Following a breakout season is never easy, but Akiem Hicks did that and more in 2017.
After reaching career bests in sacks, tackles, and forced fumbles, Hicks set new career highs in sacks and tackles for a second consecutive season. It all added up to another stellar year in which he was one of the league’s most productive 3-4 defensive ends despite not getting Pro Bowl recognition.
HOWEVER, the Bleacher Report NFL scouting staff wasn’t going to let it slide completely.
BR’s NFL1000 series breaks down the best of the best at each position and named Hicks the NFL’s best 3-4 defensive end.
Lead Scout Doug Farrar compared Hicks favorably to Justin Smith, a dominant defensive force Vic Fangio coached while with the San Francisco 49ers. Smith started 62 of 64 games from 2011-14 when Fangio was the 49ers’ defensive coordinator. He picked up 22 sacks, forced six fumbles, and recovered three during his time as an anchor on the defensive line. He made three straight Pro Bowl appearances (2011, 2012, 2013) and was a first-team All-Pro member in 2011. This is high praise, no doubt.
Defensive Line Scout Justis Mosqueda called Hicks’ 8.5-sack season “elite” for an interior defender, while his 19.5 tackles at or behind the line of scrimmage were more than fellow defensive linemen Eddie Goldman, Jonathan Bullard, and Mitch Unrein, who combined to produce just 17. Hicks had 15 tackles for loss in 2017, which were the third most among defensive ends who play in a base 3-4 alignment.
Now, how is THAT for following a breakout season? And to do it after signing a big contract extension makes it that much sweeter.
Hicks was the Bears’ best and most consistent defensive player in 2017. One could make the argument he was the team’s best player on either side of the ball. Hicks proving his 2016 wasn’t a fluke proved to be a significant development for Chicago’s defense, which ranked in the top 10 in scoring and yards, and will also see the return of its defensive coordinator for the next three seasons.