The Bears have a storied history of elite play at the middle linebacker position. Dick Butkus struck fear into the hearts of opposing offenses as one of the game’s original enforcers throughout the ’60s. Mike Singletary led one of the league’s greatest defenses during the ’80s. Brian Urlacher was the epitome of excellence for playing linebacker in the Tampa 2 scheme after the turn of the century. The Bears’ front office hopes Tremaine Edmunds, whom they signed to a four-year, $72 million deal this offseason, will be able to fill the shoes of the legends that came before him.

Edmunds runs a blistering 4.5-second 40-yard-dash at 250 pounds. It is not hard to see shades of Urlacher when watching Edmunds patrol the middle of the field, as very few players of their size have been able to move as fluidly as they can. His physical characteristics have never been questioned, but the same cannot be said about his ability to consistently translate that athleticism to the gridiron.

At his best, he can take over a game as a sideline-to-sideline thumper. At his worst, he can get neutralized by opposing offenses by being schemed out of plays.

Edmunds has to improve his consistency to continue ascending and join the upper echelon of linebackers. With that said, there is reason to believe we have not yet seen the best he has to offer. He has been a force against the run every year of his career but significantly improved in pass coverage this season. In fact, Pro Football Focus graded him as the top-ranked linebacker in coverage and named him the Bills most improved player in 2022.

The positional value of the off-the-ball linebacker spot has been hotly debated since Roquan Smith became the center of trade conversations ahead of last season. The role might not be as important as having a lockdown cornerback or game-wrecking pass-rusher, but elite play at linebacker is essential to the success of a 4-3 defense.

Matt Eberflus clearly understands the importance of having an elite linebacker on the second level of his defense, and he could be invaluable to Edmunds’ development. He helped Shaquille Leonard become one of the league’s top linebackers during his time in Indianapolis and will look to provide the same impact to Edmunds.

Smith instilled hope that he could be the next big thing at middle linebacker, but his time in Chicago got cut short due to having irreconcilable differences with Chicago’s front office. While he was impactful during his first four years in the Windy City, he never achieved the same level of greatness as the legends that paved the way for him. It will be difficult for Edmunds to achieve that status, but the Bears could do far worse than investing in him, as he has all the tools to reach his incredible potential if he proves to be a perfect fit for Chicago’s scheme.

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