The Bears placed rookie linebacker Jack Sanborn on injured reserve with an ankle injury he sustained in Sunday’s 25-20 loss to the Eagles. The undrafted rookie was hurt early in the second half while tackling tight end Jack Stoll on a 6-yard reception.
In six starts after becoming a starter following the trade of Roquan Smith, Sanborn recorded 64 tackles, 2.0 sacks, and five TFLs per ESPN Stats & Info. He also recovered one fumble. The rookie is legit, folks, and has earned the right to start in 2023. Of course, that depends on the additions GM Ryan Poles makes in March and April.
— Clay Harbor (@clayharbs82) December 20, 2022
Coach Matt Eberflus said Tuesday that Sanborn’s injury isn’t serious, and had it occurred earlier in the season the linebacker would have been likely to return to the field after a stint on IR. But the Bears only have three games left, including Saturday’s home game against the Buffalo Bills.
Asked what impressed him about Sanborn, Eberflus said: “Just his maturity. His ability to handle that space. And then the production. He had a lot of tackling production. His instincts we saw, and we saw that during training camp, so we were excited about that. He’s an impactful player and we’re excited to have him.”
The rookie linebacker grades well at Pro Football Focus, and is considered elite in pass rush and coverage. Sanborn’s emergence in the middle of the Bears’ defense is one of the biggest surprises of the year. It’s definitely the most pleasant.
- Overall: 64.5
- Run Defense: 53.6
- Pass Rush: 76.6
- Coverage: 67.8
He even outpaces Smith, who is generally graded unfavorably by PFF. Smith plays the run much better than Sanborn, but the kid is still learning. In fact, Sanborn earned a spot on PFF’s Team of the Week for his performance against the Eagles. The Wisconsin product had five solo tackles before leaving with his ankle injury. It’s no coincidence that Chicago’s defense has improved as Sanborn has gained experience. The Bears had their best defensive performance since the trade deadline in Sunday’s loss.
Eberflus played journeyman Joe Thomas in Sanborn’s place after the injury. Thomas had six tackles, including the team’s only sack.
The Bears signed linebacker Elijah Lee to the active roster off the Chiefs practice squad in a corresponding move. The 26-year-old has 71 NFL games on his résumé with six starts over six seasons with the 49ers, Lions, Browns, and Chiefs He has registered 105 tackles, one sack, four TFLs, two forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries.
Lee appeared in five games with the Chiefs this year, compiling six tackles and one fumble recovery. He’ll serve as a backup to Thomas and will help on special teams.
The Bears host the Bills at noon on Saturday in a nationally televised tilt and are nine-point underdogs. The temperature will be near zero with wind gusts exceeding 40 MPH. Chicago is 3-11 on the season and currently holds the No. 2 draft choice next April. The Bills are 11-3 and are battling the Chiefs and Bengals for the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs.