In a season in which Justin Fields’ development and the potential of a high draft pick in the 2023 NFL Draft have (rightfully) ruled the headlines for the Chicago Bears, it’s easy to miss some things. One of those things that have flown under the radar has been the emergence of local product Jack Sanborn.
Sanborn grew up in suburban Deer Park — a suburb that overlaps the Lake and Cook County borders — and played his high school football at Lake Zurich High School before heading to Wisconsin to play with the Badgers before signing with his hometown Bears as an undrafted free agent.
In a recent interview with Sanborn, Bears broadcaster Jeff Joniak asked the 22-year-old linebacker whether or not he dreamed of being a linebacker for the Bears after watching Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs dominate the middle of the Chicago defense for years.
“I think every kid around the (Chicagoland) area kind of has that dream for at least a split second at some point in their life,” Sanborn said. “but not many people think that it’s possible, and I think that I’m one of them too. I’m just fortunate.”
Joniak compared Sanborn’s style of play to Bears middle linebackers of the past like Dick Butkus and Brian Urlacher. But Sanborn said that he’s nowhere near that level, not yet, at least.
“You talk about those guys, those guys are some of the greatest to ever play the game, so I wouldn’t put me in that class,” Sanborn said. “but yeah, of course, that’s kind of how you want to play linebacker.”
You’ll want to watch the interview in its entirety for a full grasp:
The comparisons to Urlacher and Butkus — even stylistically — might be a bit of a stretch at this point. But Sanborn is having a lovely start to his NFL career with the Bears.
Since Sanborn took over for Roquan Smith as the starting middle linebacker in Week 9, he has racked up 54 tackles (43 solos) and a pair of sacks. Over the last four weeks, Sanborn’s 45 tackles are fourth in the league behind Nick Bolton (49), Rashaan Evans (49), and Josey Jewell (46). His 35 solo tackles are the most in the league over that same period. So it’s easy to see why Joniak lobbed the Urlacher comparison at Sanborn. Sanborn plays fast and has a nose for the ball.
When I say that Sanborn plays fast, I mean, lightning fast!
Sanborn blew that toss to Aaron Jones up. And before that, he made a huge stop on Jones on a 3rd-and-12 screen pass that would have been a big gainer for the Packers had Sanborn not made a split-second decision to get downhill to plug the lane that was opening for the Packers RB.
Check it out:
The processing speed, and the foot speed that Sanborn plays with are incredible, and the same can be said for his motor and strength.
Watch him blow up a Green Bay blocker and make the tackle here:
Here he does it again, torpedoing into a 300-plus pound lineman to make the stop on A.J. Dillon:
Sanborn’s hustle and hard hits are also being noticed around the league. PFF ranked him No. 8 on their 15 highest-graded rookies of Week 13 with an 80.9 grade for his 11-tackle effort against the Packers. The same Packers who, not for nothing, ran the ball down the throats of the Bears in Week 2 — a game in which I thought that Roquan Smith played terribly.
With four games to play and 59 tackles on the season, Sanborn has an outside shot at cracking 100 tackles. Impressive for a rookie who has only been starting for the past five weeks. Sanborn would need to average 10.25 tackles per game to get to 100 down the stretch. This isn’t out of the realm of possibility considering he racked up 45 tackles (11.25 per game) over the last four weeks.
Either way, Sanborn’s emergence has not only been a feel-good local story, but it’s also a massive victory for the Bears, who appear to have their starting middle linebacker for the foreseeable future in an offseason with no shortage of questions at a plethora of positions.