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10 Bears with the most to prove in 2023: Braxton Jones

The second year tackle must build upon an excellent 2022 rookie season

Detroit Lions vs Chicago Bears Photo by Jorge Lemus/NurPhoto via Getty Images

We continue the offseason series looking at which Chicago Bears have a lot on the line in 2023. We kicked off the series with Kindle Vildor, but the next guy on the list may surprise some fans.

9. Braxton Jones

Braxton Jones exceeded everyone’s expectations as a rookie. It’s not often that an offensive linemen selected on day three of the draft from an FCS School (Southern Utah) can step in and start at the NFL level on day one, but that’s exactly what Jones accomplished.

Jones played 100% of the snaps as the team’s left tackle spot and earned All-Rookie honors and certainly looks the part as a guy that can hold down the left side of this offensive line in Chicago.

But Jones, as any rookie does, struggled at times. He was a far more advanced run blocker than he was as a pass blocker and he made some assignment mistakes at times as well.

So how can a guy that has done so well so quickly have so much to prove? Simple. Jones plays one of the most important positions on the field and Ryan Poles will absolutely be evaluating Jones this season to be confident that he’s going to protect Justin Fields for the next decade.

With the Carolina Panthers starting a rookie quarterback, there’s a good chance that Carolina ends up with a top ten pick, which, of course, belongs to the Bears in 2024. There are some outstanding tackles expected to be available towards the top of the draft next season. Obviously it’s early, but the three that come to mind are Notre Dame’s Joe Alt, Alabama’s JC Latham and Penn State’s Olu Fashanu.

If the Bears ever addressed left tackle in free agency, they’d need to spend north of $20 million a season to land a solid left tackle, so they’d almost certainly do it in the draft. Rarely do teams draft great tackles outside of round one, so if Jones reaches that level, he will be the exception and not the rule.

After this season, if Justin Fields continues to ascend and Poles continues to build a strong roster, they won’t be in much of a position to land elite tackle talent after 2024 in the draft, which is why this season becomes so critical for Jones.

Poles is going to want to be fully convinced he’s found his left tackle for the next decade after this season or he’s going to have to consider replacing Jones on the outside if Jones doesn’t continue to develop or regresses.

Expectations are that Jones continues to improve and keeps his job at left tackle in Chicago for years to come, but with the right side of the line appearing set for at least the next three years and center rarely being a position teams address early in the draft, if Jones leaves doubt after this year and Poles wants to add elite talent to the line, doing it via the left tackle position may be the way he does it.