ESPN released its projected top 100 players for this season Monday and not a single Bears player made the cut.
The Bears weren’t the only team unrepresented on the list, which was topped by Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, respectively. The Miami Dolphins and Indianapolis Colts were also missing in the top 100.
The methodology behind the list could be viewed as controversial. ESPN had its NFL experts rank and predict this season’s best players based solely on “greatness this season” and not their past performances or positional value.
While ESPN didn’t see any Bears players were worthy of a mention, a compelling arguments could be made for defensive lineman Akiem Hicks and running back Jordan Howard, as Pro Football Weekly pointed out.
Hicks’ NFL career didn’t necessarily take off until his fifth season in the league. But once he did come around, he’s been one of the Bears’ best pass rushers.
Over the last two seasons, Hicks has shown steady improvement. Last season, he set career-highs with 8.5 sacks and 39 tackles. Those numbers broke his previous records of seven sacks and 36 tackles, which he set in 2016. If he stays on the pattern he’s had over the last two years, he’s due for another strong performance in 2018.
As for the running backs, Howard seemingly got the short end of the stick as ESPN deemed Giants rookie Saquon Barkley and Vikings rusher Dalvin Cook, who is coming off an ACL tear, more worthy of a mention than him.
Howard, who is one of the Bears’ best skilled offensive players, finished top 10 in the league for rushing yards and rushing yards per game in each of the last two seasons. Last season, he averaged 70.1 rushing yards per game (good for tenth in the NFL) and finished with a total of 1,122 rushing yards, the sixth-most in the league.
While ESPN stressed that it wasn’t going to focus on past performances, Howard’s consistent capabilities shouldn’t be overlooked, especially with coach Matt Nagy’s fast-moving offense.