Akiem Hicks plays well against just about anybody. Doesn’t matter if they’re scrubs or Pro Bowlers. He’s going to find a way to beat them. This is why he himself went to the Pro Bowl in 2018 and probably should’ve gone as far back as 2016. He is unquestionably one of the best least-talked about players in the NFL. A legitimate force inside who wins with brute force but also remarkable intelligence.

It’s that second part people don’t realize about him. Hicks is a smart man. He plays his position with a savvy that most big defensive linemen don’t. He knows he can win with force, but why do that when he can already have them beat before the snap? This is something he revealed with a regular case throughout last season when he broke down film with Brian Baldinger and Ron Jaworski of NFL Game Pass Film Session.

One particular player who felt Hicks’ wrath several times on tape was Green Bay Packers right guard Justin McCray. On opening night at Lambeau, the Bears leader ate his breakfast, lunch, and dinner all night. Not only did Hicks throttle him in pass rush situations, but he also took advantage of his weaknesses as a run blocker as well.

Akiem Hicks should be able to last a long time yet as he is now

One of the biggest differences that separate players who slow down around the age of 30 and those who stay productive well past that mark are film study. The best players make up for their declining physical prowess with razor-sharp mental acuity. Their experience combined with photographic knowledge of every opponent they face gives them advantages to remaining every bit as dangerous as they were in the younger days.

Hicks will be 29 this year but there is no reason to think he’s nearing any sort of breakdown. Don’t forget he didn’t become a full-time starter until he got to Chicago in 2016. So there’s more tread on the tires than a typical player his age. Combine that with his impressive grasp of tape and encyclopedic knowledge of how offensive linemen block based on mannerisms, he should remain effective for years to come.