The Chicago Bears have hit some home runs when it comes to signing free agents and drafting players, but there have also been some big misses. Not all of them have been misses due to talent, however. There are plenty of notable Chicago Bears players that have seemed like they were going to be great, but for one reason or another, ended up not meeting their full potential. Here are the five biggest what-could-have-been player stories in Bears history.
5. Rashaan Salaam
Rashaan Salaam was selected fairly low for a running back that won the Heisman, doing so in 1995 as a member of the Colorado Buffaloes. Salaam was a steal in his rookie season as he rushed for 1,074 yards and 10 touchdowns. Injuries would begin to hamper Salaam in his second season, though, cutting his production in half while also having off-the-field issues.
By his third year, Salaam played just three games and he was almost entirely out of the league. He never truly recovered from injury or his substance abuse problems, having just one more rush in 1999 with the Cleveland Browns. Had he continued down his path from his rookie season, he may have been an all-time great.
4. Curtis Enis
Curtis Enis was one of the most hyped-up running backs throughout the 1990s, and many thought the Bears were going to get a surefire star when they used the fifth-overall pick on him out of Penn State in 1998. Enis struggled to find the field in his first season, starting just one game before tearing a knee ligament.
Enis saw significant playing time in his second season but didn’t look like the same running back as he did in college, rushing for 916 yards and three touchdowns. Injury troubles would only get worse, and he played just one more season in 2000, carrying the ball only 36 more times. Enis was signed by the Browns in 2001 but didn’t see the field again.
3. Cedric Benson
Yet another running back on the list, Cedric Benson was selected out of Texas with the fourth overall selection in the 2005 NFL Draft. Hopes were high for Benson, but he didn’t want to be on the team before he was even drafted. He held out before getting a big contract, missing all of training camp.
Benson disappointed on the field, too, and was held back from the starting lineup in his first two seasons. By his third season, Benson became the full-time starter but averaged just 3.4 yards per carry. He was released by the Bears and became a starter for the Bengals and was actually solid in Cincinnati before injuries mounted and ended his career in the early 2010s.
2. Mitchell Trubisky
The Chicago Bears moved up to the second overall spot of the 2017 NFL Draft, swapping picks with the San Francisco 49ers. It was clear they wanted a quarterback, but not many were sure which one they’d get. Could it be Patrick Mahomes? Could it be Deshaun Watson? It turned out to be neither, as the Bears drafted North Carolina’s Mitchell Trubisky.
While the other two quarterbacks turned out to be All-Pro talents, Trubisky lasted just four seasons in Chicago. While he compiled a winning record, he still put up disappointing numbers and became a backup for the Bills and Steelers after his fifth-year option wasn’t picked up by the team.
1. Gale Sayers
Gale Sayers could have been one of the best running backs of all time if not for a shared workload and multiples. Drafted fourth overall in 1965, Sayers led the NFL in rushing during his second season before splitting the carries with Brian Piccolo. In his fourth year, Sayers would suffer a bad knee injury and then suffered a major injury to his other knee just two years later.
Sayers would end up with 4,956 career rushing yards, which is nothing to scoff at, but he averaged well over five yards per carry prior to his injuries. Many wonder if he could have been the greatest running back in Bears history, which is saying something with Walter Payton on the list.