The offensive line is a constant topic of discussion for the Chicago Bears as the season rolls on. It isn’t a matter of if GM Ryan Poles will make changes to the group, but how many. Justin Fields needs better protection than what he’s gotten this year. That makes the final seven games of 2022 important for everybody involved. Part of the problem is the team has yet to play their intended starting five from training camp due to injuries. Three starters from Sunday against Detroit began the year as backups. Only one player hasn’t missed a snap this season. That is Braxton Jones.
Nobody could’ve seen that coming a few months ago. Jones was a mere 5th round pick out of Southern Utah. He was an intriguing athletic talent that performed well at the Senior Bowl. Poles and the coaching staff liked his potential. They never thought he would steal the starting left tackle job as a rookie. Yet here he is. What remains uncertain is whether he’ll keep the job going into next year. Former Bears scouting director Greg Gabriel has no doubts about that. He thinks the team got a steal in Jones, and he’ll get a lot better in the near future.
“I also feel that rookie Braxton Jones and second-year player Teven Jenkins are fixtures at left tackle and right guard. As I wrote a few weeks ago, Jones was a fifth-round steal and has a bright future. While he is going through rookie growing pains, he improves every week, and he will be a winning left tackle for the Bears. Jenkins, who was a tackle in college, is already one of the better guards in the NFL. His run blocking is outstanding, but he can be inconsistent in pass pro. That will come with added experience.”
Gabriel isn’t wrong about Braxton Jones’ improvement.
Through his first six games, the rookie allowed 20 pressures and four sacks on his quarterback. Since then, he’s allowed nine pressures and one sack in the past four games. Jones has become one of their best run blockers if that weren’t enough. Pro Football Focus gave him a grade of 74.7 for the season. Only Teven Jenkins is better. Jones ranks 12th among all tackles in the NFL (minimum of 150 snaps). Sure, he’s had some rough moments from time to time. Nobody should be shocked by this. People need to remember he was playing games against Montana, Idaho, and Weber State at this time last year.
Most young blockers never survive making such a massive jump in competition. Braxton Jones did it. He is the only rookie tackle to earn a starting job coming out of an FCS program this year. The rest came out of Washington State, Georgia, N.C. State, Ohio State, and Mississippi State. He might not be pitching shutouts every week, but people need to appreciate how competent he’s been. What Jones is doing isn’t normal. If Gabriel is correct and he takes a big step forward next year, it will go down as one of the biggest steals of the past decade.