This one hurts. As of this writing, Akiem Hicks remains unsigned, but does not appear to be part of the future for Ryan Poles and the Chicago Bears.
Akiem Hicks occupies an interesting space in Chicago Bears history. Signed to one of those “prove-it” deals before the 2016 season, Hicks gave the Bears identity during the lean John Fox years. A mountain of a man that most closely resembled an actual grizzly, Hicks earned fan favorite status almost instantly, compiling 23 sacks over his first 3 seasons and earning a Pro Bowl nod after the 2018 campaign. Hicks won the Championship Belt for the 2016 and 2017 seasons as the best player on the team and found his way onto the Top 100 Bears of All-Time list at #83 before the 2019 season.
The modest arc of success during the Ryan Pace era starts with the signing of Hicks. The Bears defense in 2014 and 2015 posted bottom five DVOA rankings. The arrival of Hicks with a clear path to snaps gave him the opportunity to shine. In 2016, the defense showed signs of competency, followed by flashes of brilliance in 2017, peaking with dominance in 2018. Vic Fangio’s great 2018 defense started with the foundational brick wearing #96.
The big defensive end started all 16 games for the Bears during those first 3 seasons but missed 20 over the next 3. In his six seasons in Chicago, Hicks recorded 31 sacks and 51 tackles for loss. An easy guy to cheer for, his story somehow feels incomplete, like Bears fans were robbed of the full Hicks experience. What if instead of Brandon Hardin, the Bears took Hicks in the 3rd round of the 2012 NFL Draft? How central would he be to the history of the team then? What if the double doink goes in and Vic Fangio isn’t hired away to Denver? Do the Bears remain competitive with a top defense, keeping Hicks in the spotlight a little longer?
Top 100 Bear of All-Time
This question was already answered before the 2019 season with the inclusion of Hicks at #83 overall. The question that needs addressed now is whether anything that happened in the last three years warrants an adjustment to his ranking on the list. I think one narrative that gained a fair amount of traction was that the defense suffered mightily without him in 2019, therefore he was incredibly valuable to the team. I’m willing to at least consider that for the 2019 season as the unit did play much better when he was on the field that year for two full games and parts of three others. His performance peaks and impact to the roster during his tenure justify a small rise on the list.
I’m drawn to a group of offensive linemen occupying the mid- to late-70’s on the list. Kyle Long leads this trio of big uglies followed by Mike Pyle and James “Big Cat” Williams. Long’s career represents the shortest with the highest peaks of these three with Pyle and Big Cat enjoying longer careers with one Pro Bowl on each resume. Of this group, I can easily rank Long first with a bigger peak, but could make a case for each guy to follow Long. That indicates that we’re in the right neighborhood.
Verdict: Hicks moves up behind Big Cat to the #79 slot on the Top 100 Bears of All-Time. Note: Mack’s inclusion pushes every player below 52 down one notch.
The Akiem Hicks experience in Chicago paid off handsomely. He won the hearts and minds of Bears fans and I predict will be part of this team moving forward like an Anthony Spice Adams or Alex Brown. I wish his NFL history and Bears history were one and the same but that’s just not how it works. If he continues playing in 2022 and beyond, I’ll be one of the multitudes of Bears fans cheering for him. When his playing career concludes, we’ll be right here welcoming him back with open arms.
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