The following is the sixth of eight position reviews of the Bears’ 2018 season.
A monster season from Akiem Hicks helped the Bears win the NFC North title and land the veteran defensive tackle in his first career Pro Bowl.
Hicks anchored the defensive line in 2018, leading the Bears with 12 tackles-for-loss while ranking second with 7.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and 16 quarterback hits.
“I thought he had a really good year,” said coach Matt Nagy. “He was impactful, just dominating that line of scrimmage. He was able to disrupt the quarterback and was great versus the run. It’s what we talked about in training camp; for him to come out and be a dominant player, and he did that.”
Hicks recorded a career-high five tackles-for-loss in a Nov. 18 win over the Vikings that gave the Bears sole possession of first place. He also scored a touchdown on a 1-yard run on fourth-and-goal Dec. 2 against the Giants, becoming the first Bears defensive lineman to rush for a touchdown since William “Refrigerator” Perry in Super Bowl XX.
Hicks was thrilled to be voted to his first Pro Bowl, saying: “Being selected to the Pro Bowl is an honor. I have played the game of football my entire life and this is the greatest accolade I’ve ever achieved. To be respected by my peers and the greatest fans in professional sports is an honor. I’m extremely proud to represent the Bears organization along with the City of Chicago.”
Hicks has performed exceptionally well since signing with the Bears as a free agent in 2016. While he made the Pro Bowl for the first time in seven NFL seasons in 2018, his numbers were even better in 2017 when he registered 8.5 sacks and 15 tackles-for-loss.
Nose tackle Eddie Goldman also excelled in 2018, compiling 40 tackles, three sacks, five tackles-for-loss, three quarterback hits and one fumble recovery.
“He’s a guy that when you end up getting to the end of the game, you may not think that he made as many plays as he did,” Nagy said. “But when you watch the tape and you see what he did and how he affected so many different plays with his play style, he’s very savvy, he’s smart, he does everything that you ask him to do, and he does it really every single play. We’re really lucky to have him.”
The Bears unearthed a gem in the fifth round of last year’s draft with defensive tackle Bilal Nichols, who earned more playing time as the season progressed. The 6-4, 290-pound rookie appeared in 14 games with six starts in 2018, recording 28 tackles, three sacks, five tackles-for-loss, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.
Nichols was voted to the ESPN.com NFL All-Rookie Team along with two Bears teammates, linebacker Roquan Smith and guard James Daniels.
Other defensive line contributors included Roy Robertson-Harris and Jonathan Bullard, both of whom played in all 16 games. Robertson-Harris registered 20 tackles, three sacks and three tackles-for-loss, while Bullard produced 18 tackles and three tackles-for-loss.
In 2018, the defensive line helped the Bears lead the NFL in fewest points per game (17.7), takeaways (36), interceptions (27), interception return touchdowns (5), lowest opponent passer rating (72.9) and fewest rushing yards per game (80.0).