The Chicago Bears may have just solved their punt return issues.
The Bears just sent a 2023 sixth-round draft pick to the Miami Dolphins in exchange for wide receiver and return specialist Jakeem Grant, per NFL insider Tom Pelissero. Grant, who is in his sixth season, was a second-team All-Pro as a returner last season, and should give Chicago an immediate improvement in the punt return department.
Running back Khalil Herbert has been returning kickoffs for the Bears, but with David Montgomery out 4-5 weeks with a sprained knee, Herbert’s services will likely be needed more in the backfield. Signing Grant now gives the Bears a solid option returning both kicks and punts. It also likely signals the end of Nsimba Webster, who has had trouble holding onto the ball in his first four games with the Bears, fumbling once while often running away from easily returnable balls.
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Jakeem Grant: Stats, Background & Injury History
Grant had 4.42 and 4.38 40-yard dash times at his pro day at Texas Tech, where he played his college ball. He was drafted in the sixth round by the Dolphins in 2016, and spent his first 5+ years in Miami, where he established himself as a play-maker on special teams. Grant has three punt return touchdowns and two TDs on kickoff returns in 70 career games, and he has a career average of 9.7 yards on punts and 24.8 yards on kickoffs.
As a receiver, he has 91 catches for 1,001 yards (11.0 yards per catch) and five TDs. Like Webster, Grant has had issues hanging on to the football, however. He has 14 career fumbles, two of which have occurred in the first four games of the 2021 season.
His injury history doesn’t have too many red flags. An Achilles injury cut his 2018 campaign short, as he underwent season-ending surgery, but other than that and a high ankle sprain in 2019, he has had no major injuries.
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Bears Still Have Big Question Mark on Special Teams
The primary question remaining for the Bears’ return unit is when All-Pro punt returner Tarik Cohen will be active again. Cohen is on the PUP list, and won’t be eligible to play until Week 7, but his return from ACL surgery is still unknown. The Bears miss his speedy jukes on punt returns, but they also miss the talents of former kickoff returner Cordarrelle Patterson, who is currently tearing it up with the Atlanta Falcons.
Herbert has been doing just fine returning kicks, averaging an impressive 28.2 yards per return, but the lack of aggressiveness on punt returns has been hurting Chicago, and now, they just sent a sixth rounder to Miami in an attempt to fix that problem. Plus, with Herbert likely headed for more work in the backfield, Grant may be doing double duty in the return game.
“I still live by the philosophy, you have zero percent chance of scoring if you take a knee,” special teams coach Chris Tabor said in September, via Adam Hoge of NBC Sports. We’ll see if the Bears get more aggressive with Grant in the mix.