entire defense. It's like replacing the hockey goalie. Having an experienced hand like Gipson available—even if he doesn't know the defense—diminishes this impact greatly.
Also, Jackson's replacement would be Deon Bush, who has sufficient experience within this system to be a backup.
4. Center/Guard Cody Whitehair
Imagine the Bears on the offensive line without Whitehair at center, or even guard. However, it's center where he'd be most valuable at the moment.
James Daniels really needs to prove himself this year. The other side of Whitehair is Germain Ifedi—who hasn't played the position in three years and never has played in this offense—or Rashaad Coward. Until last year Coward hadn't even played offense in an NFL game.
This is a serious binding force on the line. They have others who can play center, but no one with the experience and consistency of Whitehair and no one who can help keep the others on the line operating at peak efficiency.