Nick Kwiatkoski was a fourth-round pick for the Bears in 2016. At the time the pick was made, many fans were wondering why Ryan Pace would draft an inside linebacker after signing Jerrell Freeman and Danny Trevathan in free agency.
It turned out to be a fortuitous selection, as Trevathan’s injury has opened the door for Kwiatkoski to receive more playing time. As you would expect from any rookie, 2016 was an up-and-down season for Kwiatkoski.
After being thrust into action, he started the final seven games of the season. The stat line was rather pedestrian with 42 tackles, 1 sack, 2 passes defended and a forced fumble. But numbers usually don’t tell the full story.
The eye-test tells me that he was a little lost at times but the more experience he got, the better he played. While not perfect, the inside linebacker filled in admirably and you could see the abilities that warranted a trade-up on draft day.
Kwiatkoski is an instinctual player, who relies on his ability to anticipate, read and diagnose plays as opposed to the uber-athletic player that can get by on read-react skills alone.
My guess is that Kwiatkoski will always be a better run defender than he is in coverage. Because of this, he is a more natural MIKE linebacker and looks to be the heir-apparent to the spot currently occupied by Jerrell Freeman. Unfortunately, the circumstances are forcing him to play the JACK linebacker, which requires more coverage and, in turn, athletic ability than the MIKE.
Given that it does not appear that Danny Trevathan will be ready to start the season healthy, it would appear that Kwiatkoski is the front-runner for the starting JACK linebacker spot come opening day.
Experience: 2nd-year pro
Weight: 242 pounds
Contract and salary cap:
According to Spotrac, Kwiatkoski is still on his rookie deal, which pays him a base salary of $540,000 with a full guaranteed signing bonus of $143,780 for 2017.
Reason for improvement in 2017
It is often said that a player makes their biggest jump from year one to year two. This fact alone is reason for optimism. Kwiatkoski showed some flashes as a rookie in a new scheme, against NFL competition and having been thrust into action unexpectedly. With a full off-season with the team and with the extra reps in practice, I expect to see Kwiatkoski have the game slow down and for him make more “splash” plays in his second year.
Reason for regression in 2017
There is not much reason to think that he won’t progress going into his second season. It is possible that his relative lack of athleticism catches up with him as teams start to game-plan to beat him in the passing game. However, I don’t expect to see this happen.
Final roster odds
I don’t foresee a way in which Nick Kwiatkoski doesn’t make the roster. As of right now, he is penciled in as the starter next to Jerrell Freeman. But nothing is ever certain in life, so I am going to go with a 99% chance of making the roster. Cause hey, you never know with NFL players, after all...
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