If there’s one thing Chicago Bears GM Ryan Pace does well, it’s finding diamonds in the rough. Since he was hired back in 2015, Pace has found players that were either passed on or never considered by other teams around the league. Players such as Akiem Hicks, Eddie Jackson, and Cody Whitehair serve as excellent examples of player who found ways to break out in Chicago.
Now, we have a new list of potential breakout candidates. Some may be familiar to the average fan, some not so much. However, all of them have a unique chance to take off this season. Who are these sleepers? Let’s dive in.
Note: Justin Fields was kept off this list because it’s painfully obvious he’ll breakout sooner or later.
Number Five: Duke Shelley
With last year’s second round pick Jaylon Johnson set to take over the role left by former All-Pro corner Kyle Fuller, everything else seems up in the air. Entering his third season in the league, Duke Shelley finds himself in a position to take a starting spot.
While he’s seen most of his time on special teams, Shelley saw a decent amount of snaps on defense last season. The team seems to be high on the sixth round pick out of Kansas State. If he finds a way on the field, Shelly could be set for favorable matchups and a chance to prove himself.
Number Four: Trevis Gipson
Simply put, the Bears need more production out of the outside linebacker room. Once you get past star pass rusher Khalil Mack, the drop off is noticeable. Robert Quinn was brought in last season to solidify the position, but was a large disappointment. Enter last season’s fifth round pick, Trevis Gipson.
Considered to be a project coming out of the draft, Gipson is an impressive athlete who excelled in the college game. As expected, that didn’t immediately translate to the pro game. Gipson wasn’t great in 2020, but his potential is limitless. If Quinn continues to struggle early into 2021, Gipson will have every opportunity in the world to show the team what he has.
Number Three: Darnell Mooney
This is where we get to the leaps in production. Anybody who watched the Chicago Bears last season knows exactly how talented Darnell Mooney is. His numbers weren’t reflective of his ability, as he was constantly overthrown by his quarterbacks.
After spending this offseason working out with Allen Robinson, it’s easy to assume Mooney will take a huge step forward in his development this season. Having more consistency at the quarterback position will also be a great compliment to his game. Working with a master of the route tree, expect Mooney to use his already elite athleticism to his advantage and consistently break the ankles of cornerbacks.
Yes, we’re looking at you Jalen Ramsey.
Number Two: Bilal Nichols
The Bears saw two consistent defensive lineman leave in free agency this offseason. Roy Roberson-Harris and Brent Urban were both fan favorites who excelled at getting to the quarterback. However, there’s a reason they weren’t offered contracts to return. Bilal Nichols.
There were points last season where you could argue Nichols was the best interior lineman on the team. Obviously Akiem Hicks would have something to say about that, but it shows how far Nichols has come. He was relatively disappointing in 2019, but showed an incredible mix of strength and athleticism in 2020. If he continues to trend in this direction, Nichols might be due for a nice payday.
Number One: David Montgomery
Every time I watch David Montgomery run the football, I think to myself: “How in the world does Matt Nagy forget about this guy?” That’s because Montgomery shows the signs of an elite running back, which can elevate the entire offense to new heights. A dynamic running game can truly open up a passing offense. Looking at the impact running backs like Derrick Henry, Ezekiel Elliott, and Dalvin Cook have on their respected offenses, using a player like Montgomery should be obvious.
He has all the traits of a true workhorse back and has proven to answer the call when needed. Expect that to ramp up with spell-mate Tarik Cohen returning to the offense. The biggest question mark when it comes to Montgomery is his head coach’s willingness to commit to the run game. If Nagy uses his running backs to the best of their ability, the sky is the limit. After all, loading the box against Montgomery gives you better matchups in the passing game.
Who do you want think will break out in 2021? Let us know on Twitter! You can find me @ThatPodGuyDuke or all of us over @BearsOnTap.
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