Bears Insider

Five under-the-radar Bears who will be key to success in 2023

Justin Fields, DJ Moore, and Tremaine Edmunds will carry a heavy load, but the Bears will need contributions from less heralded players as well

NBC Universal, Inc.

After a 3-14 teardown season that ended with the No. 1 pick in their back pocket, the Bears plan to start their lengthy ascent back to contention this fall.

General manager Ryan Poles added elite talent in wide receiver DJ Moore and linebacker Tremaine Edmunds. He brought in talented veterans in linebacker T.J. Edwards, defensive end DeMarcus Walker, and right guard Nate Davis. He also injected youthful talent in the form of 10 draft picks, headlined by right tackle Darnell Wright and defensive tackle Gervon Dexter.

The Bears should be much better in 2023. It will be almost impossible for them to be worse. Poles bolstered the offensive line and added weapons to give Fields a legitimate arsenal. He improved the defense, but there are still holes on the defensive line that must be addressed next offseason.

The schedule is more than manageable. That’s the reward for a last-place finish. It’s easy to glance at the teams the 2023 Bears will face and start checking off wins. Seven, eight, maybe even nine wins seem attainable.

Any dreams of a surprise playoff berth this fall start and end with Fields’ development as a passer. But the third-year quarterback can’t do it alone. He’ll need Moore, Edmunds, and other key members of the foundation to play their best to give the Bears a chance to play meaningful football in November and December.

The Bears will also need contributions from the less-heralded members of the 2023 roster—good players who fly under the radar and just keep chopping.

Robert Tonyan, TE

Offensive coordinator Luke Getsy’s scheme flows through the tight ends. The Bears have a good TE1 in Cole Kmet but lacked a reliable second tight end in 2022.

That’s no disrespect to Trevon Wesco or Ryan Griffin, but they don’t have the pass-catching and playmaking ability that Tonyan does.

The McHenry, Ill. native signed a one-year contract with the Bears this offseason. Tonyan played in Getsy’s system in Green Bay and arrives back home in Chicago hoping to make a major impact for the team he grew up loving.

Tonyan’s impact was already apparent during OTAs and minicamp when Fields hooked up with his new tight end several times, including for multiple scores during the red-zone finale of minicamp.

If Tonyan can stay healthy, he’ll give Fields a reliable option, especially in the red zone, where the Bears struggled at times last season. The Bears also believe Tonyan will be pivotal in helping Kmet reach his full potential in this offense.

“For Cole, I think that’s exactly where he can take his game,” Getsy said when asked about Tonyan. “I think Cole’s just getting better and better and better as the year went along. And I think Bobby’s going to be a really good example for him with all the experiences that he has been through, within the system even to kind of give him some cool nuances of how we can do what we do better.”

Andrew Billings, DT

The Bears’ run defense was horrific last season. The Bears ranked 31st in the NFL against the run, giving up 2,674 yards and 31 touchdowns on the ground.

Nose tackles Armon Watts and Angelo Blackson offered little resistance on early downs as teams ran over the Bears at will.

While Poles didn’t address the pass rush this offseason, he brought in Billings to ensure the Bears are respectable against the run this fall.

At 6-foot-1, 311 pounds, Billings is brutally tough to move. He ranked in the top 20 in run defense grades for interior defensive linemen last season, and the Raiders’ run defense was much better after his insertion into the lineup midway through the season.

Billings doesn’t offer much as a pass-rusher, but his ability to stop the run and take up blocks should allow Edmunds and Edwards, the Bears’ two high-profile defensive additions, to get downhill and make plays.

“Man, that's a big man. A big man for sure. But it's a big man that can move. Obviously, it's going to cause a lot of havoc up front. I'm excited to see him working,” Edmunds said.

The Bears have big hopes for rookies Gervon Dexter and Zacch Pickens, but it might take time for them to make an impact in the NFL. But Billings is a proven veteran who is adept at stopping the run and will help free up Edmunds and Edwards.

If Billings, Edmunds, Edwards, Dexter, and Pickens can help take the Bears’ run defense from 31 to the middle of the pack, they should be able to stay in the playoff discussion.

D’Onta Foreman, RB

All the running back talk has centered around Khalil Herbert and rookie Roschon Johnson. But don’t forget about Foreman, who is coming off the best season of his career for the Carolina Panthers.

Last season, Foreman rushed for 913 yards and five touchdowns on 203 carries (4.5 yards per attempt). The Texas product has notched 21 explosive runs (10+ yards) and 303 breakaway yards (yards gained after 15 yards). He’s an explosive back who should eat up yards in the Bears’ wide-zone rushing attack.

The Bears will have an open competition in training camp for the starting running back role, but it will be a “feed the hot hand” approach when the season begins.

I expect Herbert to get first crack at the starting role, and the Bears love what Johnson brings to the table. But Foreman might end up being their most effective runner this season. If he can duplicate what he did in Carolina last season, the Bears’ ground game will continue to hum this fall.

Nate Davis, OG

The 26-year-old Davis has always been a good run blocker. He played in a similar scheme in Tennessee and should help the Bears continue to maul defenses on the ground.

Pass protection is the big question with Davis.

In 2020 and 2021, Davis gave up 63 pressures and six sacks. But Davis was much better in pass protection last season, surrendering just 14 total pressures and three sacks.

The Bears need that uptick in pass protection to continue in a critical season for Fields’ development. If Davis reverts to being shaky in pass pro, the Bears’ passing game won’t be able to take the leap needed to compete for a surprise playoff spot.

Terrell Lewis, DE

Have I mentioned that the Bears didn’t address their pass rush outside of DeMarcus Walker? Unless Poles adds Yannick Ngakoue, Dawuane Smoot, or Jadeveon Clowney before training camp, the Bears will head toward the 2023 season with Walker, Trevis Gipson, Dominique Robinson, Rasheem Green, and Terrell Lewis as their edge rushers.

And we don’t even know if Lewis will make the team.

The Alabama product flashed during the offseason program, using his speed to get the better of rookie Wright tackle Darnell Wright. Defensive ends should flash in non-padded practices, with offensive linemen unable to use physicality to combat their speed.

But for a team with what amounts to an empty cupboard at pass rusher, Lewis, should he make the 53-man roster, could wind up giving the Bears needed juice on the edge.

Click here to follow the Under Center Podcast.

Contact Us