With Eddie Goldman opting out, Bilal Nichols is in the spotlight for Bears

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - SEPTEMBER 05: Bilal Nichols #98 of the Chicago Bears (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - SEPTEMBER 05: Bilal Nichols #98 of the Chicago Bears (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

Bilal Nichols will need to emerge as a star for the Chicago Bears.

The Chicago Bears took a chance on a fifth-round defensive tackle out of lowly Delaware in the 2018 NFL Draft, and Bilal Nichols has repaid this risky selection by becoming a valued member of Matt Nagy’s defensive line.

Nichols is now being asked to step into the spotlight after the decision of starting nose tackle Eddie Goldman opting out of the season due to COVID-19 concerns.

Nichols was already being counted on to be a big contributor, but he will get his chance to make the leap from average to great after Goldman opened up more playing time on the defensive line.

Bilal Nichols needs to be more than a rotational defender without Goldman.

Even if the Bears decide to play Akiem Hicks at nose tackle in Chuck Pagano’s 3-4 scheme, Nichols will still emerge as a stud, as coming off a season in which he didn’t record a sack despite starting 12 games and recording 27 tackles. While he is good at eating up space and defending the run, his athletic ability and explosion off of the line of scrimmage pale in comparison to that of Goldman.

While Khalil Mack and Robert Quinn on the outside will be a hellacious tandem, the getting pressure up the middle has been integral to Pagano’s defense going back to his days as a DC in Baltimore and a coach in Indianapolis. The burden for generating that pressure will fall on Nichols, Hicks, and Roy Robertson-Harris.

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Nichols was a pretty nifty find in the fifth round for maligned general manager Ryan Pace, but he needs to play like a first or second-round pick if this Chicago defense is going to maintain their status as an elite defense. If he fails to replace Goldman as a pass rusher, the Bears might slink to the bottom of a competitive NFC North.