The quarterback may be the most important player all all of team sports, but football is still won and lost in the trenches, and that’s why Brandon Thorn is one of my favorite NFL analysts. His Trench Warfare newsletter and website is a must read, because he focuses on the big guys on the offensive and defensive line.
In his latest exercise he ranked the Top 50 linemen in the NFL today, and that does include the 3-4 outside linebackers that routinely set the edge and get after the QB, and the first OLB that shows up is #52 for the Chicago Bears, Khalil Mack at 9 overall.
Here’s what Thorn wrote about the 30-year old, 8-year pro.
Mack was arguably the most well-rounded edge player in the NFL in 2020 and still demands as much if not more attention from opposing offense’s than any player at his position. What makes Mack such a dynamic force off of the edge is that he brilliantly sets up his moves while possessing a unique blend of speed to threaten the edge with power to shift inside at a moment’s notice and run through his opponent. That alone strikes a level of fear into pass-blockers and opposing coaches alike that ensures an ‘elite’ tag for the foreseeable future.
Thorn is a film junkie, so when he give his analysis you can take it to the bank, and his description of what makes Mack so frightening reminds me of this play.
His speed threatens the edge, but he then quickly dips inside, only to finish with pure power and bulldoze the tackle to get the sack.
Mack was in his second tier 2, the “Elite” category, but he wasn’t the only Bear on his list as Chicago’s big d-lineman, the 31-year old, 10-year veteran Akiem Hicks checked in at 39.
Most fans and analysts know that Hicks is a bull in a china shop on the field who is capable of taking over games as a run-defender and pass-rusher. At 6’4” 350 pounds, Hicks has a unique build for the 3-technique alignment that he primarily operates out of. Not only does he control the point of attack at an elite level, but his play speed is outstanding due to how well he processes his keys in the running game. Hicks penetrates the backfield at a spectacular rate considering his size and he can still use sheer strength and power to collapse the pocket and put blockers on skates into the quarterback’s lap nearly at will. His age is really all that brings him down to this spot.
Hicks spot is in Thorn’s tier 4, his “very good/trending down” category, and while Hicks’ best football could be behind him, I wouldn't count him out quite yet.
With Eddie Goldman back to take up some real estate, and Bilal Nichols developing into a fine defensive lineman, it’s possible the Bears can rotate Hicks a bit more than they’ve done in the past. The returning Mario Edwards Jr. and free agent addition Angelo Blackson should also factor in as well.
Check out Thorn’s full list and let us know your thoughts on where he has these two Bears.