Chicago Football Madness: Khalil Mack, Matt Nagy headline 2018 Region

Chicago Football Madness: Khalil Mack, Matt Nagy headline 2018 Region originally appeared on nbcsportschicago.com

Excitement for the Bears is at an all-time high, so while March Madness and the NCAA Tournament begin, we still have Bears on the mind. So we've created Chicago Bears Football Madness, pitting players from the three best Bears teams and legends head-to-head. This is the 2018 region.

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1.   Khalil Mack
16. Cody Parkey

Mack: Good players are hard to find in the NFL. Great players are even tougher. Elite players? Those guys rarely become available. So when the Oakland Raiders were willing to trade an elite player, Ryan Pace did what he had to do, surrendering two-first round picks and a boatload of cap space in the process. Mack immediately transformed the Bears' defense from a good unit to a great one, with his mere presence scrambling opposing quarterbacks and coordinators. No player had a bigger impact on the Bears' 12-4 season from not only a production standpoint, but from a mental one, too. Mack was worth every bit of draft capital and cap space the Bears parted with to acquire him in 2018. 

Parkey: Someone had to be sacrificed for Mack to move on to the next round. Before his double-doink and ill-advised "TODAY" appearance, Parkey missed 10 kicks in the regular season, including that comical four-miss game against the Lions in which he hit an upright four times. Parkey's time in Chicago will not be remembered fondly, except perhaps for the time news choppers flew over Soldier Field to watch him practice in November. 

- By JJ Stankevitz

2.   Matt Nagy
15. Jordan Howard

Nagy: From the moment Nagy first addressed his team in early April of last year, his message resonated. It wasn't just the offense quickly buying into him - it was the defense, too, appreciating his genuine personality and swagger. "Club Dub" became a massive hit, as did him yelling "Boom!" after wins later in the season. Innovative plays like "Willy Wonka" and "Santa's Sleigh" became almost an expectation near the goal line. Not only did Nagy make the Bears good again, he made them fun, too. 

Howard: Howard's going to lose this matchup, but let's not forget that the 24-year-old is still a pretty good running back. He's just not the right running back for Nagy's offense. Howard is the only player in franchise history - the same franchise history that has Gale Sayers, Walter Payton and Matt Forte - to rush for over 1,000 yards in each of his first two seasons in the NFL. The Bears may hang on to Howard as a goal-line touchdown vulture/insurance policy, or they may trade him after drafting a running back in April. But for what it's worth, Howard was the Bears' leading rusher in 2018. Maybe that counts for something. 

- By JJ Stankevitz

3.   Akiem Hicks
14. Leonard Floyd
 

Akiem Hicks: Ryan Pace's biggest hit in free agency. Hicks is your #3 seed in a bracket that some might consider the favorite to come out of the region. While he might not have the flare of a Mack or a Nagy ahead of him, his hard nosed and nasty presence anchored arguably the NFL's top defense to the tune of 7.5 sacks, 41 tackles, and 3 forced fumbles. Freezer Left made him the most beloved Bears DL since the Fridge. 

Leonard Floyd: Floyd represents the bigger name school that drops to a lower seed, but one that can show flashes of competing with anyone. While Floyd hasn't exactly lived up to the #9 pick billing, he's had moments that make you think there's something special (2.0 sacks against the Packers to clinch the North, anyone?) and if March Madness is known for one thing, it's those types of special moments.

- By Matt Rooney

4.   Eddie Jackson
13. Danny Trevathan

Jackson: The undisputed breakout start of the 2018 Bears, Eddie Jackson is extremely the real deal. PFF had him as their top safety in football all year, and the NFL seemed to agree when he was named All-Pro. He has a knack for finding the end zone, and at one (late) point this last season had as many touchdowns as a BUNCH of Pro Bowl receivers. 8 interceptions, 3 touchdowns, and 94 solo tackles over 30 games is incredible, and Jackson's set to be a staple of the Bears' defense for years to come. And you think Landon Collins got paid … 

Trevathan: Almost the polar opposite of Jackson. Trevathan doesn't pile up stats or make flashy plays, but the veteran's presence on the Bears defense cannot be understated. A leader in the locker room and on the field, spend two minutes in Halas Hall and you'd get a great understand of just how much respect Trevathan, a Super Bowl champ on a team with not many, commands. With that said, Trevathan had a great 2018, putting up his 2nd-best season in terms of solo tackles and forced fumbles, so it's not like like he's some chump, either. 

- By Cam Ellis

5.    Mitch Trubisky
12.  Vic Fangio

Trubisky: Were there head-scratching moments for Trubisky in 2018? Of course. Does he need to be better in 2019? Definitely. But we saw the upside of just how good he can be in wins at Soldier Field over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Detroit Lions, and he showed an ability to dial back some of his more aggressive/ill-advised throws over the final few games of the season. Also, his running ability was a sneaky weapon for Matt Nagy's offense (421 yards, 6.2 yards/attempt). Trubisky took command of the Bears in 2018, and going forward, they'll go as far as he'll take them. 

Fangio: The "evil genius," as Khalil Mack called him, was the mastermind behind not only the NFL's No. 1 defense in 2018, but a group that continued the Bears' legacy of elite defenses. Yes, Fangio is now the coach of the Denver Broncos, but his scheme was mesmerizing to watch, especially with how he disguised coverages and sent calculated blitzes. Players were, understandably, sad to see him go, but he left Chicago as one of the best defensive minds to ever come through the franchise. 

- By JJ Stankevitz    

6.   Kyle Fuller
11. Trey Burton

Fuller: All Fuller did to prove he was worth the Bears matching Green Bay's 4-year $56M offer in free agency last year was to tie for the NFL lead in interceptions (7) while leading the Bears ball-hawking defense. Crazy to think that at this time two years ago, it was looking like his future was all but assured to be in some place other than Chicago. He is more than capable of snatching a few wins from unsuspecting opponents…as long as he doesn't let a sure game-winner slip thru his hands. 
 
Burton: Much like a mid-major darling who excels in the underdog role (early 2000s Gonzaga anyone?), Burton didn't fare as well in his first go round as a household name with lofty expectations (yup, 2004-2013 Gonzaga). Trending like a bubble team that falls apart down the stretch, Burton still manages to back into the tournament but that's where his Bears big dance off stops. He certainly had his moments & 6 touchdowns show what kind of a weapon he can be in Matt Nagy's offense. But he was inconsistent and fluke injury or not, he disappeared when it mattered most.

- By Paul Aspan

7.   Tarik Cohen
10. Taylor Gabriel 

Tarik Cohen: The other half of Ryan Pace's prized 2017 4th-round draft, Cohen was arguably the most valuable member of the Bears' offense last season. Whether it was his 444 rushing yards, 725 receiving yards, or eight total touchdowns, Cohen improved across the board in his sophomore campaign. He also led the league in punt return yards, went to the Pro Bowl, and was named the NFL's All-Pro punt returner. It's not a coincidence that the Bears' double-doink loss also saw Cohen only touch the ball four times. Right now, at least, Matt Nagy's offense flows through him. 

Taylor Gabriel: After starting no more than four games during any season while with the Falcons, Gabriel came to Chicago and started 11. He set career highs in receptions, yards, and catch percentage. Though his production took a dip after a *huge* October, Gabriel emerged as a surprising deep threat, and his highlight catches against Miami, Tampa Bay, and Minnesota became must-watch TV. If Gabriel is still the Bears' best deep option next season, something's gone terribly wrong, but during an era when every team needs a reliable slot receiver, Gabriel fits the mold. 

- By Cam Ellis

8. Roquan Smith
9. Allen Robinson

Smith: There may have been a touch of disappointment among Bears fans when Bradley Chubb and Quenton Nelson didn't fall to number eight in the 2018 NFL Draft. And while both had great rookie campaigns, their ultimate pick - Roquan Smith - had one of the best rookie seasons in Bears franchise history. No training camp? No problem. Despite waiting until mid-August to finally sign, Smith racked up a team-leading 121 tackles, falling just a few shy of Brian Urlacher's rookie record. He only started 14 of the Bears' 16 games, but Smith logged six games of 10+ tackles, ranked third on the team with 5.0 sacks, and picked off a pass too. 

Robinson: The main prize of Ryan Pace's 2018 free agent class? Allen Robinson. Despite playing only 13 games due to some nagging injuries, Robinson still led the Bears in receiving yards and targets. His four touchdown output might be a bit disappointing, but considering the amount of trickery Matt Nagy deployed in the red zone last season, it's not entirely surprising. Perhaps more important, Robinson was integral in the Bears comeback efforts against the Eagles in the playoffs with 10 catches, 143 yards and a score. He and Mitchell Trubisky could have a marriage that lasts a long time in Chicago.  

- By Slavko Bekovic

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