Shaw Local is counting down the top 25 most important Bears for the 2022 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 2022 (or maybe he will be), but he certainly is among the most important.
No. 22 Al-Quadin Muhammad
Position: Defensive end
NFL experience: Sixth season
Last year’s ranking: N/A
Looking back: Pass rusher Al-Quadin Muhammad never had a true opportunity to start in the NFL until last year. He started all 17 games for the Indianapolis Colts in 2021, recording six sacks, seven tackles for loss and 13 QB hits. New Bears head coach Matt Eberflus had a front-row seat to watch Muhammad’s rise from rotational piece to starter.
Muhammad was a 2017 sixth-round draft pick of the New Orleans Saints but lasted only one season in New Orleans. The Saints cut him in September 2018, which allowed Indianapolis to claim him off waivers one day later. He spent the next four seasons with the Colts, which coincided with Eberflus’ four years as the defensive coordinator in Indianapolis. Until 2021, he never started more than four games in a season.
Muhammad knows the scheme Eberflus is implementing in Chicago. It’s a huge reason why the 27-year-old signed a two-year, $8 million contract with the Bears in March.
Looking forward: With pass rusher Khalil Mack gone and Robert Quinn possibly on the trading block, the Bears could have ample opportunities at defensive end. Muhammad figures to be a starter, although he sat out most of the spring practice period for undisclosed reasons.
The Bears are in the midst of a major roster overhaul. Muhammad fits the mold of just about every free agent that general manager Ryan Poles signed this offseason – he has shown flashes of brilliance on the field but came at a relative bargain in free agency. The Bears can be optimistic that Muhammad might take the next step in his career, but if it never materializes, they haven’t overexerted themselves financially. Muhammad could be the next big pass rusher for the Bears, or he could just be a placeholder until Poles can address the position in the draft.
Either way, the 2022 Bears need Muhammad to play at a high level if they want any chance of success this fall. That becomes especially true if the team deals Quinn at some point.