Throughout the year we tracked how several Bears either improved their standing on the depth chart, or stood to lose some snaps. Now that the Bears season has been done for awhile, let’s look at which guys made a case for their careers to continue in Chicago, and who may have lost a job over the course of the year. For instance, Velus Jones went on a journey from high-upside prospect, to turnover-prone scapegoat, to high-upside prospect again. The Bears probably would’ve liked to see more production from their third-round rookie, and fewer mistakes, but the resiliency Jones displayed towards the end of year was encouraging. That resiliency saved Jones from being lumped in with the rest of the “fallers” this year, but the mistakes kept him from being a “riser,” too. Here are the guys who did manage to raise their stock within the franchise in 2022. Keep an eye out for our fallers, which will come soon.
One of the biggest questions heading into the season was whether or not Justin Fields could prove himself to be the man to lead the franchise forward. After all, Ryan Poles and Matt Eberflus didn’t draft him, and his overall production was lackluster despite flashes of brilliance. Fields grew in practically every area of his game in 2022, and the Bears are clearly excited about where he can take them. It would be shocking if the Bears moved off of Fields for another QB next season. That wasn’t necessarily the case heading into last season.
Partway through training camp, there were serious doubts about Teven Jenkins’ future with the team. He was bumped from starting left tackle, to starting right tackle down to second-team and sometimes even third-team reps on the offensive line. Then rumors emerged that Jenkins could be traded. Of course none of that came to fruition, and Jenkins eventually got an opportunity to start at right guard due to injuries across the line. Before long it became clear that Jenkins was the most effective offensive lineman at his new position and his future is as secure as anyone’s within Halas Hall.
When the GM of the franchise singles a player out for being a potential blue chip player moving forward that’s typically a good sign that they’ll stick around. Cole Kmet was that guy for the Bears when Ryan Poles was asked about players he identified during the season to be future cornerstones. It’s easy to see why, too. Kmet noticeably improved as a run blocker this season, which is critical in Luke Getsy’s scheme. He also developed into a legit scoring threat with a career high seven touchdowns. That was way, way more than the two scores he had in 2020 and 2021 combined.
Braxton Jones may have had the most surprising arc over the course of the 2022 season, partially because it happened so quickly. Ryan Poles drafted Jones in the fifth round, and expectations were that his rookie season would be a year to develop. After all, the Bears had two young tackles on the roster already in Teven Jenkins and Larry Borom, and Jones was coming to the league from Southern Utah, an FCS school. Just a few weeks into OTAs however, Jones was given starting reps at left tackle. No one knew it at the time, but that was a spot that Jones never relinquished. It was a rocky start for Jones when the regular season began, but he steadily improved as the year went on, and by season’s end he showed why Poles and the coaching staff put their faith in him.
When Matt Eberflus took over as head coach, he made it clear that he was going to give each player on the roster a clean slate. No one needed that more than Eddie Jackson, and no player took better advantage of it. Jackson had one of the highest salary cap hits on the team, but his production wasn’t matching his pay grade. After taking the league by storm with six interceptions and two touchdowns in 2018, Jackson had only two picks from 2019-2021. Part of that was due to scheme, and part was due to bad luck, but no matter how one looked at it, Jackson appeared to be a cut candidate as Ryan Poles and Eberflus reshaped the roster. Instead, Poles drafted Jaquan Brisker to play strong safety beside Jackson, and Eberflus took the reins off to allow Jackson to play free safety more often. Jackson responded with his best year since that incredible 2018 campaign and emerged as the leader of the defense.