The Chicago Bears had outstanding depth at inside linebacker a year ago with Nick Kwiatkoski and Kevin Pierre-Louis as the first and second options off the bench, but both of those players parlayed their good 2019 seasons into new contracts elsewhere in 2020. Kwiatkoski landed a 3 year, $21 million deal with the Las Vegas Raiders and KPL got $3 million from the Washington Football Team.
Considering Chicago’s two projected starters at inside backer have only two full 16 game seasons between them in 6 combined years in Chicago, I’d say the odds are good that the Bears will need to rely on a third ILB at some point, but right now they don’t have one on the roster that’s proven.
In 2018, when starters Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan each played in all 16 games, they combined for 223 tackles, 3 interceptions, and 7 sacks. Last year they played in only 12 and 9 games respectively and those numbers dropped significantly. If they both stay healthy they could form one of the better 3-4 ILB duos in the game, but if one of them goes down the Bears could be in trouble.
Joel Iyiegbuniwe is the only backup on the roster that has any NFL experience on defense at all and it’s limited to 3 snaps in 2019 and 23 snaps the year prior. As a core special teamer he’s a lock, but he’s yet to prove he can play defense at this level.
A good bet to make it
The Bears opened with 6 inside backers on the 2019 roster but only 4 in 2018, so this is a position group that’s tough to predict. Besides those three guys above I think everyone is battling for a spot on the 53.
On the bubble
Josh Woods was around as a special teamer a year ago, so of all the bubble guys he probably has the best shot. He spent all of 2018 on the Bears practice squad transitioning to linebacker after playing safety at Maryland, and he was promoted to the active roster for 9 games in 2019.
Rashad Smith, a UDFA from Florida Atlantic is the only other inside linebacker on the 80-man roster, but it’s possible the Bears are planning to convert one of the other UDFAs to the position.
Ledarius Mack was more a pass rush specialist at Buffalo, but at 6’1” he may not project as an outside linebacker with the Bears.
Keandre Jones from Maryland played as 3-4 (JACK) outside linebacker in the Terps’ scheme, which meant he was a hybrid OLB/DE pass rusher. At 6’3”, 220 pounds he has tweener size so it’ll be interesting to see where he ends up, but my guess is the Bears try to develop him and his 4.44 speed off the edge.
How many ILBs do you think the Bears keep in 2020, and who do you think it’ll be?