People laud the history of Chicago Bears linebackers, and with good reason. No other team in the NFL has produced a consistent amount of all-time greats at that position. Three are already in the Hall of Fame in Bill George, Dick Butkus and Mike Singletary. Odds are good that Brian Urlacher will soon join them. That’s quite a lineup. However, there is one bit of history surrounding this success people don’t know.
It was expected. Those four men were all high draft choices coming out of college. Urlacher and Butkus were both first round picks while George and Singletary were second round picks. None of them were taken later than the 38th pick in the draft. So they were taken near the top of the talent pool and panned out. That’s often how it’s supposed to work.
Far less often is the Bears having success with mid to late round picks at the position. That is what makes the steady improvement of Nick Kwiatkoski so intriguing.
Chicago Bears linebackers legacy could deepen (literally) with Kwit
The kid out of West Virginia was an oddity in 2016. Nobody really saw him coming. GM Ryan Pace traded up in the draft to get him in the fourth round. Some were skeptical, thinking the team had bigger issues to deal with than inside linebacker. Especially after signing proven veterans Danny Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman. Then Trevathan injured his knee and Freeman was suspended for PED violations.
In their absence Kwiatkoski got a chance to play and over time he really started coming into his own.
It gave people hope that with a little more offseason work he could become one of the franchises’ next top linebackers. What would make that accomplishment so special is his origin story compared to those who came before. As stated before the bulk of successful Bears linebackers were drafted early. Of the eight Pro Bowl linebackers they’ve developed, seven of them were taken between the first and third rounds.
The only man to break that trend is Joe Fortunato. He was a seventh round choice of the team in 1952 and went to five Pro Bowls during his career in Chicago. That may sound like an all-time steal, but keep this in mind. Fortunato was the 80th pick of that draft. There were fewer teams in the NFL those days. If that were a modern selection today, Fortunato would be a third rounder.
That’s what makes Kwiatkoski such an exciting possibility.
Could be the latest pick in Bears history to reach a Pro Bowl
If he were to pan out, and in context “panning out” means making a Pro Bowl in his career then Kwiatkoski would have topped Fortunato for latest linebacker pick in team history to do it. How so? Though Fortunato went in the seventh round, Kwiatkoski technically went later in the draft. He was the 113th overall pick.
Not only has no player made the Pro Bowl for Chicago drafted that late. There also hasn’t been one to start more than four seasons for the team. This is the sort of rare history that Kwiatkoski has a chance to make. Pretty special when one really thinks about it.