I got this idea from a series of articles at The Draft Network, where they are giving their superlative picks in seven different categories for all 32 teams. I had to run through it myself, but I wanted to get the take from our WCG team as well, And since I didn’t want us to have all the fun, I even shot out the question on Twitter to get your takes.
We’ve already looked at the Breakout Guy for the 2019 Chicago Bears, the Comeback Kid, the Rising Star, the Don’t Forget About, and the Needs to Rebound guy for the ‘19 Bears But before we get into our picks for Chicago’s Dark Horse MVP, let’s see who Joe Marino of The Draft Network picked.
DARK HORSE MVP: LB ROQUAN SMITH
Even after a lengthy holdout, Smith delivered an exciting season for the NFL’s No. 3 defense. Tallying 121 tackles, 8 tackles for loss, 5 sacks, 5 pass breakups and an interception, Smith played like a superstar in the making.
With a season under his belt, the game should slow down for Smith and allow him to play faster. Chicago looks to have secured its next great linebacker in a long history of elite defenders.
Roquan Smith fit in perfectly on the 2018 Bears. He missed all of camp and the preseason while getting his contract sorted out, but after signing he made an immediate impact week one. He was an All-Rookie performer a year ago and I think he’s a good choice for a dark horse MVP candidate in 2019.
We’ve already mentioned him a few times in this series of superlatives, but in case you forgot, Smith led the team in tackles a year ago, and his 5 sacks was 5th among all rookies. His speed flashed weekly, but so did his production, and I’ve already got him penciled in as a 2019 All-Pro.
Now let’s check on who some other WCG staffers picked for their Rising Star for the 2019 Bears.
Ken Mitchell - Roquan Smith, ILB
He’s going to have a bazillion tackles and I expect him to have near double-digit sacks. This year is when he goes All-Pro.
Robert Zeglinski - Roquan Smith, ILB
I understand why the impact of inside linebackers has been more overlooked in recent years. As the NFL has moved toward being a hyper-passing outfit, it’s necessitated the presence of dynamic edge and secondary players. If the 150-tackle two-down linebacker isn’t already extinct, someone should rename the strong safety position.
But Smith isn’t a two-down linebacker. In fact, he’s how his individual position survives and evolves. He’s the archetype of a wiry, coverage-based, instinctive linebacker who has an answer to every offensive dilemma. There was a play in training camp where Tarik Cohen burst free on a wheel route in a one-on-one against Smith: 9.99 times out of 10 a win for the offensive player. Smith, rather calmly, flipped his hips, turned on the jets, and ran stride for stride with one of the most electric players in the NFL. Only defensive freaks are capable of such feats. Smith is no ordinary linebacker.
He’ll never have a chance with national or local pundits, but Smith is the best and most talented off-ball linebacker on the best and most talented defense. And now he has a year of experience under his belt. That counts for something in my book.
Robert Schmitz - Roquan Smith, ILB
Truly, there were few people in camp that impressed me more than Roquan Smith. As the 8th overall pick of last year’s draft, Smith joined the team late after a brief holdout and got right to work in a learning role as the “WILL” linebacker -- Danny Trevathan would take on blocks when needed, leaving Smith one-on-one with runningbacks while chasing the play from behind. He performed well in this role throughout the season, making plays both as a blitzer and against ball-carriers, but left modest questions about his ability to cover and what his “next step forward” would look like.
There are no questions anymore. Roquan Smith, as I saw him in camp, looked like a dominant inside backer that will seamlessly beat runners to the edge of the defense and snuff out screen attempts without issue. His blitzing looks great, as he embarrassed Mike Davis and David Montgomery on multiple occasions throughout one-on-one pass rush drills, and his ability to cover seems improved from last year. Trevathan may still be wearing the green dot this season, but by the end of the year I won’t be surprised if Roquan Smith joins the likes of Eddie Jackson, Akiem Hicks, and Khalil Mack as a major leader of this defense.
Josh Sunderbruch - Eddie Pineiro, K
All this guy has to do is be steady and consistent. It’s not like he’s going to have to drill shots from 60 yards on the regular. Instead, though, he just needs to deliver two or three medium-rangers a game and fans will love him (except for the ones who have already decided the Bears should have done something differently).
Sam Householder - Khalil Mack, OLB
Is it really a dark horse? I’d argue yes just because no defensive player has won it since 1986. Mack might have a legitimate shot, with a ton of good players around him, an aggressive-minded coordinator and a full offseason of coaches saying that DPOY is nearly his singular focus. If he can lead the Bears defense too be top three again and notch 15-18 sacks, I say don’t rule out MVP chatter, especially with tons of primetime exposure and chances to shine against QBs such as Rodgers, Mahomes, Wentz and Goff.
Aaron Leming - David Montgomery, RB
Whether or not you agreed with the trade up, it has been clear to see why the team valued him enough to make a draft-day move, despite having limited capital to work with. The rookie isn’t going to wow you with speed and he’s also not the same athletic freak that someone like Saquon Barkley is. Despite that, he’s an excellent fit for this offense and we saw a glimpse of that in the team’s first preseason game. He’ll make rookie mistakes along the way but the fact that they sat him last Friday and will likely not see game action again until September 5th, says a lot. I expect Montgomery to be a big part of this offense, not only as an effective zone runner but also in the passing game where he has the ability to make excellent catches and cause players to miss in the open field. Based on fit and ability alone, he should be a game changer for this offense.
Erik Duerrwaechter - David Montgomery, RB
Yes, a third round rookie is my nominee for this title. I’ve been a broken record in saying that he fills a huge need for Matt Nagy’s offense: a legitimate three-down player at the runningback position. There’s no way Ryan Pace traded up to get a rotational guy. From the brief glimpses we’ve witnessed in camp and preseason, I’d say he’s more than ready to be the biggest weapon in the Bears’ inventory on offense.
Patti Curl - Kyle Fuller, CB
It’s funny to call an All Pro a dark horse, but nobody is talking about Kyle Fuller. He’s improved significantly over the last couple years, overcoming his struggles in man coverage and holding on to interceptaballs. Nerds will race to tell you to expect regression from last year’s career-high 7 interceptions, but few have considered the possibility that he will continue to improve, whether or not the numbers show it.
Now let’s check in with Twitter to see what some of you guys had to say about your dark horse MVP.
Roquan, if he continues to develop and improve he has the potential to be a future DPOY candidate.— Bear Down Burner (@BearBurner) August 26, 2019
Eddie G. He continues to be a wrecking crew in the middle making life easier for the OLs. His disruption leads to career year for Floyd and more of the same ol from Mack. #BearDown— Paul Battles (@ChiSoxFan1) August 26, 2019
Adam Shaheen. He finally shakes the injury bug and puts up big numbers. (I can dream, right?)— Kayn (@Nakid_Gaming) August 26, 2019
Roy Robertson-Harris - That dude needs to play more because he is a wrecking ball.— Absorbing Man007 (@AbsorbingMan007) August 26, 2019
Bilal Nichols becomes an All Pro— Jon Roberts (@HeyTweetJon) August 26, 2019
Mitchell Trubisky. It’s hard not to think the way he commits to football, the beautiful landscape of talent he has on the field and the perfect qb coach to walk with him. Year 2 is going to be special for Tru in this offense. M - V - P— braxton jett (@braxtonjett1) August 26, 2019
Pineiro. After the heartbreak last season, the universe restores balance by having a Bears kicker lead them to a championship.— Fat Boy Running (@FatDudeRunning) August 26, 2019
Now it’s your turn, who is your Chicago dark horse MVP for the 2019 season?