The 2010s began and ended with great play on the defensive side on the ball for the Bears.
Notorious for their vaunted defenses in years past, Chicago fielded great units throughout the decade. However, there sat a sizable drop-off in defensive performance in the middle of the 2010s, and that will be reflected in the all-decade defensive unit.
Luckily enough, though, there has been more than enough quality talent to fill out a whole team. With the all-decade offense already looked at, let’s dive into the best defensive players that suited up for the Bears over the past 10 years.
DL: Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman
Two of the building blocks of the Bears’ current defense, Akiem Hicks and Eddie Goldman have been reliable from their first snaps with the team.
Hicks joined the Bears as a relatively unheralded free agent in 2016, but he made an immediate impact on a defense that was undergoing a major facelift at the time. He broke out with 7 sacks and 11 tackles for a loss, serving as a tenacious pass rusher on the interior, as well as a top-notch run stuffer. His presence, as well as his work ethic and personality, made him one of the team’s most valuable players from the get-go.
In his first three seasons with the team, Hicks totaled 23 sacks, 38 tackles for a loss and 53 quarterback hits. He continued to make a name for himself year after year, finally making it to his first Pro Bowl appearance after the 2018 season. Though injuries affected his 2019 season, his role in recent years as a catalyst for the Bears’ defensive turnaround is surely appreciated.
Henry Melton nearly made an appearance on the list for making a Pro Bowl appearance after the 2012 season and combining for 13 sacks from 2011 to 2012. However, he was only a full-time starter for two years, tearing his ACL three games into the 2013 season before leaving the team in free agency the following offseason. Eddie Goldman gets the edge for a longer tenure and a larger overall impact, though his stats weren’t as flashy as Melton’s at his peak.
Goldman was selected in the second round of the 2015 draft to serve as a much-needed nose tackle in the Bears’ first season of running a 4-3 defense. He stepped in and make an impact pretty quickly, playing in 15 games and starting in 12 in his rookie year. He finished the year with an impressive 4.5 sacks from the nose, as well as 22 tackles, 5 tackles for a loss and 6 quarterback hits.
Prior to his Week 17 matchup to close out the 2019 season, Goldman has played in 67 games and started in 63 of them in his five years with the team. In that time, he has had 153 tackles, 12.5 sacks and 17 tackles for a loss. Considering he’s only on the field roughly half of the time, those numbers are pretty impressive. His ability to eat up gaps in the run game and free up opportunities for his teammates has made him one of the most underrated players on the Bears nearly every year he's been on the team.
Hicks and Goldman have both been valuable pieces for the Bears’ defense, and their contributions to some of the team’s best defensive units in recent years put them on the all-decade team.
EDGE: Khalil Mack, Julius Peppers
The Bears were lucky enough to have two future Hall of Famers suit up for them at edge rusher in the 2010s. Both Khalil Mack and Julius Peppers were blockbuster acquisitions who provided instant credibility to their defenses.
After four seasons with the Raiders, Mack was traded to the Bears just before the 2018 season and gave them the one piece they were missing on their talented defense: an elite pass rusher. He played at an incredible level in 2018, tallying 12.5 sacks, 6 forced fumbles, 47 tackles, 10 tackles for a loss, 18 quarterback hits and a pick-six, all while missing two games due to injury. He was named to the Pro Bowl and as a first-team All-Pro for his performance.
Mack has had a bit of a down year by his standards in 2019, but he has still managed to put up some pretty good numbers. Through 15 games, he has 8.5 sacks, 46 tackles, 5 forced fumbles, 8 tackles for a loss and 14 quarterback hits. He faces tall odds to reach a double-digit sack total, but knowing his impressive resume, it isn’t out of the question. Despite only playing for the Bears for two seasons, Mack’s impact makes him a pretty easy choice for the list (sorry, Willie Young and Pernell McPhee).
Just like Mack gave an already stacked Bears defense a dynamic force off the edge, Peppers did the exact same thing eight years before him.
Already a five-time Pro Bowler when the Bears signed him, Peppers was a proven sack artist, and he continued his dominant ways in the Windy City. He was named a first-team All-Pro in his first year with the team, finishing with 8 sacks, 54 tackles, 11 tackles for a loss, 18 quarterback hits, 3 forced fumbles, 2 interceptions and 9 pass deflections. He then followed that season up with two double-digit sack performances, as well as a 7-sack season in 2013 at the age of 33.
Peppers concluded his Bears career with 37.5 sacks in four seasons, as well as 52 quarterback hits and 47 tackles for a loss. He made the Pro Bowl three times in that time frame, and was also named a second-team All-Pro in 2012, in addition to his first-team nomination in 2010.
As far as edge rushers go in the 2010s, there have been very few as good as Mack and Peppers, and the Bears were lucky enough to have both suit up for them. They provide a dangerous duo for this all-decade team.
LB: Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs, Danny Trevathan
The Bears have had a rich history at linebacker since their franchise’s inception 100 seasons ago, and these three players have played a big role in that recent history.
Brian Urlacher entered the 2010s a veteran linebacker with a great resume and a strong case for the Hall of Fame, but he enhanced his list of accomplishments with three strong seasons at the twilight of his career. He had 295 tackles from 2010 to 2012, missing just four games in that span. He also had 5 interceptions, 24 pass deflections, 6 fumble recoveries and 30 tackles for a loss in the decade. Urlacher added two more Pro Bowl appearances, as well as a second-team All-Pro nomination in 2010, to his name, as well.
Lance Briggs made it to five consecutive Pro Bowls heading into the 2010s, and he made sure to extend that streak in the new decade. He was voted into the game in 2010 and 2011, joining the aforementioned Urlacher on the NFC roster. Injuries slowed Briggs down in his final two seasons with the team, but he still finished his five seasons in the 2010s with 403 tackles, 6 interceptions, 31 pass deflections, 2 pick-sixes, 6.5 sacks and 36 tackles for a loss.
After Urlacher and Briggs left, the Bears found themselves in desperate need for an inside linebacker. They found a reliable starter in free agent Danny Trevathan in 2016, who helped give them some much-need talent at the position. Though he has only played a full season once in his four years with the team, he has had 327 tackles, 16 pass deflections, 6 sacks, 3 interceptions and 15 tackles for a loss in 46 games. He was also voted a Pro Bowl alternate in 2018, though he didn’t end up making the team.
A dominant Chicago defense isn’t complete without some good linebackers, and this hypothetical all-decade team has those in spades. Urlacher, Briggs and Trevathan all made their mark on the Bears in the 2010s, making them all good additions to the team.
CB: Charles Tillman, Kyle Fuller
Charles Tillman undoubtedly belongs on this team, but the second cornerback spot is where things start to get a bit questionable. Both Kyle Fuller and Tim Jennings made Pro Bowl appearances and led the league in interceptions at some point in the time with the Bears, and both started for the team for five seasons. While Jennings was a valuable asset at his peak, Fuller has the edge in interceptions and pass deflections, barely nudging him past.
Tillman starting playing for the Bears in 2003, but it wasn't until the 2010s when he made his first Pro Bowl appearance. He made two of them in the decade, actually, making consecutive appearances in 2011 and 2012. In that span, he combined for 6 interceptions—five of which being pick-sixes—28 pass deflections and 13 forced fumbles, including a league-leading 10 in 2012 (as a cornerback, mind you). He was named a first-team All-Pro in 2012, as well.
Peanut also had a good season in 2010, tallying 5 interceptions for 127 yards and forcing 14 pass breakups and 4 fumbles. Injuries slowed down his 2013 campaign—as well as his 2014 season—but he still had 3 interceptions and 3 forced fumbles in eight games in his penultimate season with the team. One of the last remaining players from the Bears’ 2006 NFC Championship-winning team at the time, Tillman remained a valuable defender until the very end.
Fuller kicked off his career on a high note with 4 interceptions as a rookie in 2014, stepping in as a starter when the aforementioned Tillman got injured two games into the year. Fuller had a bit of a down year in 2015 and missed all of 2016 with a knee injury, and many began to question his spot on the roster. Nevertheless, he stayed on the roster and was thrown back into the starting lineup in Week 1 of 2017, a position he did not give up from that point on. He finished second in the league in pass deflections with 22 and added 2 interceptions, as well.
It wasn’t until 2018 when Fuller truly broke out, though, as he led the league in both interceptions and pass breakups with 7 and 22, respectively. His stellar season earned him a Pro Bowl appearance and a first-team All-Pro nomination. He has 3 interceptions and 12 deflections through 15 games in 2019, and while his production wasn’t as great this year, it was still enough to earn him a spot as a Pro Bowl alternate.
Both Tillman and Fuller saw their peaks come at a time not many would have expected them to come at, and they both were—or in Fuller’s case, are—valuable assets to their team. They bring some turnover ability to this all-decade secondary.
S: Eddie Jackson, Adrian Amos
The Bears struggled mightily with safety play in the early 2010s, but they managed to find their footing as the decade continued in the form of Eddie Jackson and Adrian Amos.
Jackson fell to the Bears in the fourth round of the 2017 draft due to a broken leg suffered in 2016, but he started all 16 games of his rookie season and had 6 pass deflections and 2 interceptions, one of which being returned for a touchdown, as well as recovering three fumbles—one for a touchdown. He broke out in a major way in his second season, finishing the year with 6 interceptions, 15 pass breakups and three total defensive touchdowns. His playmaking ability in the secondary earned him Pro Bowl and first-team All-Pro awards.
Though Jackson has only had one interception and 4 pass deflections through 15 games in 2019, he has shown a bit of improvement as a tackler and was also named a Pro Bowler for the second year in a row. He may only have one season of elite production, but that alone makes him better than most of the safeties the Bears started in the decade.
Amos began like Jackson: a Day 3 draft pick—the fifth round, to be exact—thrown into a starting role right away. He started off the first two seasons of his career with 129 tackles, a sack and 6 pass deflections, playing in 31 games and starting all but one of them. He had his spot in the starting lineup taken away by free agent addition Quintin Demps, but he soon took the role right back after Demps got hurt, ending up with 67 tackles and his first career interception, which ended up being a 90-yard pick-six.
From a production standpoint, Amos’ last season with the Bears may have been his best. He started in all 16 games in 2018 and had 73 tackles, 2 interceptions, 9 pass deflections and a sack. Alongside the aforementioned Jackson, Amos formed an intimidating safety duo on a scary Bears defense. He went on to leave for Green Bay in free agency that offseason.
Jackson and Amos were a very good tandem in the defensive backfield in 2018, and their respective tenures with the Bears remain admirable, especially considering their draft statuses. They make a good fit on this all-decade list.
K: Robbie Gould
I mean, come on. It’s not like it was going to be anybody else.
Robbie Gould remains the only reliable kicker the Bears have had in the 2010s, as a carousel of bad decisions at the position have come in his wake since he was released prior to the 2016 season. He spent six seasons in the decade as the Bears’ kicker, going 142-for-167 with a 85.0 percent field goal percentage in that span. He also only missed three of his 242 extra point attempts, though the kick wasn't moved back to the 15-yard line until 2015, his last year with the team.
Gould managed to stay above an 83 percent field goal percentage in all but one of his seasons with the Bears in the 2010s. He was 21-for-26 from more than 50 yards out, and he remains the only kicker to have been able to master the rough conditions that Soldier Field has to offer. He’s as easy of a choice for this all-decade team as any.
P: Pat O’Donnell
Pat O’Donnell remains one of the longest tenured Bears on the roster, as MegaPunt has been with the team since 2014. That alone gives him the edge over Brad Maynard, who was a special teams stalwart in the 2000s but only spent a year with the team in the 2010s, and Adam Podlesh, who was less than great in his three years in Chicago.
In his six years with the Bears, O’Donnell has had 436 punts for a total of 19,551 yards, with one more game left to go in the 2019 season. 152 of his punts have been placed inside the 20-yard line, as opposed to only 27 touchbacks. He even has an offensive touchdown to his name, throwing a 38-yard touchdown pass to Benny Cunningham in a trick play against the Vikings in 2017.
O’Donnell has never been an elite punter, but he has been reliable to the point where the Bears have opted to keep him around as long as they have. That makes him a pretty solid choice for this all-decade team.
KR/PR: Devin Hester
Tarik Cohen and Cordarrelle Patterson have both been quality returners in recent years for the Bears, but neither of them have had as much of an impact yet as Devin Hester.
Though Hester’s best years came in the 2000s, he was still a force to be reckoned with early in the 2010s. He kicked the decade off strong with 3 punt returns for touchdowns in 2010, as well as a league-high 564 yards and 17.1 yards per return on 33 returns. He ended up making Pro Bowl and first-team All-Pro appearances for his efforts. Hester followed that year up with a second-team All-Pro nomination with 2 punt returns for touchdowns and a kick return for a touchdown, finishing with a league-leading 16.2 yards per return.
He would cool down a bit in 2012 and 2013, but Hester still added another punt return for a touchdown in 2013. He also led the league in kick return yards with 1,436 in his last season with the team, leaving for Atlanta in 2014.
Hester solidified his status as arguably the greatest return specialist of all-time in the 2010s, piling on a few more great seasons onto what was already a fantastic resume. Leaving him off of an all-decade team for the 2010s would be nothing short of ridiculous.