Bears risers and fallers after final game of 2022 season originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
The Bears lost a football game against the Vikings on Sunday, but on the whole they won the day. That’s because the team locked in a top-two pick in next year’s draft. The team could select a high-impact player with that pick, or receive a bounty of picks from a QB-needy team. Either way, the decision will shape the future of the franchise. Back on the football field several players ended their seasons well on Sunday, giving themselves positive momentum heading into the offseason. Others finished their 2022 campaigns with a bad taste in their mouth.
VELUS JONES JR.
Jones has been on an upward trend for about a month since he was given kickoff return duties again. On Sunday, Jones Jr finally made it back in the end zone, and he did it on offense. The rookie wide receiver took an end around toss from Tim Boyle and housed it for a 42-yard touchdown run. He showed off good patience on the play by following lead blocker Khari Blasingame down the sideline, then good balance to tiptoe along the sidelines and breakaway speed to score. That wasn’t all for Jones Jr. He caught a deep pass from Nathan Peterman over veteran cornerback Patrick Peterson. Jones Jr. also overcame a Peterson illegally hands to the face penalty on the grab. This is the type of playmaking the Bears envisioned when they drafted him in the third round.
The Bears secondary was in an incredible situation on Sunday, down to their sixth cornerback on the depth chart. With Jaylon Johnson, Kindle Vildor, Kyler Gordon, Jaylon Jones and Josh Blackwell all out, Harrison Hand was pressed into duty to lead the team. Unsurprisingly, there were some big plays from the Vikings passing attack, but Hand made his presence known with two forced fumbles and good pursuit to the ball carrier. That type of ball production and hustle is exactly what Matt Eberflus wants from his players, and may have been enough to warrant Hand getting another look for a backend of the roster spot next season.
Ok, so Ryan Poles didn’t play on Sunday, and his standing within the organization certainly couldn’t “rise” or “fall” like anyone else on gameday, but he was still a big winner. With the Bears loss, Poles was guaranteed a top-two pick in next year’s draft. We’re going to spend a whole lot of time over the coming months discussing what Poles can do with that pick, so we don’t need to hash it out here. Suffice it to say whatever happens in the draft, it will make a huge impact on the organization.
The Bears claimed Alex Leatherwood off waivers this year as part of a reclamation project. The Raiders spent a first-round draft pick to acquire Leatherwood in 2021, but cut ties just one year later. Leatherwood was derailed early in the year by a bout with mono and never quite found his footing after that. He rotated with Riley Reiff at right tackle for two games, but was benched again after that On Sunday, Leatherwood came in to play one series at left guard and struggled again. He gave up a pressure on third down that played a part in a Tim Boyle interception and never made it back onto the field. Leatherwood is still under contract for a few seasons, so there’s a chance that he turns things around in 2023, but his first year with the Bears went about as badly as possible.
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