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Saturday Spotlight: Jakeem Grant Sr.

Throughout the 2021 NFL season, we’ll spotlight a Bears player in a weekly column. This week, we’ll take an in-depth look at Return Specialist Jakeem Grant Sr.

Chicago Bears v Miami Dolphins Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

Name: Jakeem Grant Sr.

Position: Receiver/Return Specialist

Number: 17

Age: 28

Time with Bears: 1st Season

The Past:

“Devin Hester. Just knowing that he left an absolutely great mark here, being a great returner. I’ve got some big shoes to fill up.”

Jakeem Grant can fly with the ball.

Grant was a 3-star recruit coming out of high school in Mesquite, TX. The scouting report on ESPN called him an “ultra explosive, exciting athlete,” but listed his small size (5’ 6” out of high school) as a reason he wasn’t getting more attention. Grant originally committed to play for coach Todd Graham at Tulsa, but when Graham accepted a position at Pitt, Grant decommited. He then accepted an offer to play at Texas Tech Univeristy for coach Tommy Tuberville.

After redshirting his freshman season, Grant came on late in the season as a return specialist for the Res Raiders in 2012. His 6 returns for 237 yards averaged an outstanding 39.5 average. In November against Baylor, he ran a kick back to the house at Cowboys Stadium, earning him a National Returner of the Week honor. In their bowl game against Minnesota, he ran another back for a touchdown. He added 32 receptions for 284 yards receiving. He made the Big 12 Conference Freshman team at the end of the season.

The following year in 2013, Coach Tuberville left to accept the head coaching position at Cincy, and Texas Tech hired Kliff Kingsbury as head coach. Grant found a starting role at receiver in Kingsbury’s air raid offense, and the former paid it back with 65 receptions for 796 yards. He wasn’t able to find the endzone on kick returns, but was still able to average 21.1 yards per return. He finished the season as an All-Big 12 Honorable Mention.

TCU v Texas Tech

In 2014, Grant began the season on the Biletnikoff Award Watch List, and developed rapport with quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes and Davis Webb. Grant improved his return yards average to 22.4, and caught 67 passes for 938 yards. His size was never an issue, he played big and put up big numbers.

Grant set his eyes on Texas Tech team records in 2015, and broke quite a few. He’s currently the Red Raiders’ leading receiver and all-purpose threat in team history. Sophomore quarterback Mahomes and Grant hooked up for 90 receptions, 1,268 yards, 10 touchdowns, and Grant was able to return to the endzone on returns twice in his final college season. He was named second-team All American for the year.

Grant entered the 2016 draft ready to play in the NFL.

Day 1 came and went. His name wasn’t called.

Day 2 came and went. His name wasn’t called.

Grant didn’t have a plan B. He wasn’t worried, he was patient. He was going to play in the NFL one way or another. His 4.34 40-yard dash time had turned heads.

With the 186th pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, the Miami Dolphins select: Jakeem Grant. Wide Receiver. Texas Tech.

In Grant’s rookie season with the Dolphins, he was the primary return specialist, and rewarded his team with an average of 23.1 yards per kick return and punt return touchdown. He wasn’t involved in the offense, but he was showing off his electric capabilities in the return game.

In 2017, the Dolphins started to work him into the offense, with 13 receptions for 203 yards and a few rushing attempts as well. He caught his first career touchdown in an upset win over the New England Patriots, finishing the season with 2 receiving scores. Still an outstanding return specialist, he averaged 22.8 yards per kick return.

Miami Dolphins v Las Vegas Raiders Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

2018 saw Grant return to the endzone on returns, one on a kick return and another on a punt return. His involvement in the offense increased, even recording 3 receptions for 32 yards in a humid October matchup with the Bears. He logged 21 receptions for 268 yards and 2 touchdowns on the season, all in the first two months of the season no less, before an Achilles injury forced him to have season-ending surgery. He finished the season with a career-bests 29.7 yards per kick return and 16.3 per punt return.

Before the 2019 season, the Dolphins signed Grant to a four-year extension worth up to $24 million to keep him in Miami. He had another strong season returning, running a kick return back for a touchdown and averaging 25.1 yards per, and he continued to get involved in the offense with 19 receptions for 164 yards. An injury to his ankle ended his season early for a second year in a row, and he entered 2020 hoping to stay healthy enough to finish a whole season.

Grant did just that, returning 29 punts for 330 yards, including a franchise-best 88-yard punt return against the Rams. He returned 6 kicks for 129 yards, and had a career-best 36 receptions for 373 yards and a touchdown. Grant was one of Miami’s most productive players, and his explosive returns earned him second-team All-Pro honors.

The Dolphins renegotiated his contract in September 2021, dropping his salary to to a fully guaranteed $2.3 million, according to Over the Cap. Failing to involve Grant in their offense to begin the 2021 season, and seeing the Bears were in need of a return specialist, they traded the speedster. A future 6th-round pick was what it took to bring Jakeem Grant Sr. to Chicago, and he’s here to run some kicks back.

The Present:

Grant’s presence on this roster carries certain implications about another return specialist on the team: Tarik Cohen. The Bears’ lightning-quick running back has been their primary punt returner since he was drafted in 2017, but a nasty ACL injury has kept him sidelined since last season. He currently sits on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) List, and there haven’t been reports that he’ll be ready to play soon.

Grant doesn’t have to be a fill-in for Cohen, though. He’s an excellent kick returner, something Cohen isn’t tasked with on the Bears. With Cordarelle Patterson in Atlanta, the Bears have needed a kick returner anyway, so don’t expect a healthy Cohen to affect Grant’s roster spot at all. Rookie running back Khalil Herbert and Grant are the top kick returners on the depth chart. Grant stands alone to return punts.

With the Bears unwilling to throw to players not named Allen Robinson and Darnell Mooney, it isn’t time to expect much from Grant on offense.

The future:

The Dolphins renegotiated Grant’s contract last month, perhaps to make him more tradeable. With the restructure, Grant is scheduled to become a free agent after this season. The Bears have Khalil Herbert on a rookie deal to return kicks, and if Cohen returns then he can return punts. Grant has a solid position on the roster currently, but his future may involve a payday in free agency. He deserves it, after making second-team All Pro and then taking a pay cut. There will be a market for his services.

In week 6, the Bears welcome their arch-rival Green Bay Packers to Soldier Field. The rivalry hasn’t exactly been competitive in recent years, but those who remember Devin Hester’s 61-yard punt return touchdown in 2010 know how important it will be to find scores any way you can against the Pack. Look for Grant to fill the shoes out and give his team a chance on Sunday.

Week 6 prediction:

2 kick returns, 46 yards; 4 punt returns, 76 yards, TD