These annual look-backs at my previous 10 Most Important Chicago Bears lists are never very enjoyable, as they’re usually a reminder to what went wrong the year prior. For twelve straight years I’ve been coming up with this list here at WCG, and during that time the Bears have only had three winning seasons.
Important is a subjective word, so what you deem important to the Bears’ success in a given year is most likely different than what I come up with, but the one commonality to all our lists is that the more players/coaches we mention that meet or exceed expectations, the more likely it is the Bears have success.
Most of the guys on my list clearly didn’t come through as Chicago finished at 8-8 in 2020.
Here are a couple reminders before looking back at what I had last year.
This is what I came up with back in 2009 to help guide me through my 10 most important picks.
What potential impact they may have, how much the team will look to the individual for guidance or leadership, how badly the team would suffer if they lost the player to injury, and other intangible attributes.
And here’s what I always need to write in bold as a preemptive shot to the skimmers out there.
This is my annual reminder not to skim through to the list below thinking that this is my 2021 version of my 10 Most Important Bears. I always take a look back to see how my predictions panned out before penning the latest version.
You can click on the number in front of each name to see the reasoning I had in my articles from last season.
10) Charles Leno Jr. - As weird as this sounds, Leno is one of the few players on my list that came through last season. He did bounce back from a poor 2019 by cutting his penalties from 13 to 7, cutting his sacks allowed from 5.5 to 3, and on runs off left tackle the Bears improved from 5.00 yards per carry in 2019 to 6.56 yards per carry in 2020. He was also the only offensive lineman to play all 16 games at the position he started week 1.
9) Tarik Cohen - A week 3 injury landed Cohen on season ending IR, so he wasn’t able to get started in bouncing back from his poor 2019 season.
8) Roquan Smith - After a personal issue and a pectoral injury kept him from a few games in 2019, Smith bounced back in a big way in 2020 with a 2nd-Team All-Pro appearance.
7) Jimmy Graham - A year ago I wrote that all the Bears needed from Graham is some Trey Burton-like productivity of around 50 catches, 500 yards, and to be a solid red zone target, and Graham gave the Bears 50 catches, 456 yards, and 8 touchdowns. His mentorship of Cole Kmet was an added bonus last season.
6) Robert Quinn - Quinn was one of the most disappointing free agent pick ups in recent Bears history. I called him the key to the Bears pass rush rule of 3, and while Quinn’s pressure numbers were decent, he’s paid to take the QB down.
5) Akiem Hicks - A 2019 injury held Hicks to just 5 games in 2019, so with him playing in fifteen games in 2020 he did bounce back and give the Bears a presence up front.
4) Khalil Mack - Mack had another very good 2020, but there weren’t enough game changing plays from him.
3) Juan Castillo - No Chicago position group was hit with more injuries than the offensive line in 2020, and Castillo was able to get youngsters like Sam Mustipher, Alex Bars, and Arlington Hambright ready for game action. But he also helped coach Cody Whitehair and Germain Ifedi through in-season position changes.
2) Matt Nagy - Nagy may have been hamstrung by iffy QB play and inconsistency along his offensive line, but a .500 record isn’t good enough. He gave up play calling right at the time the team decided to scale things way back and focus on an easier (and basic) boot-slide offense, which helped get the team back on track, but that 6 game losing streak doomed their season.
1) The Quarterback (whomever he may be) - Both quarterbacks missed too many throws and failed to elevate the offense. Just how bad was last year? Mitchell Trubisky signed a deal making him the 41st highest paid QB for the 2021 season (tied with Tim Boyle and C.J. Beathard), and Nick Foles fell all the way to QB3 in Chicago.
I’ll fire off number ten in my 10 Most Important Bears of 2021 list in a day or two.