September 22, 2021

Top 25 most important Bears in 2021: No. 1 Khalil Mack

Take a look at Shaw Local’s complete top 25

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?

For example, 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. 1 Khalil Mack

Position: Outside linebacker

NFL experience: Eighth season

Looking back: Khalil Mack has been the driving force behind the Bears’ defense in his three years in Chicago. He led the team in sacks each of those three seasons. Although it can feel as if he disappeared for stretches during the past two seasons, the film says otherwise. Teams purposely run to the side opposite where Mack lines up. He routinely takes on double-teams. Not many pass rushers can play 85% of a team’s defensive snaps and draw so much attention from offensive lines.

Mack was a second-team All-Pro performer in 2020, totaling nine sacks, 50 total tackles, 11 tackles for loss, three forced fumbles and an interception. He dealt with various bumps and bruises along the way, and coach Matt Nagy was cautious, often giving Mack an extra day off during game weeks.

Looking forward: The Bears have Mack under contract for four more seasons (with a voidable fifth year in 2025). They have paid the 30-year-old handsomely for his services, and he has rewarded the team by being its best defender with a no-nonsense approach off the field. Entering 2021, Mack still is an elite player. But Mack and the Bears’ defensive core isn’t getting any younger.

When Mack is wreaking havoc on offenses, life is good for the Bears. No matter which quarterback is playing, the Bears need Mack to perform at a high level. Much is out of Mack’s control. He can’t help it that Robert Quinn provided little help on the other side last season. But if the Bears are going to have a successful 2021 season, they need to find creative ways to put Mack in positions to dominate opponents.

The numbers speak for themselves: Since 2018, the Bears are 18-7 in games when Mack is credited with at least half a sack. He is the engine that makes this team run.

In case you missed it: Previous installments of the top 25

Sean Hammond

Sean Hammond

Sean is the Chicago Bears beat reporter for Shaw Media. He also contributes to high school football coverage at Friday Night Drive. Sean has covered various sports at the amateur, college and professional levels since 2012. He joined Shaw Media in 2016.