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10 Most Important Bears of 2018: No. 4 - Will Akiem Hicks get respect?

For the 10th straight year, I’m bringing you who I believe will be the ten most important Chicago Bears for the upcoming season. Defensive lineman Akiem Hicks is going to have his breakout year.

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NFL: Cleveland Browns at Chicago Bears Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

As far as Chicago Bears’ fans are concerned, Akiem Hicks already had his breakout season. That would be 2016, his first year with the Bears, when he played stout defense against the run and picked up a career high seven sacks. He added 54 tackles, 17 quarterback hits, 11 tackles for loss, two passes defended, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and a blocked kick.

From a national perspective, Hicks was still under the radar, but the Bears knew they had a damn good football player on the defensive line.

That big season garnered him a four-year, $48 million dollar contract extension. Hicks didn’t let the new deal go to his head. He had two sacks in Week 1 of the 2017 season, and his overall numbers across the year were even more impressive. His sacks increased to 8.5, tackles for loss went up to 15, and his quarterback hits jumped to 20.

The postseason accolades were sure to start coming in after two outstanding years in Chicago, right? Nope.

Not even an alternate Pro Bowl appearance for Hicks after other defensive linemen bowed out of the game.

But it wasn’t just the NFL that was overlooking Hicks’ game, because the programmers at EA Sports decided that his Madden rating needed to decline from 2016 to 2017 too.

Hicks didn’t agree with that.

The Bears will have some more eyeballs on them as they have a new coach in Matt Nagy breaking in an exciting new offense, and a returning defensive coordinator in Vic Fangio continuing the defense’s ascension. So, I think Akiem Hicks will finally get the national attention he deserves.

Hicks’ presence is needed up front for the Bears. He’s an intelligent, powerful player that can control his gap, and he has the quickness to make plays in the backfield. Pro Football Focus said he was tied “for the league lead among interior defenders with 44 defensive stops, and he generated his fair share of pass-rush with 49 total pressures.”

Hicks’ leadership is something this Bears team needs as well.

Akiem Hicks and the Chicago Bears LET THE DOGS OUT in week 7 against the Carolina Panthers! #DaBears #SoundFX NFL Network

Posted by NFL Films on Saturday, October 28, 2017

The only problem I have with Hicks’ play, is he plays too much. His first year in Chicago he played in 86.5 percent of their snaps on defense and another 18.5 percent of the snaps on special teams. Last year those numbers were 85.0 percent and 7.4 percent, respectively. I think we’ll get the best of Hicks if his playing time could be cut down to about 75 percent. Get the 28-yearold, 332 pounder some more breaks during each game and he’ll be fresher for all seventeen weeks.

For some perspective, Aaron Donald of the Rams only played in 73.4 percent of their defensive snaps, Cincinnati’s Geno Atkins played in 65.7 percent, Fletcher Cox of the Eagles played in 59 percent, Tampa Bay’s Gerald McCoy played in 76.1 percent, and the VikingsLinval Joseph played in 66.5 percent.

Part of resting Hicks is having someone else step up along their defensive front. The Bears are hopeful that veteran defensive linemen Roy Robertson-Harris and Jonathan Bullard, and rookie Bilal Nichols will do that.

But in case Hicks needs to carry the weight of Chicago’s defensive hopes on his broad shoulders in 2018, he’ll be ready.