No Bear is more aware of the needed credentials to win a Defensive Player of the Year award than Khalil Mack, who took home the honor two seasons ago and is building a tremendous case to win it again in his debut campaign with the Bears.
What few likely considered prior to Sunday night was the possibility, however remote, that Mack could cede votes for the award to one of his own teammates.
Apparently, though, It's time to start considering that playmaker 1B on the NFL's most dominant and dynamic defense, second-year FS Eddie Jackson, might be part of the conversation. Just ask Mack.
"DPOY. He's been balling," Mack said Sunday following the Bears' 22-15 victory over the Minnesota Vikings, sealed by Jackson's 27-yard pick-six midway through the fourth quarter. We should note that we were unable to confirm Mack was throwing Jackson's hat in the ring and perhaps the acronym stands for Draft Pick of Year in 2016, or perhaps Dynamite Production Off Your mistakes, but we're pretty sure it's the more familiar acronym.
Mack continued: "Special player. Special talent. Great leader — on and off the field. He's always in position to make plays, and you guys are seeing it week in and week out. He's the best safety in the league to me, for sure."
Let's take it a step further: Jackson is the NFL's best defensive player with the football in his hands. Sunday night marked the fourth time in his first 26 NFL games that he's scored a return touchdown on defense. No other defender in the league has more than two over that span.
"When we get turnovers, we don't want to just get down out of bounds," said Jackson, after reminding the media that he was a returner at Alabama, taking two of his 11 career punt returns to the house and averaging 23 yards a pop during his 2016 senior campaign. "We're thinking touchdowns. That mentality right there helps us keep capitalizing."
Jackson forced his way into the national spotlight for the first time as a rookie a year ago, when he won Defensive Player of Week after becoming the first player in league history to notch two return touchdowns of 75-plus yards in the same game. It was apparent early that he had a knack for making splash plays.
Now, Jackson has three interceptions and two forced fumbles this season, trailing Mack by one takeaway for the team lead on the NFL's top takeaway 'D.' Since Jackson's arrival in Chicago, the Bears are a combined 6-0 when he scores and/or forces a turnover. That's a pretty valuable asset, we'd say. And he's become a more rounded player in his second season, too, improving in coverage and as a tackler, in addition to his special speed and playmaking instincts. He credited his pick Sunday to reading Kirk Cousins' eyes and his own film study.
Of course, it was GM Ryan Pace who made possible the arrival of such a tremendous value in Jackson in Round 4 (No. 112 overall) of the 2017 draft. Pace has shown a willingness to gamble on players with checkered injury backgrounds, and after Jackson, an All-American as a junior, had his final season with the Tide cut short by a fractured leg in Oct. 2016, Pace's Bears found another game changer on Day 3 of the draft.
That Jackson plays the position Bears fans endured more hardships from than most only sweetens the deal — especially when putting his accomplishments side by side with some of the better defensive backs in recent team annals. Jackson has more touchdowns than MIke Brown did at the same point in his Bears tenure and more takeaways than the great Charles Tillman produced in his first two seasons as well.
And Jackson is only getting started. He said the Bears' goal is to log at least three takeaways each game, a number they've incredibly reached seven times this season, all in the past eight outings. With all of those impact plays come celebrations. Jackson punctuated his pick-six Sunday night by playing conductor with his teammates serving as the symphony.
"It went good," he said of the coordinated celebration, admitting there were more teammates than he anticipated, with many of them playing the same imaginary instrument. "It could’ve been way better. But everybody ran on the field to see a big play. So it was fun. It was very fun."
Among the many challenges for the first-place Bears of turning around after their primetime victory to visit the Detroit Lions only 88 hours later is the truncated time to plan more celebrations.
"We got one. We got to add more, though," he said, smiling.
These are the kind of first-place problems the Bears are dealing with these days.