With new and improved teammates alongside him on the Chicago Bears’ offensive line, Braxton Jones could be primed for a breakout in 2023.
In a recent article examining the top breakout candidates for each of the 16 NFC teams, Pro Football Focus declared Jones to be a player “on the rise” and listed him as the most likely Bear to have an emergent season in 2023. He started all 17 games at left tackle for Chicago as a rookie and is set to reprise his role for the team later this year.
“The fifth-round rookie started for the Bears and was the only player on the offense to play every single snap in 2022,” Pro Football Focus’ Zoltán Buday wrote on May 19. “Jones didn’t just handle a big workload, but he also played well, earning a 75.4 PFF grade that ranked 19th among players at the position. His 78.8 overall grade from Week 10 ranked ninth among left tackles.”
The manner in which the Bears handled their offensive line during the 2023 offseason has indicated they have high confidence in Jones being a long-term solution for them at left tackle. Chicago did not sign a new left tackle during free agency despite there being several top-dollar options, such as Orlando Brown Jr. and Andre Dillard, on the market. The Bears also used their No. 10 overall pick in the 2023 draft on a new right tackle in Darnell Wright even with several of the top left tackle prospects still on the board.
Now, with offseason workouts set to begin in late May, there is no question that Jones is going to continue on as the blindside protector for quarterback Justin Fields in 2023. So long as he can take another convincing step forward in his development, he should have a chance to be one of the biggest breakout stories of the NFC this upcoming year.
Braxton Jones Aiming to Be ‘Cornerback’ for Bears
Jones’ rookie season flew a bit under the radar considering the Bears won just three games and frequently had problems with their offensive line as a whole, but it was certainly enough to be excited for the 2022 fifth-round pick’s future with the team. Jones was the PFF’s highest-graded rookie offensive tackle (75.4) out of the 2022 class, allowing seven sacks while playing all 1,033 offensive snaps. He was also the second-best run-blocker (79.4) in the class behind first-rounder Trevor Penning.
Jones’ performance — particularly the way he jumped right into the starting lineup as a Day 3 pick — impressed the Pro Football Writers Association enough for them to pick him for their 2022 All-Rookie team alongside first-rounder Tyler Smith. But Jones isn’t concerned about accolades; his primary focus is on putting in work this offseason to ensure he can become a “cornerstone left tackle” for the franchise.
“I want to be that guy,” Jones told reporters in December, via ChicagoBears.com. “I want to put in the work in the offseason, too, to be that guy and be a cornerstone for this organization. I feel like, obviously, I’ve got a lot of work to do, but just personally, in the way I try and act around the building, I want to be here as long as possible and I feel like I could be a cornerstone for that left tackle position, so I definitely think I do gotta get, obviously, a lot better in certain situations.”
Bears Have Elevated Offensive Line With 2023 Moves
The Bears didn’t go on a wild spending or drafting spree to fix their bad offensive line during the 2023 offseason, but the two moves they did make were substantial.
Rather than chase an offensive tackle in a competitive market, the Bears signed a three-year, $30 million contract with former Tennessee Titans right guard Nate Davis. His arrival not only injects much-needed experience into the Bears’ offensive trenches, but it also gives them more flexibility on the interior to move Teven Jenkins to left guard and allow Cody Whitehair to compete for their starting center job with Lucas Patrick.
The Bears also acquired a plug-and-play right tackle in Wright who could, in his own right, become a foundational piece for the Bears moving forward. Wright allowed zero sacks and just two hits on his quarterback as Tennessee’s starting right tackle in 2022, including a shut-down performance against No. 3 overall pick Will Anderson Jr. While it may take a little time for him to find his wheels in the NFL, there are few offensive tackles in the class that are as well-rounded and experienced as him.
Now, the Bears didn’t solve all of their problems. They could still use a long-term solution at the center spot, even if a battle between Whitehair and Patrick ends up with a positive result for the 2023 season. There are also questions about Jenkins, who could be a long-term starter if he can stay healthy but has also missed 15 games in two years. But it would be hard to deny the Bears have better talent in place than last season.