Should Bilal Nichols outsnap Eddie Goldman for Chicago Bears in 2021?
When the Chicago Bears have three defensive linemen on the field we know that they will roll with their top three of Akiem Hicks, Bilal Nichols, and Eddie Goldman, who opted out of the 2020 season. However, we live in a nickel league, where teams primarily will have two interior linemen on the field at a time, and a three-lineman set is now considered a subpackage.
Having sufficient depth on the defensive line is obviously not an issue. Still, with that in mind, it is worth wondering who would play more between Goldman and Nichols. In nickel packages, one will get the main role, and the other will fill in behind.
Primarily Goldman has been the second defensive lineman behind Akiem Hicks. No matter who the defensive coordinator, the Bears have typically let Akiem Hicks play over 70% of the defensive snaps.
However, behind Hicks, the Bears have typically rotated the two in a similar manner. Check out the splits of the second and third interior lineman in recent years below.
2017: Eddie Goldman 57%, Jon Bullard 41%
2018: Goldman 52%, Roy Robertson-Harris 34%
2019: Goldman 44%, Bilal Nichols 42% *RRH led DL in snaps due to Hicks injury*
2020: Nichols: 58%, Brent Urban 35%
Of course, injuries and depth, and other factors play into the exact numbers. Still, the Bears would typically like to get 70% of the defensive snaps from Hicks, then get a little over 50% of the snaps for the number two lineman, and then a number between 33-45% for the third lineman.
The question now becomes whether Goldman and Nichols should see the former or the latter. Most would just expect that Goldman is the big name, he has been the guy, he would slot into that role.
However, you can see the trend from 2017 in Goldman’s snap counts. He went from 57 to 52, and down 44 before opting out. It is possible that Goldman was trending to be the third lineman behind Nichols in 2021 anyway.
Nichols went from 31 to 42 to 58, so he may have been trending that way as well.
Bilal Nichols brings more pass rush for Chicago Bears
The obvious answer is that the game situation will dictate this. Below you can see the productivity of each. This is Goldman from 2018 and 2019, so we see his production with both coordinators.
We also see both his years as a starter compared to Nichols only full season as a player seeing over half the snaps. The numbers are from PFF.
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You can see that Nichols is the better pass rusher, while Goldman is better in the run game. Nichols does miss fewer tackles, though that may help that he is less involved in the run game.
So, if the Bears need to stop the run more, we may see more Goldman, but if the Bears are getting after the passer it may lean to Nichols.
Still, when you add in that Goldman is coming back from a season off, that he is less productive at getting into the backfield, and that he was trending to fewer snaps while Nichols was trending to more snaps you could put this all together and think that Bilal Nichols will be closer to a 55% snap rotation, while Goldman would be closer to 45%.