Leading up to Bears training camp in late July, Shaw Local is counting down the top 25 most important Bears for the 2021 season.
What makes one player more important than another? That’s subjective, of course. But for our purposes it comes down to this: Are the Bears worse off if this player can’t play? Does this player have untapped potential or past greatness to live up to? Is his story going to be one fans follow closely this season?
Justin Fields might not be the best player on the Bears in 2021 (or maybe he will be), but he certainly is among the most important.
No. 11 Eddie Jackson
NFL experience: Fifth season
Looking back: The Bears briefly made Eddie Jackson the highest-paid safety in the NFL in January 2020 (a few months later, Arizona’s Budda Baker passed him) with a four-year, $58.4 million extension. He was coming off back-to-back outstanding seasons, with Pro Bowl appearances in 2018 and 2019, and All-Pro honors in 2018. Not bad for the 2017 fourth-round draft pick.
Jackson didn’t have the 2020 season the Bears envisioned. He failed to haul in an interception (two were wiped off the board by penalties) after totaling 10 over his first three NFL seasons. There were times when he almost disappeared on the field. To be fair, however, offenses also avoided him – notably when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers didn’t target him even once. He finished his 2020 season with 81 total tackles, five passes defended, three forced fumbles and one fumble recovery (which went for a touchdown against the Rams).
Looking forward: Jackson is such an important piece for the Bears this season because they need him to return to that Pro Bowl-caliber play. He has veteran safety Tashaun Gipson beside him for a second consecutive year. If defensive coordinator Sean Desai – who has a ton of experience working with the secondary – can help Jackson reach his previous level, it will work wonders for the defense.
Although last year was not what the Bears wanted out of Jackson, it also wasn’t so bad. At 27 years old, Jackson is far from over the hill and can turn things around in 2021. If he does, it could elevate the Bears’ secondary and have an effect on the entire defense.