Bears Roster Review is a weekly conversation about the state of the 2020 Bears roster from JJ Stankevitz and Cam Ellis. This week: defensive line.
ELLIS: JJ, hello. Welcome back from vacation! Did you spend it wondering about Matt Nagy's pre-snap motion deficiencies and how the tight end situation will play out? I will assume you did.
Luckily for us, today we finally get to chat about the defense. We'll do the line today, because that is what I arbitrarily decided 3 hours ago. I think, somewhat paradoxically, the Bears' defensive line is both the deepest while also being the unit that cannot afford to lose its best player the most. Does that sound right? Or did I jump the gun because I wanted to use 'paradoxically'?
STANKEVITZ: Maybe, because I would argue the Bears' wide receiver room is deep but cannot afford to lose its best player more than the D-line. But good use of the word!
But your point seem to be that Akiem Hicks is really, really, really good. Which he is! Though I think the Bears are in a better position in 2020 to withstand losing him - which hopefully doesn't happen - because Bilal Nichols won't ALSO be hurt at the same time.
ELLIS: Yeah, so let's start with Nichols and we can circle back around to Hicks when we feel like it. Health's the biggest concern, right? Somewhat weirdly enough, he played in less games than he did in 2018 while still doubling his starts. He played over 100 more snaps last year than 2018 but his numbers took a dip. We love talking about the Year 3 Jump, so what does a good jump for Nichols look like?
STANKEVITZ: I think it's just being a solid first/second down run stuffer who can rotate with Hicks and Eddie Goldman. I'm not worried about his sack total - that's more for Roy Robertson-Harris - but I still like his upside as a rotational depth guy. For a former fifth round pick, that's pretty good! I think the hand injury impacted him more than we might've assumed last year. As long as he's beyond that, and I would expect he is, I don't see why Nichols can't be part of a really strong D-line rotation again in 2020.
ELLIS: Yeah, agreed. I think Roy Robertson-Harris is the guy on this unit that has the most 'wiggle room' in terms of what we should/can expect from him performance-wise. We know who Akiem Hicks and Eddie Goldman are. Like you said, a healthy Nichols is a nice piece.
Robertson-Harris has tantalizing potential; he's had 4 sacks in each of his three seasons, but in 2018/2019 his hurries basically tripled from his rookie campaign (5). The share of snaps he's been on the field for has dramatically risen every year, but they're still hovering around half of what Khalil Mack had last year, for comparison. How much are you buying into Contract Year Roy?
STANKEVITZ: I'm buying into him pretty significantly, but to a point, if that makes sense. I'm not buying him as a double-digit sack guy, but I think an uptick to maybe six or seven sacks with more pressures is reasonable. I love that he's been coached by Jay Rodgers his whole career -- Rodgers being one of the best D-line coaches on the planet -- and I imagine he'll take some motivation from trying to get a big payday in 2021.
I do wonder how much this line is going to miss Nick Williams, though, seeing as he did a lot of good things out of nowhere in 2019. Depth is going to be critical in playing a season amid a pandemic, and the Bears have a deep D-line room, but maybe not as deep as it was last year.
ELLIS: I think that's a good point. Two of the Bears' best four pass rushers from 2019 (Leonard Floyd and Aaron Lynch) are obviously gone. Nick Williams had more total pressures last year (21) than Nichols, Goldman, and Hicks. Granted, there were serious injuries there, but you're right – he's a big loss. I think that also points out how not-that-efficient the Bears' pass rush was last year, too. We'll get into EDGE guys at a later date, but I'm curious where you fall on how crucial it is that those 4 guys get more penetration. I think it's plenty fair to not worry too much about it because they're an amazing run-stopping group that will happen to be flanked by two of the game's premier pass-rushers, but it is interesting to me that, outside Hicks, there's not a lot of QB disruption from these guys.
STANKEVITZ: Yeah, and I think that's fine. Goldman does so much for the defense as a whole that I'm not worried about his sacks/pressure numbers, because he allows for a lot of sacks/pressures to happen. It's almost kind of trite to be like EDDIE GOLDMAN IS UNDERAPPRECIATED because he should win the "Sweep the Sheds Award" every week. Also he's making a bunch of money, so he's not underappreciated inside Halas Hall.
It's a lot easier to scheme pressure when you have a D-line as good as the Bears have. Roquan Smith has a pretty good knack for getting to the quarterback, too, let's not forget.
ELLIS: Throw in a few of Danny Trevathan's crafty pass-rushing moves too! I still remember that night in D.C. last year fondly.
STANKEVITZ: JUKE STICK!
ELLIS: So any real last thoughts? I feel like this is sort of the easiest Bears' group to dissect. Hicks is an All-Pro. Goldman/Nichols are high-upside starters. RRH is going to get to run at the QBs a whoooooole bunch. If they're all healthy, I feel like this unit has the highest floor of basically any unit on the team. I don't see a lot of non-health related regression happening when you're that deep, talented, and well-coached. I'm officially a homer now!!
STANKEVITZ: It's easy to be a homer about the Bears' D-line. I'm with you about the floor, so long as everyone stays healthy. I have no concerns and mostly am looking forward to watching Akiem Hicks wreck right guards on a weekly basis this season.
ELLIS: Easy enough! There you have it Bears fans: JJ's basically saying they're a 15-win team.
[Ed. note: That is not, actually, what JJ is saying.]
2020 Bears Roster Review: Is the D-line the most talented unit on the team? originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago