Many factors can be attributed to the Bears’ 2018 explosion, but among them was the breaking out of numerous key contributors.
Eddie Jackson took an emphatic leap in his sophomore campaign that saw him become a first-team All-Pro who led all safeties in the NFL with six interceptions, 15 pass deflections and three defensive touchdowns. Kyle Fuller turned an underrated 2017 season into an incredible 2018 year, leading the league with seven interceptions and 21 pass deflections while also earning first-team All-Pro honors. Akiem Hicks maintained a fantastic level of play along the interior, receiving the national recognition he had deserved for some time.
On the offensive side of the ball, Charles Leno Jr. and Cody Whitehair were both anchors on an offensive line that put forth a solid season, while Tarik Cohen served as an explosive punt returner and a pass-catching weapon at running back. Even Mitchell Trubisky put together a solid season overall, as crazy as it may currently seem in retrospect.
What do all of those players have in common, besides all playing for the Bears? They were all first-time Pro Bowlers in 2018.
Out of the eight Bears named to the Pro Bowl two years ago, all but one of them were making their first appearance in the game. Khalil Mack was the only exception, and his 2018 season saw him finish as strong a contender as any to the Defensive Player of the Year award that Aaron Donald ran away with.
Mack, Jackson and Fuller all returned to the Pro Bowl roster the following year, with first-year Bear Cordarrelle Patterson also making his third career appearance. However, no new players joined their teammates in Orlando. Granted, their top contributors had all proven themselves to that point, but the lack of new stars helped prevent Chicago from building off of their 12-4 record in 2018.
The Bears didn’t add much in the way of young prospects who figure to make an immediate impact, and their three biggest free agent additions—Nick Foles, Robert Quinn and Jimmy Graham—have all been to the Pro Bowl before. Plus, with no selections in the first two rounds of the 2019 draft, the chances of a Bears player taking a huge sophomore step-up appear slim to none, unless David Montgomery develops into one of the league’s best running backs after a pedestrian rookie year.
While the chances appear slim, here are a few players who could potentially become first-year Pro Bowlers for Chicago in 2020. Honorable mention goes to Eddie Goldman, who has been a Pro Bowl alternate before, but nose tackles generally don’t get as much Pro Bowl love as they deserve.
Out of the potential first-time Pro Bowlers the Bears have on their roster, Roquan Smith stands out as arguably the only player with a legitimate chance.
Smith, the No. 8 overall pick in the 2018 draft, hasn't quite lived up to the play of other linebackers in his draft class like Darius Leonard, Fred Warner and Leighton Vander Esch—with multiple other players staking reasonable claims as well—but he has played pretty well overall. Through 28 career games, Smith has tallied 222 tackles, topping the century mark in both of his two NFL seasons, despite missing four games in 2019 and sitting on the bench for the first two games of the 2018 season.
The Georgia alumnus is a gifted player who possesses top-notch athletic abilities, sharp instincts against the run and the tackling prowess to stick around for the long haul. While his down-to-down consistency and value on passing downs could improve—as well as sharpening up a few minor off-the-field slip-ups—he still has room to grow and has a high ceiling if he can put it all together. With his steady production and the retirement of perennial Pro Bowler Luke Kuechly, there could be a spot for Smith on the Pro Bowl roster at the end of the year.
After a slow start to the 2019 season, Anthony Miller turned on the jets in the second half of the year.
From Weeks 11 to 16, Miller caught 34 balls for 433 yards and two touchdowns. Had he kept that pace for the entirety of the year, he would have ended the season with 91 catches, 1,155 yards and five touchdowns. His reception and yardage totals would have finished 11th and 14th in the NFL, respectively. Hypothetical season-long statistics are far from the end-all, be-all of judging a player’s value, but they do illustrate just how good Miller was late in the year. Always a sharp and technically-sound route runner, the 2018 second-round pick became more reliable in executing his assignments, and Mitchell Trubisky generally trusted him more out of the slot. His durability in his shoulder and his ability to properly remember and perform his assigned tasks are cause for concern, but there should still be a bright future ahead of Miller.
With Taylor Gabriel no longer on the roster, there will undoubtedly be touches up for grabs at the wide receiver position. Allen Robinson being the only other proven (and young) receiver on the roster, Miller should be in for an uptick in production in 2020, and NFL’s Marc Sessler recently predicted that the wide out could be the team’s most likely first-time Pro Bowler. Unfortunately for Bears fans, he probably won’t produce enough to send him to the Pro Bowl, as the NFC is absolutely stacked to the brim with elite wide receivers, but hey, crazier things have happened, right?
Given that he has missed 18 games in the past four seasons, it remains highly unlikely that Danny Trevathan, who is also 30 years old, will be able to put up the breakout production necessary to make it into the Pro Bowl. However, if he stays healthy and the Bears’ defense performs at a high level again, he could very well sneak in as an alternate.
Trevathan was a Pro Bowl alternate in 2018 after tallying 102 tackles in a full 16-game season, and when he has been healthy he has been a reliable force for Chicago’s defense. His feel for the game and his consistency in run support over the years has been a key factor in their turning from a bottom-feeding defense to one of the league’s best units in the span of just a few years. He tallied 70 combined tackles in just nine games last year, a pace that would have placed him 15th in the league had he kept it up for 16 games. While far from the flashiest player on the field, Trevathan puts up numbers, and that’s how a lot of fans make their Pro Bowl voting choices.
Again, consider this addition pretty unlikely, as it’s generally very rare for a player to make his first Pro Bowl appearance in his 30s. Trevathan has come close before though, and a full season combined with a strong overall performance from Chicago’s defense could put him over the edge.
As it stands right now, James Daniels is not a Pro Bowl offensive lineman. He is an agile blocker who moves better than most his size, but he currently lacks that nasty edge and quality play strength to propel him to the next tier of blockers. He’s still only 22 years old though, and he still has plenty of potential and room to grow into a long-term piece along Chicago’s interior.
Daniels has reportedly added 10 pounds onto his frame since the end of the season, which would likely put him around 315 pounds: a more manageable weight at the guard position. It remains to be seen if that weight will translate to increased strength at the point of attack, but doing so would greatly aid what has arguably been a weakness in the 2018 second-round pick’s game. Too many times was he thrown around by powerful interior defenders upon contact and knocked off balance. It’s not all doom and gloom for the Iowa alumnus, as he has the mobility to be an ideal fit in a zone-blocking scheme. He is also an intelligent player who can execute his assignments well and find ways to help out his teammates when not engaged one-on-one with a defender himself.
There is some hope, as Daniels has only allowed one sack in his NFL career. While they haven’t come around as often as many would hope, there have been flashes of quality play in his game. With improved play in his third season, it wouldn’t be out of the question to consider him a possible Pro Bowl candidate.