Bears Late-Round Rookie Emerging as Potential Starter

Braxton Jones

Getty The Bears drafted OL Braxton Jones out of the University of Southern Utah in Round 5.

The Chicago Bears selected rookie offensive lineman Braxton Jones out of Southern Utah State in the fifth round (168th overall) in the 2022 draft, and while it’s early in OTAs, Jones has a golden opportunity in front of him.

During the team’s open practice on June 8, Jones was lining up with the starters at left tackle, while 2021 second-round LT Teven Jenkins lined up with the second team. Jones will have an opportunity to overtake Jenkins on the depth chart if he impresses, but head coach Matt Eberflus stressed that the team is still feeling things out.

“We wanted to change combinations,” Eberflus said on June 8 at Halas Hall, also noting the team has shuffled players around on more than just the offensive line.

“We’ve moved some receivers around. Some guys are playing X. Some guys are playing Z. We’ve adjusted some guys on the defensive line just to have a true evaluation of what’s the best fit for us going into training camp. We might like the other combination. We might like this combination. We might not like either one of them. … So we’ll figure out what the best thing is and what’s best for the Bears.”

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Eberflus: Contact Practices Will Be Telling

Jones played in 22 games over the last three seasons, allowing three sacks, three quarterback hits and 13 hurries in 1,509 snaps, per Pro Football Focus. He earned a 93.9 overall grade from PFF last year, showing both aggressiveness and strength in both run-blocking and pass protection.

The 6-foot-5, 310-pound O-lineman is massive — he has a huge wingspan of 84.25 inches — but Eberflus and company are withholding major judgments until full contact practices begin.

“That’s your true evaluation — when you get pads on,” Eberflus said. “It’s just because of the physicality of the game. Some guys are really suited to that, and those are the guys that succeed in the NFL. The guys that are not suited to that, they have a harder time of having that long success.”

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Jones Impressing Team’s Veterans

“Braxton is a tough kid, very athletic,” veteran left guard Cody Whitehair said about Jones after practice on June 8. “He’s got really long arms as well. He’s learning. You know, as hard as that is to be thrown in the fire like that, I feel like he has responded well. Excited to see what he can bring.”

Jones had a Relative Athletic Score (RAS) of 8.44, which ranked 191 out of 1,218 offensive tackles measured from 1987 to 2022.

That athleticism could ultimately serve him well. He also has a great deal of experience playing in the same kind of zone-based run scheme Bears offensive coordinator Luke Getsy will likely be running. Considering it’s early in OTAs and he’s already getting looks with the starters, Jones is one to watch moving forward.

“The offensive line forever changes,” Whitehair added. “You know, there’s injuries, there’s all sorts of things, but the one thing they have been apparent with us is they’re going to play the best five, and you know that’s what we want. We want that competition. We want to bring out the best in every player.”

It looks as though Eberflus is making every effort to do just that.

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