Naturally, as the talent gaps between teams shrink between Week Seventeen and the Wild Card round, the playoffs present a radically difficult scenario for game planning, testing and strong-arming the very roster construction of a franchise. Once teams hit the postseason, suddenly, the stars on the other side shine just as brightly, if not more, and no longer can uneven talent imbalances propel teams to victories. Because of this, the Malcolm Butlers and the David Tyrees, the plug-and-play role players who never get enough love, and not the expected superstars dictating the drama of the flip-of-a-coin finishes of the playoffs, exemplifying the importance of a deep lineup.
And one major plus the playoff-ready Bears have his this aforementioned depth, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Playmakers run deep and a game-changing moment could come from virtually anywhere and, most importantly, any position. Eleven players, enough to fill an entire lineup, had an interception this season, with six having multiple picks. Ten players had multiple sacks and fifteen had at least one to their name.
Offensively, twelve players scored touchdowns and nine players had one through the air. Even offensive tackles and interior defensive lineman found a way to contribute to the scoreboard this season, a testament to head coach Matt Nagy’s endless creativity.
Getting an entire roster involved and ditching the characteristic benchwarming of non-starters will be a key difference maker for the Bears going into the postseason. So today, we look at a few under-the-radar players who could have a larger impact in the playoffs than their regular season output conveys.
Eddie Goldman, Defensive Tackle
Goldman silently had an absolute career year, bordering on Pro Bowl levels, yet remains relatively unknown outside of Bears fans circles and the occasional analytic buff. Even without the deserved buzz, his run stuffing prowess and surprising pass rush will be a vital weapon for the Bears defensive line in the playoffs. With an 89.3 run defense grade from Pro Football Focus and twenty-seven total stops, he combined with Pro Bowler Akiem Hicks make running up the middle virtually impossible. Also, considering his twenty-eight total pressures this season, his impact seeps into pass rush as well.
Allowing the fourth lowest runningback yards in the league will be a massive advantage for a far slower and more methodical playoff atmosphere, where teams wane off the explosive passing to rely on a far safer rushing scheme. Though the spread game dominates the playbooks of the elite of the NFC, neutralizing an opposition’s power running will erase large chunks of a playbook and nearly cause a dynamic offense to dwindle into a one-dimensional territory.
Though his impact often won’t pop off the stat sheet, Goldman will undoubtedly be a key figure in the Bears defensive dominance.
Adam Shaheen, Tight End
As teams learn and hone in on the most dangerous offensive threats of their opponent, it opens a necessity for yards, scores, and plays from elsewhere. Defenses grow more mindful and with their star receiver on defensive lockdown, quarterbacks will be forced to spread the ball around more in the playoffs than the regular season, resulting in the more targets falling on the shoulders of receivers lower on the depth chart.
So enter Adam Shaheen.
Seen as a number one offensive tight end coming out of Ashland, Shaheen has largely been swept under the rug throughout his career and never has been able to have the offensive impact fans had thought. This season, hampered by injuries, was projected as a breakout year from him but just never came to fruition. He started a disappointing four games and only had three where he even had a target, with one touchdown all year.
While his regular season may not have enjoyed the leap, the playoffs will grant a great opportunity for him. He may be the second tight end option behind Trey Burton, his superior size allows him to be a potentially formidable red zone target. Since Nagy has already wasted a lot of tricks from the very back of his playbook this season on two-point attempts, Shaheen should be a reliable go-to when the Bears get within five.
Sherrick McManis, Cornerback
After a budding Bryce Callahan fell to the IR after an ill-timed broken foot, the pass coverage seemed like it would take a significant step back in his absence. After all, his career year almost totally wiped out a slot receiver and his impressive 81.3 defensive grade from Pro Football Focus securely put his name in the top fifteen in the league. Really, if he hadn’t gotten hurt, it would’ve been his name in this slot on this list.
However, the emergence of Sherrick McManis might just be a more exciting surprise. Often picked on by opposing offenses in years past, McManis only ever received snaps his seventh and current season in very select packages. It took him until his sixth season to finally put together a solid season, almost teasing a breakout in the subsequent year. And a breakout season it has been for the Northwestern product.
Even though it may be a small sample size (only seeing 179 snaps this season), ranking in the top four for coverage grade on Pro Football Focus highlights just how he has been in Callahan’s place. Shoving a lesser player into an elite secondary such as the Bears would have left a gaping hole to exploit but McManis has responded very well to the responsibility. As an above average run-stopping corner, interestingly far better than Callahan, his presence will be a huge boost to not just the pass game, but also the run stopping.
Potentially facing a Todd Gurley or an Alvin Kamara down the line, having that help from the secondary disallows the characteristic big plays from the heavyweights of the league. Callahan may return if the Bears find a way to power themselves to the Super Bowl but for the first couple of rounds, the spotlight will be on McManis, something he has handled relievingly well.