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Which Bears player will make the leap?

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The latest Windy City Gridiron Roundtable is all about the young talent on the Chicago Bears.

NFL: New England Patriots at Chicago Bears Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports

Thanks to general manager Ryan Pace and his scouting team, the Chicago Bears are one of the younger teams in the NFL, and many of those youngsters are primed to make a leap in 2019. Offensively, that group was just coached by an innovative staff led by head coach Matt Nagy, that put them in position to maximize their talents, something that we’ve see happen on the defensive side of the ball for four consecutive years under Vic Fangio. The defensive coaching staff may be mostly gone now, but the building blocks are in place and a lot of those guys are ready to take their game to another level.

For this latest WCG Roundtable, we posed the following question to our writers.

Which young Bears player currently on the team do you expect will “make the leap” to the next level?

Now when we say make the leap, that could mean going from backup to starter, or from starter to Pro Bowl, or Pro Bowler to All Pro, or even All Pro to Hall Of Famer.

The neat thing about this team is there are about ten to fifteen players that we could make the case for, but here’s how a few of our guys went with the question.


Ken Mitchell - I’m going Roquan Smith. He’s got all the tools, he’s got a full year of playing time under his belt, he’s the prototypical fast inside linebacker, the game is slowing down for him and he was close to Pro-Bowl level by the end of a season that saw him miss his only training camp.

There’s a couple of others who I think also make the leap, notably James Daniels and Bilal Nichols, both guys also have the tools and played very, very well this year.

Bottom line, I’m picking Smith to Pro Bowl, James Daniels to Pro Bowl, and Nichols to full-on starter level.


Erik Christopher Duerrwaechter - If there’s any one player that I expect to make a tremendous leap to the next level, in this case contributor to star, it will be Anthony Miller.

He led the Bears with 7 receiving touchdowns last season, and he could have earned at least 3 more had the chemistry between him and Mitchell Trubisky been better. Miller flashed as a great route runner and a decent blocker when he was tasked with the dirty work as well. It’s a shame that his workload was reduced during the later portion of the season.

Ryan Pace traded up for Miller in the 2018 draft with the intent of landing a player with big-time potential. With more time and development, I believe Miller will achieve greatness in this offense. As long as his shoulder surgery goes as planned, i.e. no unexpected setbacks, watch him take a leading role in the receiving game next season.


Robert Schmitz - Anthony Miller is going to become a star in 2019. Miller, drafted out of the 2nd round, spent the 2018 season learning a brand-new offense while developing rapport with a QB who needed time before he could deliver the ball consistently. This crippled Miller’s early-season output because Miller’s entire game relies on intelligence, timing, and crisp route running. See, Anthony Miller isn’t a prototypical “burner” (runs a 4.52s 40-yard dash versus Gabriel’s 4.27s). And at 5’11”, he’s not a GUAGI (go up and get it) guy either.

As Miller said himself, most people’s first thought has always been, “Too small. Too slow. Next,” but Anthony Miller plays with an edge to his game that simply isn’t common -- you see it in the ways he dispatches corners on screen routes or high-kicks into change-of-direction moves. You also see it in his team-leading 7 TD receptions. He knows how to get open, and, as defenses focus more and more on Gabriel/Robinson/Burton in 2019, Miller is going to make them pay all season long.

Deon Bush is another player I think is going to step up, but I don’t think anyone on this Bears team is going to improve as much as Miller will next year.


Sam Householder - I’m also looking for a wide receiver to make the leap, but it’s not Miller. I think Allen Robinson II is going to earn a Pro-Bowl bid next year and have himself a 1,000 yard season. Robinson was very good this year and only got better as the season went on.

There’s plenty of evidence out there that a player’s first season back from an ACL isn’t always the smoothest or when he’s at his best. I am not sure we’ve seen Robinson at his best yet in Chicago and he was already quite good. He and Mitch Trubisky really got their connection going late in the season and into the playoffs, so I expect them to pick up where they left off and get even better.


Josh Sunderbruch - James Daniels. He played well in 2018, but he’s only going to get better. As he learns his assignments and makes the adjustment to NFL offenses, I think he is going to end up being one of those legendary 10-year linemen who just sort of anchors an offense for years. The kid is the real deal.


Jacob Infante - James Daniels has been a popular choice, and he’s my pick for the player that will make the biggest leap in 2019. I think that Roquan Smith will make sizable improvements too, but I’m really excited to see what Daniels can do with a full season as a starter. His athleticism and intelligence are top notch, and having a full offseason in an NFL strength program could help him bulk up a little bit and round out his game to become a cornerstone of Chicago’s offense.


WhiskeyRanger - Since all the popular names have been mentioned already, I’m going to veer off in another direction, and go with Bilal Nichols. He’s a natural run stopper with the ability to take on a double team and collapse a pocket in the pass game as well. He flashed playmaking ability in his rookie year, even if the stat sheet doesn’t necessarily show it. Because of that, and who he gets to play next to, I think he’s poised to take the next step in 2019. Nichols saw 31% of the defensive snaps last season to Jonathan Bullard’s 28%. I’d look for Nichols to start eating more into Bullard’s snaps, step up as a true starter along side Eddie Goldman and Akiem Hicks in the base D, and have an increased role in Nickel sets as well. I think the future’s bright for the Delaware product.


Lester A. Wiltfong Jr. - I’m going to go with the player that I think will be in discussion for All-Pro in 2019 after making the All-Rookie squad this year. Roquan Smith had an outstanding first year in Chicago, but I think we’ve only seen a fraction of his skills on a football field. Remember he had a late start to his rookie season while he took care of his contract, so him having a full training camp to work on his craft will be huge. A full year in the strength and conditioning program will be helpful as well. Smith is already one of the fastest inside backers in the game today, but now you factor in how the game will slow down for him in his second year and I think he’ll be a terror for opposing offenses.

I mentioned his late start to the 2018 season, so I looked at the numbers before and after the bye. In weeks 1-4, Smith averaged 4.5 tackles per game, but after the bye that increased to 8.6 per game. The 21-year old Smith led the Bears in tackles with 121, and I expect that to be an annual thing for him.


Now it’s your turn, which Bears’ player do you expect to make the leap?

Poll

Which young Bears player currently on the team do you expect will "make the leap" to the next level?

This poll is closed

  • 18%
    Anthony Miller
    (210 votes)
  • 5%
    James Daniels
    (64 votes)
  • 31%
    Roquan Smith
    (369 votes)
  • 5%
    Bilal Nichols
    (59 votes)
  • 4%
    Other
    (57 votes)
  • 34%
    All of the above
    (404 votes)
1163 votes total Vote Now