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Most Important Bears: No. 9 Henry Melton

(CBS) As we count down to Bourbonnais, a panel of 15 670 The Score hosts, reporters and producers ranked their top 10 most important Bears players for the 2012 season. We compiled the rankings into one master list and will release the 10 Most Important Bears over the next 10 weekdays.

Next up:

No. 9 Henry Melton (31 points)

When Tommie Harris was at the peak of his career, everything clicked for the Chicago Bears defense. He was the engine of the defense in the 3-technique.

Since Harris started to regress in 2008, the Bears defense hasn't been the same. It's still been good for the most part, but the pass rush has suffered. There hasn't been a defensive tackle like Harris (at his prime) since.

Henry Melton is the closest thing to a Tommie Harris that the Bears have. At times, he's been dominant, but for the most part, he's still been inconsistent.

A big key to the 2012 season will be the pass rush. Julius Peppers needs help and a young secondary with plenty of question marks will receive a big boost if the line can create pressure.

Melton will be a huge part of providing that pressure. He's the next in line for a long term deal and a big year could lead to a big paycheck. Everyone on the defensive line needs to contribute, but Melton is the most obvious candidate to take the next step and possibly become a Pro-Bowler. He improved from 2.5 sacks in 2010 to 7.0 sacks in 2011, but he could still have a bigger impact against the run.

Melton's improvement in 2012 could be the key for the defense. Can he become the engine of the unit? If he does, the Bears defense could once again become one NFL's best.

The Rest Of The List:
No. 10 Shea McClellin

The 10 Most Important Bears were decided by 15 Score contributors who ranked their most important players from  1-10. The rankings were then compiled into a master list by assigning point values to the votes (a No. 1 vote is worth 10 points and a No. 10 vote is worth 1 point).

The panel: Mike Mulligan, Zach Zaidman, Laurence Holmes, Matt Spiegel, Adam Hoge, Jason Goff, Matt Abbatacola, Ben Finfer, Jay Zawaski, Nick Shepkowski, David Schuster, Herb Lawrence, Craig Miller, Dennis Gambino and Brendan McCaffrey.

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