Some Bears Are More Indispensable

Several Chicago Bears rate higher than others based on ability, and when the backup help behind them is insufficient then their value can skyrocket.
Author:
Publish date:

Losing a certain player or two might mean looking ahead to the next season for some teams.

The Green Bay Packers are a prime example. If Aaron Rodgers fails to show for training camp, the rest of the team will carry on but their offense will be set back. All reports from minicamp and OTAs without Rodgers point to Jordan Love struggling, and a running game and defense can only carry a team so far. The Packers did have a top-10 defense last year but their coordinator is now on the Bears staff. 

In some cases, players become less valuable or more valuable due not only to their own talent but because of who else is on the team to take their place. 

For instance, the Bears have a couple very valuable guards in Cody Whitehair and James Daniels, but there are so many other capable guards or centers on the roster now that it's impossible to certify any starter at the three interior offensive line positions as indispensable.

The Bears have invaluable players, like any team. They would have a great deal of difficulty trying to compensate for the loss of several players.

Here are the top 10 most indispensable Bears heading into 2021. 

10. Cairo Santos

What, the kicker?

Duh. Think back to 2018. It wasn't that long ago. Santos was spot-on last year, a franchise record setter as a kicker and this wasn't easy to do considering he broking records held by the gold standard for Bears kicking, Robbie Gould. 

They have a kicker on the camp roster from Virginia Tech who made three-quarters of his collegiate kicks, Brian Johnson. There's quite a difference between a kicker with the franchise record for accuracy in a season and also most consecutive field goals all the way down to someone who hasn't kicked in the NFL. Most likely, if Santos had some sort of injury issue the Bears would be scanning the waiver wire.

9. Eddie Goldman

The Bears saw what happens each of the last two seasons with their run defense when they're missing Goldman or Akiem Hicks. They go from impossible to run against to slightly above average defending the run if one of those two is gone. There seems to be a debate now whether Goldman might take the opt-out option again, although this seems very unlikely considering how little he could make compared to what he could make by playing. Besides, who wants to sit out two straight years in the prime of your career?

8. Akiem Hicks

Think of Goldman's value against the run but add the interior power pass rush Hicks provides. The Bears have no one with the combined ability to cave the pocket and the line of scrimmage like Hicks, other than linebacker Khalil Mack. Bilal Nichols made a statement about his future over the final five games last season. He didn't make a statement as loud as the one Hicks makes every week. 

7. Roquan Smith

Finally, recognition is coming Smith's way as he closes in on his fourth season. Pro Football Focus has recognized his talents. The Bears saw in the playoffs what they are without him on defense. Even though they've improved their depth, Austin Calitro, Christian Jones, Joel Iyiegbuniwe and Josh Woods can come close to adequately filling in for Smith. His next step is convincing the rest of the league of his value. The team found out how valuable he is last year when only Iyiegbuniwe, Woods and Manti Te'o were the backups.

6. Teven Jenkins

Jenkins hasn't proven he can even play left tackle in the NFL yet, and some would argue he never really proven he mastered it in college. So this immediately puts him in a pressure position. He becomes indispensable because they basically have no one else who can play the position. Elijah Wilkinson hasn't been an NFL left tackle, but he's the backup. The other options are undrafted players or seventh-rounders who haven't displayed the skill yet to show they even belong on a 53-man roster, let alone be someone responsible for protecting the blind side of Andy Dalton or Justin Fields. Jenkins is one very indispensable rookie, but not the most indispensable.

5. Jaylon Johnson

The Bears secondary once commanded respect but is now a patchwork group. The minute Kyle Fuller left, Johnson became their cornerback leader, the one expected to be the lockdown guy. From unproven Duke Shelley, Kindle Vildor and Thomas Graham Jr. to fading, injury prone Desmond Trufant, there are questions in the secondary. In Johnson's second year, he must begin to make plays on the ball at a better rate than in his rookie season. If he's not doing it, no one will.

4. Justin Fields

This is the future of the Bears. As soon as he actually is granted playing time, Fields vaults to No. 2 most indispensable Bears player if not No. 1. Neither Dalton nor Nick Foles rate spots in the top 10 because Fields is available as the franchise's future. The second he is in, the veteran QBs will have the value of yesterday's newspaper, or any other newspaper these days. 

There are no limits to value on the future.

3. David Montgomery

Montgomery already does so much for the team and hasn't really scratched the surface. Even with a capable backup in Damien Williams now, Montgomery's value remains high and is increasing. His ability to break 29 tackles and finish behind only Derrick Henry and Dalvin Cook at doing this, while running behind a Bears line that didn't even really measure up until the final five weeks, indicates how much more he can do as a ball carrier. His jump from 25 to 54 receptions last year indicates his potential in the passing game. The only thing holding Montgomery back now from being one of the league's best all-around threats is Matt Nagy's consistent reluctance to rely on his running game for anything.

2. Allen Robinson II

According to Next Gen Stats, the Bears were among the worst teams in the NFL at receiver route separation over the last two years. It was possibly a tribute to Mitchell Trubisky's poor play and Nagy's questionable play calling and design. Even with all of this, Robinson has stood out by being the best at contested catches. The Bears have no one capable of coming close to accomplishing numbers like Robinson as an overall receiver and a key third-down target. Apparently Robinson's agent, Brandon Parker, made contract demands the Bears couldn't accept, leading to the franchise tag. Parker should ask for even more now because Robinson is worth it to this offense until the receivers start to gain more separation.

1. Khalil Mack

With Robert Quinn a non-factor, there is only Mack as an edge rusher. Pro Football Focus calls him one of the top six players overall in the NFL. The Bears are stepping far down to replace him with even a capable sub like Jeremiah Attaochu. Mack makes the entire defense work, creating pressure on quarterbacks to help the secondary and inside linebackers in pass coverage in addition to putting on pass rush heat. Without his pressure, a secondary now missing Fuller becomes all the more susceptible to all passers. The defense then caves in and without a defense, is the Bears offense capable of supporting the team? Even if Fields plays and excels in his rookie year, he won't be capable of carrying the entire team. Everything in this season hinges on Mack being available and dominant.

Twitter: BearDigest@BearsOnMaven