Rookie Expectations: Joel Iyiegbuniwe
When the Chicago Bears selected Joel Iyiegbuniwe in the fourth round of the NFL Draft, most people said, “Who?” But many experts applauded the pick. Here’s what to expect from “Iggy” in year one.
The first, “Who?” for hardcore fans watching the NFL draft was very likely when the Chicago Bears selected Joel Iyiegbuniwe out of Western Kentucky in the fourth round. Iyiegbuniwe may not be known to the masses but several of the draft pundits including Mike Mayock and Daniel Jeremiah raved about the pick and loved what Iyiegbuniwe can bring to the Bears.
Iggy, as many call him, is an inside linebacker but also has excels on special teams. With the selection of Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan slated as a starter and Nick Kwiatkoski in the mix, what does it mean this season for Iyiegbuniwe? Let’s examine it closer.
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Iggy has a great preseason but still starts off the season as a backup behind Smith and Trevathan. The Bears, confident in Iyiegbuniwe, start experimenting with Nick Kwiatkoski at edge and Iggy becomes the main sub behind Smith and Trevathan. An injury to Trevathan opens the door for Iggy to start and the Bears start a rookie tandem at inside linebacker. Iyiegbuniwe plays well in Trevathan’s absence. Once Trevathan comes back, he keeps his starting position but Iggy sees the field on defense frequently. The Bears release Trevathan after the season and plan to start Smith and Iyiegbuniwe at ILB in 2019.
Iyiegbuniwe shows he isn’t quite ready to get steady reps on the defensive side of the ball. Smith and Trevathan handle the starting reps and Kwiatkoski is the main interior linebacking sub. Iggy gets opportunities on special teams and proves to be a contributor in that department. Making the jump to the level of competition at the NFL level is a struggle for him. While Iggy is a contributor on special teams, it becomes a wait-and-see approach if he’s ever going to be a starting caliber linebacker. The team still probably goes another direction from Danny Trevathan and Kwiatkoski and Iyiegbuniwe battle it out in 2019 training camp for the starting job next to Roquan Smith.
Iyiegbuniwe becomes one of the team’s top special teams contributor. He becomes a borderline Pro Bowl special teams player. Iggy gets limited opportunities on the defense but flashes some ability when he’s in the game. The jump in competition isn’t too difficult for him, but it’s still a learning process for him. The Bears are confident that Iyiegbuniwe will eventually be a starting linebacker for the team, but know that it won’t be in 2018. They focus more on 2019 or 2020 once Trevathan is out of the picture. Until then, Iggy contributes on special teams and strengthens the unit.