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Bears 2020 season-end awards: Who was the team’s MVP this year?

With the Bears’ season over with, which players do you think deserved our awards this year?

New Orleans Saints v Chicago Bears Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The Bears’ 2020 season has been over for all of three days, and it already seems like an eternity ago.

With the news of Chuck Pagano’s retirement and Matt Nagy and Ryan Pace sticking around for the 2021 season, so much has happened within the last few days to keep Bears fans’ minds off of their embarrassing loss to the Saints in the Wild Card round.

Nonetheless, it was an incredibly hectic season for Chicago. From a red-hot 5-1 start to a six-game losing streak to somehow finding a way to secure a playoff spot, 2020 was the definition of a roller-coaster season for the Bears.

Though there was plenty of bad to come with this season, there was also quite a bit of good.

I recently shared my picks for my own individual Bears awards for this year on Twitter. I figured I’d offer my explanations for each award in a post, as well as open the floor for your own suggestions.

Feel free to offer your picks in the comments below, in the replies to the linked tweet above, or both!

Here are my explanations for my picks:

MVP: Roquan Smith

After being critiqued for not living up to his lofty No. 8 overall draft status when compared to other linebackers in the 2018 draft class, Roquan Smith finally proved this season why he was drafted so highly.

The second-team All-Pro put together the best season of his three-year career in 2020. Smith ended the year with a career-high 139 tackles, placing him sixth in the NFL. Had he not gotten injured in the first quarter of the Bears’ final regular season game, he almost surely would have finished as high as fourth, as Joe Schobert and Devin White both only beat Smith out by two and one tackles, respectively.

Not only was Smith a tackling machine, but he also made his impact felt in every aspect of the linebacker position. He topped all inside linebackers and placed second in the NFL with 18 tackles for a loss, and he tied for the third-most interceptions for a linebacker with two. He also contributed four sacks and seven pass deflections, and he had both the second-lowest passer rating allowed and seventh-lowest completion percentage allowed for a linebacker.

Smith showed off his athleticism and his tackling ability in his first two seasons, but he complemented that this year with improved instincts, physicality and route recognition in coverage. He played out of his mind this year and was a key component to the Bears’ defense.

Offensive Player of the Year: Allen Robinson

The Bears struggled mightily on offense, but as was the case in 2019, Allen Robinson was a reliable constant for an otherwise dormant unit.

Robinson placed in the top 10 in the NFL in receptions for the second-straight year, finishing sixth in the league while notching a career-high 102 catches. He also placed ninth with 1,250 receiving yards, his second-highest total after his All-Pro campaign with the Jaguars in 2015. Robinson’s six touchdown catches finished second on his team behind only Jimmy Graham, and his consistency as a possession receiver made him a dependable target, regardless of which quarterback was throwing him the ball.

Though Robinson’s future with the Bears is in doubt heading into the 2021 offseason, there’s no denying his impact he had for their passing game.

Defensive Player of the Year: Roquan Smith

Khalil Mack was another candidate worth considering for this award, tallying 9 sacks, 11 tackles for a loss and 16 quarterback hurries. Though his season earned him his sixth Pro Bowl appearance and a second-team All-Pro nomination, Smith arguably made a bigger impact on a weekly basis.

Rookie of the Year: Jaylon Johnson

This was a difficult decision to make, as Darnell Mooney put together an impressive rookie year, especially for a fifth-round pick. He caught 61 passes for 634 yards, finishing second on the Bears’ roster in both categories. He had just one drop on 98 targets all year, and he placed in the top 10 in every major receiving statistic among the NFL’s rookie wide receivers, despite being just the 24th receiver taken in the 2020 draft.

However, the narrow edge goes to Jaylon Johnson. The second-round cornerback finished sixth in the NFL with 15 pass deflections, despite missing the final three regular season games of the year. Though he didn’t tally any interceptions, the Utah alumnus proved to be a disruptor after being slotted into the Bears’ starting lineup as their boundary cornerback from Day 1. He also had the third-lowest completion percentage allowed among rookies with 56.4.

Johnson’s absence in the secondary was especially noticeable near the end of the year, as the Bears allowed an average of 25 points in the four games he missed, including their Wild Card loss to the Saints. Though his season ended prematurely, Johnson showed in 2020 that he has the potential to be a fixture in Chicago’s secondary for years to come.

Breakout Player: Roquan Smith

David Montgomery deserves a strong honorable mention as the breakout player for the Bears this year. He finished fifth in the NFL with 1,070 rushing yards, rushed for 8 touchdowns, and he had the second-best broken tackle rate with 8.5 attempts per broken tackle. In an improved role from his rookie campaign, Montgomery solidified himself as a quality starting running back at the next level.

He earned the opportunity of recognition, but Smith’s jump into the upper echelon of linebackers gives him the slight edge here. Still, Montgomery truly broke out in 2020.

Biggest Disappointment: Eddie Jackson

In retrospect, the fact that I forgot Robert Quinn for this role says a lot about how memorable his performance was for the Bears this year.

However, I went with Eddie Jackson in the moment, and that is a choice I’ll back up. Two years after being named a first-team All-Pro and just one year after a second-straight Pro Bowl appearance, Jackson made a minimal impact in coverage this year. He finished with zero interceptions for the first time in his NFL career, and he tied for his career low with five pass deflections.

Though he did recover a fumble for a touchdown, he finished with career-low totals with a 67.4 allowed completion percentage and a 110.4 passer rating allowed—he hadn’t had a rating higher than 57.6 prior to 2020, though the statistic has only been tracked since 2018.

Chuck Pagano’s conservative scheme likely did play a part in his regression, and he did have two pick-six called back for penalties. The bottom line, though, is that Jackson didn’t appear to play with as high of a motor in coverage, nor did he play with the sense of urgency he showed in 2018. For a safety who just signed a massive contract extension, that’s an unacceptable result.

Most Underrated: Bilal Nichols

Bilal Nichols was placed in a difficult spot from Week 1, being forced to slide in as a nose tackle with Eddie Goldman opting out of the 2020 season. Over time, though, he made the most of it and thrived in numerous alignments along the defensive line.

Nichols put together a career year this season, tallying a personal-best five sacks, seven tackles for a loss, 13 quarterback hits, 40 total tackles and three pass deflections. He even picked up his first interception of his three-year NFL career, returning it for seven yards. The former Delaware Blue Hen really put it together in the latter half of the season, having three sacks, 21 tackles and six quarterback hits in his final six games, including the Bears’ lone playoff matchup.

As he enters the final year of his rookie contract, Nichols appears to be in line for a hefty payday whenever he receives his next deal. The Bears will reap the benefits of his relatively cheap labor for another year, but he remains a potential extension candidate down the line.