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The five young Bears who make me most excited for 2018

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A look at the most exciting young Bears talent of 2017 who are going to make 2018 a lot of fun — and the return of The Zeglinski Face.

Detroit Lions v Chicago Bears Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The GIF that kept on giving barely gave at all. We called it The Zeglinski Face, and it signified a fan’s excitement for an emerging talent — a reaction to both a play in the present and the projection of thrills to come.

The original Zeglinski Face was born in August, when our own Robert Zeglinski gushed on CLTV SportsFeed about Leonard Floyd.

That screencap caught Rob in the midst of nodding enthusiastically about Floyd; WCG reader Whiskey Ranger turned that video into a GIF, and just like that, my would-be go-to Bears GIF of 2017 was born.

My plan was to use it for every Floyd sack. Since he had seven in 2016 and seemed poised for a breakout, I thought I would be using it nearly ever week.

Instead, Floyd didn’t get his first sack until Week 4:

Floyd then went on a small tear, bagging 5.5 sacks from Week 4 to Week 9, which turned out to be his only sacks of the season. He was lost for the year with a knee injury against the Lions, a game that I watched with other WCGers, including Rob.

Because Floyd was having a slow season, and because I was so enamored of the Zeglinski Face GIF, I created excuses to use it in Bears-related situations, such as the WCG midseason MVP vote or my argument with Rob about whether Trestman or Fox was a worse Bears head coach, and even just Rob-related situations, whether they were Bears-related or not.

And yet, several members of the Bears were regularly making plays that triggered their own Zeglinski Faces. After all, my definition of the Zeglinski Face applies to several members of the 2017 Bears:

These have to be young Bears on the brink of a breakout season, or on the brink of an even bigger season, and someone who come to the team via the draft or as undrafted free agents, or as unheralded free agents. (Think Devin Aromashodu.)

If you’re rocking a Zeglinski Face, no season can ever truly be considered a waste. And while Leonard Floyd’s mini-run got me amped up, and I still believe in Cody Whitehair, there were five guys who triggered my Z.F. in 2017 more than anyone else.

Here they are, with a look at why they’ve got me excited for 2018.

5. Adam Shaheen

Chicago Bears v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

For a while there — specifically, for the first seven weeks of the season — Adam Shaheen had only one target to his name.

Which yielded one catch.

And one touchdown.

He saw another pass in Week 8, which was incomplete, and entered the bye week with only two targets, one catch, and a touchdown, putting him 2nd on the team in touchdown receptions behind Zach Miller’s two.

We spent a lot of time during the first half of the season wondering why Shaheen wasn’t playing, especially when it seemed that his physical attributes created much needed mismatches for a team with... ahem... limitations in the receiving corps. I appreciated at least that he was contributing as a run blocker — most significantly, he sealed the left edge on Jordan Howard’s game-winning touchdown against Pittsburgh.

Fortunately, we’ve seen a lot more of Shaheen since the bye week. Unfortunately, part of the reason for that is Miller’s injury, so we never truly got to see Shaheen and Miller in action together. Regardless, the rookie from Ashland University has had a productive 2nd half of the season: 11 catches on 12 targets, for another two touchdowns.

He is the team’s leader in receiving touchdowns with three ahead of Miller’s two* (*damn this call), and looks poised to assume the starting spot in 2018.

4. Eddie Jackson

Carolina Panthers v Chicago Bears Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

My wife and I were driving home from out-of-state when Eddie Jackson struck gold. Twice.

We missed the first one. After filling up the car and getting on the road, we flipped on the noon Bears game at what felt like 12:15 at the latest, with the Bears already up 7-0. Jeff Joniak quickly provided the update, saying that Jackson had scooped up a Panthers fumble and returned it 75 yards for a touchdown.

“Alright!” I shouted. “Fast Eddie with the play!”

Not too long after, Prince Amukamara tipped a pass high into the air, and a streaking Jackson plucked it and ran 76 yards for a touchdown.

“WHOA!” I shouted behind the wheel. “Jackson again?”

I then gave my wife a quick tutorial on Pro Football Reference’s play finder tool while I drive so that she could tell us if any other Bear had scored multiple defensive touchdowns in a game, as I could not think of any.

The answer was yes: Fred Evans in 1948.

Jackson, however, was the first player in NFL history with multiple 75-yard defensive touchdowns in a game. In all, he’s amassed two interceptions, three recovered fumbles, one forced fumble, two defensive touchdowns, and 62 tackles per the NFL. He is the first rookie with 55 tackles, two picks, and three recovered fumbles since Luke Kuechly’s DPOY campaign of 2012.

He is also the first Bears defender of any year with at least two picks, two recovered fumbles, a pick-six and a fumble return touchdown since Wilber Marshall in 1986. (h/t Sam.)

In other news, there seems to be some confusion on Eddie Jackson’s age. He was born December 10, but ChicagoBears.com and Wikipedia say he was born in 1993, making him 24, while NFL.com, ESPN, and Pro Football Reference say he was born in 1992, making him 25. He graduated high school in 2013, so if he was born in 1992, he would have graduated at 20.

If he was born in 1993, he would have graduated at 19. That seems more likely, and considering that Bears reporter Larry Mayer wished Jackson a “happy 24th birthday” after the Bengals game and Jackson didn’t correct him, I’m going to say that he is indeed 24. Hooray!

3. Tarik Cohen

San Francisco 49ers v Chicago Bears Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

If this were simply a list of the most exciting Bears, there is no question that Tarik Cohen would be number one. Because on a play-for-play take-your-breath-away start-tweeting-right-now call-everyone-you-know basis, no Bear made us collectively double-take and thank the heavens this year than the Human Joystick.

He balled out opening week, and then caught national attention with his soooooo close walk-off touchdown against the Steelers:

That was the first of three plays that turned Cohen into a folk hero. The second was his touchdown pass to Zach Miller, leading to the world learning about Wee Willie Smith, who before Cohen was the last NFL player 5’6 or shorter to throw a touchdown pass, which he did in 1934.

Lastly, there was his 61-yard punt return for a touchdown against the 49ers, where he fielded the punt at the 41, back tracked to the 24, and then hit the gas.

That punt return made Cohen the first Bear and the first NFL rookie since Gale Sayers in 1965 to compile touchdowns on a run, catch, pass, and punt return in a season.

What’s wild is that we didn’t even include the touchdown represented in the photo at the top of this article: a game-tying 15-yard rush and jump against the Lions. Cohen’s year was so big that he changed his twitter from the cool but relatively mysterious @_Twenty8_ to the brand-friendly @TarikCohen.

His year took another leap forward when he was named a Pro Bowl alternate as a returner, the fifth Bear return man named to the Pro Bowl since 1993. I can’t put him atop our next two Bears, if only because his role is not nearly as defined, but he gives us a dimension we haven’t had since Devin Hester’s departure in 2013.

1b. Mitch Trubisky

Chicago Bears v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

We’re replacing #2 with #1b and #1a, because the top two people on this list each have a claim to the number one spot as Guy I’m Most Excited for in 2018. Based on overall production in 2017, the guy I’m most excited for in 2018 is our number one. (Don’t peek!)

Based on the importance of the position, and hence the significance of each play made, it’s our number two man: Money Mitch Trubisky.

I’m putting Mitch at 1b. for three reasons. First, he is still developing, moreso than our current 1a, meaning he could still end up being less valuable overall than our 1a. (Although frankly, considering their respective positions, this seems impossible.)

Second, a coaching change will have a greater effect on him than our 1a, meaning their is more mystery around Trubisky’s 2018 than our 1a’s 2018. (Have you guessed yet who 1a is, by the way? Tweet me @readjack if you’ve figured it out. I bet you have.)

Lastly, because of those first two factors, my vision of what he will look like in 2018 is less defined than that of my 1a.

All that said, Trubisky is obviously the most important Bear of anyone on this list, and the guy whose 2017 we knew coming in would set the stage for 2018. And in the eyes of this journalist, analyst, and Bears fan, Mitch delivered. The measurables were there — great arm, and great legs — as was the production and the intangibles. The players do more than respect him. They seem to love him and fight for him.

He had a ton of great highlights throughout the year, (including the coolest two-point conversion many of us had ever seen), and the mic’d up clip of him last week against Cleveland showed a mix of both what he does on the field and how his teammates respond to him off of it. But the play I will think of happily as I imagine our beloved Bears in 2018 is the money throw Mitch made in overtime against the Ravens, to help set up a game-winning field goal for his first career win.

This was on 3rd and 11 from the Ravens 41, not yet in field goal range. With Baltimore blitzing, Mitch never had an opportunity to set himself. That’s what made it so memorable. The poise in the pocket, the footwork, the quick decision, the snap of the ball on the pass while in midair — and the trust he had in receiver Kendall Wright to go up in traffic and come down with the pass.

That was his play of the year and he crushed it.

As for the great mystery of our 1a...

1a. Jordan Howard

Pittsburgh Steelers v Chicago Bears Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

You did it! You guessed Jordan Howard!

Along with the reasons I gave in the Trubisky section, my excitement for Howard for 2018 is that his 2017 showed that his 2016 was no fluke. This isn’t me being such a stereotypical Bears fan that I’ll value a running back over a quarterback. Not here I don’t — not in 2017.

Rather, I am putting Howard first because his success in 2017 tells me that he will be a key piece of the Bears offense in the years to come, and that his talent and consistency will help Trubisky grow into something special. When I think of how they can build together, I think of one of my favorite QB-RB tandems ever: Steve McNair and Eddie George. Let’s not go overboard with the comparison — I know, I know, they never won a Super Bowl. But they were champions in heart and spirit who played with an unbending will to win.

Howard has set marks for rushing excellence unmatched in Bears history, and needs 87 yards and one touchdown to join Walter Payton and Neal Anderson as the only Bears with 1,200 yards rushing and 10 rushing touchdowns in a season.

But it’s not the numbers that get me pumped for watching Howard in 2018. It’s the intangibles, like his leadership, toughness, and sense of the moment. Indeed, my favorite Jordan Howard play of 2017 is also my favorite Bears play of 2017: his walk-off touchdown against the Steelers.

The run came one play after Cohen’s would-be winner, with Howard scoring while battling an injured right shoulder. He took the handoff to the right, made his cut back left, and outran everyone to the endzone for the win.

When he scored, he turned to celebrate with his teammates, dealing out big high-fives and shouting “Let’s f****** go!” The Bears walked out of Soldier Field that day with their first win of the year. And I turned off the TV smiling, thinking about the future.

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Jack M Silverstein is WCG’s Bears historian, and author of “How The GOAT Was Built: 6 Life Lessons From the 1996 Chicago Bulls.” Say hey at @readjack.

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Poll

Which young Bear did you enjoy watching most in 2017?

This poll is closed

  • 37%
    Tarik Cohen
    (320 votes)
  • 1%
    Leonard Floyd
    (17 votes)
  • 12%
    Jordan Howard
    (107 votes)
  • 9%
    Eddie Jackson
    (78 votes)
  • 0%
    Adam Shaheen
    (6 votes)
  • 35%
    Mitch Trubisky
    (304 votes)
  • 1%
    Cody Whitehair
    (11 votes)
  • 0%
    Other
    (8 votes)
851 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Which young Bear are you most excited to watch in 2018?

This poll is closed

  • 5%
    Tarik Cohen
    (35 votes)
  • 3%
    Leonard Floyd
    (25 votes)
  • 2%
    Jordan Howard
    (15 votes)
  • 2%
    Eddie Jackson
    (18 votes)
  • 3%
    Adam Shaheen
    (23 votes)
  • 75%
    Mitch Trubisky
    (489 votes)
  • 0%
    Cody Whitehair
    (4 votes)
  • 4%
    Whoever we draft in 2018
    (30 votes)
  • 0%
    Other
    (5 votes)
644 votes total Vote Now