Several Bears should get an invitation to take part in the January exhibition in Orlando
The 2018 Chicago Bears have been one of the surprise teams in the NFL this season. After going 14-34 under John Fox from 2015-17, the Bears enter Week 15 9-4 and in first place in the NFC North under first-year head coach Matt Nagy. In fact, Chicago can clinch its first division title since 2010 with a win at home over Green Bay on Sunday.
The Bears' renaissance has been fueled by the defense, which ranks third in the NFL and in both yards and points allowed per game. The offense has done its part, as it ranks seventh in the league in scoring (27.6 ppg).
It goes without saying that one of the reasons Chicago is in this position is because of the quality of players it has on the roster. Pro Bowl voting ends on Thursday and the Bears figure to be well represented. Chicago didn't have anyone voted or named to the Pro Bowl as an alternate last year and have sent a total of 23 players since the 1998 season.
Here are five Bears who deserve an invitation to take be a part of the 2019 Pro Bowl on Jan. 27, 2019 in Orlando, Florida.
Khalil Mack, OLB
Let's get the easiest choice out of the way first. Chicago's $141 million man has lived up to the billing and expectations that come with being the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history. Even though Mack has missed two games because of an ankle injury, he leads the league in forced fumbles (six) and is one of 14 players with at least 10 sacks. His impact on the Bears' defense has been immeasurable and it's only fitting that he gets to represent his new team by receiving a third straight Pro Bowl invite.
Roquan Smith, ILB
A contender for NFL Rookie of the Year honors, Smith is making a late push for a Pro Bowl invite as well. He's currently third in his draft class in tackles (97) to go along with four sacks, an interception and four passes defended. He missed all of training camp and the preseason because of a contract holdout but he has shown himself to be a quick study and has justified the team's selection of him as the eighth overall pick.
Kyle Fuller, CB
The Bears' 2014 first-round pick has gone from being an afterthought to one of the more consistent defensive backs in the league. After signing a four-year, $56 million contract to stay in Chicago, Fuller has shown himself to be worthy of the investment. He's tied for the NFL lead with seven interceptions and is tops in passes defended with 19. Fuller picked the perfect season to maximize his potential and ability and he deserves Pro Bowl recognition.
Akiem Hicks, DE
No. 96 was the heart and soul of this team during the John Fox era. And now, thanks in part to having a better supporting cast, Hicks is finally being recognized for his consistent (and at times, dominating) play up front. He has six sacks and three forced fumbles and a rushing touchdown, which came two weeks ago against the New York Giants. Hicks has long toiled in obscurity, but "The Freezer" is just as deserving as getting his first Pro Bowl nod as any of his teammates.
Tarik Cohen, RB
Jordan Howard has been the leading rusher each of the past two seasons, but Cohen's versatility and explosiveness has been a tailor-made fit for head coach Matt Nagy's offense. Cohen ranks seventh in the NFL in all-purpose yards (1,445) and he's accounted for 10 total touchdowns, including a touchdown pass. Cohen is the team's leading receiver and arguably has been the best player on that side of the ball. Cohen is the type of player who could really shine in a Pro Bowl setting, all he needs is an invite to show off his skills.
— Gabe Salgado is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He's a co-host of The Rewind Sports: 60. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.