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Jack Sanborn Bears

Bears 2023 Breakout Player: Jack Sanborn

  • Jack McKessy
  • May 23, 2023
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Chicago Bears fans might tell you that 2023 is going to be #JustinFieldsSzn, but he already took enough of a step forward in 2022, so this year won’t feel like a real breakout. No, 2023 actually will be the season of second-year linebacker Jack Sanborn.

This may seem like a slightly counterintuitive conclusion to draw after the offseason the Bears just had. Their two biggest moves at the start of free agency were to bring in two veteran linebackers—Tremaine Edmunds and TJ Edwards—and they followed that up with drafting Oregon linebacker Noah Sewell in the fifth round. With that being the case, there would be reason to believe that Sanborn is on the hot seat for his spot as the starting SAM linebacker in Chicago. Instead, I think Sanborn will have a chance to cement his spot on the roster by winning a positional battle in the preseason.

With all of the hype around Fields and the season he had last year along with the lackluster performance by the defense every week, Sanborn largely flew under the radar. The undrafted free agent didn’t see a lot of early action in 2022 but stepped into the starting MIKE linebacker spot after the Bears traded Roquan Smith in late October. Once he finally got his shot, Sanborn never looked back and quickly endeared himself to the Bears and their fans.

In the six games Sanborn started before a season-ending injury in December, the then-rookie recorded 59 tackles—48 of which were solo—plus five tackles for a loss, two sacks, and a fumble recovery. He was a relentless defender that always ran with a hot motor, had the range to make plays all over the field, and had a consistent tackling ability that lent itself to just three missed tackles all season.

Extrapolating Sanborn’s stats from his 2022 starts over a full 17-game season provides some insight into how impactful the Wisconsin product might be in 2023. Doing so suggests that Sanborn, at the rate he was playing, would have totaled 167 tackles (136 solo) as a rookie. That combined tackle number would have been good for fourth in the NFL last year—just behind Smith’s final tally—and his solo tackles would have been the league’s best mark.

Historically, Sanborn would have finished with the second-best tackling performance by a rookie linebacker in NFL history. Only six-time All-Pro Patrick Willis’ rookie season in 2007 would have been better, and Sanborn would have been ahead of guys like Luke Keuchly and Shaquille Leonard.

Going into the 2023 season, Sanborn will likely kick to the SAM spot as a physical, reliable tackler with newcomers Edwards and Edmunds filling in as the WILL and MIKE backers, respectively. Assuming he can keep up the impressive playmaking ability he showed off replacing Smith during his rookie season, Sanborn will finish his second year as the clear breakout player for Chicago. If all goes really well, he may start to get some recognition as one of the best young linebackers in the game.

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Jack McKessy