Linebacker Jack Sanborn isn’t just the top-performing rookie on the Chicago Bears this season; he also has a valid claim to be the biggest steal from the 2022 NFL draft.
Sanborn, who played 100% of the Bears’ defensive snaps in Week 13, ascended to Chicago’s starting lineup following the Roquan Smith trade and has responded by leading the team in tackles on a near-weekly basis. According to Pro Football Focus, he registered 14 more stops against Green Bay on Sunday. Sanborn was issued the Bears’ highest grade on defense with an 80.9.
Sanborn’s production and projection as a long-term starter for the Bears is an incredible development for a player who went undrafted last April. Twenty-four linebackers were selected over seven rounds of the 2022 NFL Draft, yet Sanborn is arguably playing the best.
Sanborn’s fall from Wisconsin Badgers star to undrafted free agent was partly due to his pedestrian performance at the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine. He ran a 4.73 40-yard dash and was viewed as a linebacker who’s “limited when the play flows out into space.” Draft analysts pegged Sanborn as an NFL backup.
Boy, were they wrong.
“I think everyone wants to hear their name called for the draft and that’s what you grow up thinking about,” Sanborn said last month. “But at the end of the day that wasn’t meant to be. That’s in the past.”
Chicago’s defense hasn’t been great in 2022, but it’s young. And there’s a chance that several of this year’s rookies could become foundational players on that side of the ball as the seasons march on. Second-round defensive backs Kyler Gordon and Jaquan Brisker both have bright futures, and fifth-round edge rusher Dominique Robinson has flashed exciting upside as well.
Add Sanborn, who’s tracking to be a defensive captain in 2023, and that’s four potential starters that came from the 2022 rookie class. Chicago has the most money to spend in free agency this March and could add another foundational piece to its defense at the top of the first round in the 2023 NFL Draft.
But it’s Sanborn who fits the mold of an old-school throwback linebacker in the middle of the Chicago Bears’ defense. He’ll be there for a while, too.