Shaw Local is counting down the top 25 most important Bears for the 2022 season.
What makes one player more important than another? That’s subjective, of course. But for our purposes it comes down to this: Are the Bears worse off if this player can’t play? Does this player have untapped potential or past greatness to live up to? Is his story going to be one fans follow closely this season?
For example, Justin Fields might not be the best player on the Bears in 2022 (or maybe he will be), but he certainly is among the most important.
No. 13 Teven Jenkins
Position: Offensive tackle
NFL experience: Second season
Last year’s ranking: No. 6
Looking back: In the spring of 2021, many mock drafts had the Bears selecting Teven Jenkins, a tackle out of Oklahoma State, with the 20th overall draft pick. Instead, they traded that 20th pick – and a package of additional picks – to move higher in the draft and to select quarterback Justin Fields. Jenkins slipped and slipped until former general manager Ryan Pace again traded up on day two, this time to 39th overall, and took Jenkins. The old regime dubbed him the left tackle of the future.
Those plans, however, quickly went awry. Jenkins participated in the spring practice period without any apparent issues, but then showed up to training camp with a back injury. The injury eventually required surgery and Jenkins missed nearly the entire season. He returned late in the year and appeared in the final six games, making two starts.
Looking forward: New head coach Matt Eberflus arrived in Chicago talking about a clean slate for everyone. Clean slates, it turns out, aren’t always a good thing. Jenkins is the best example of a player the previous decision makers felt highly about, but who general manager Ryan Poles and the new front office haven’t committed to yet. The Bears experimented with their offensive line throughout the spring, trying all sorts of combinations. That included relegating Jenkins to second team for several practices. Jenkins has spent most of his time at right tackle under the new coaching staff.
It would be a blow to the organization if its second-round pick from a year ago winds up on the bench. Second-round picks are expected to be starters in this league. It would be yet another indictment of the Pace era. It would also mean the Bears are likely starting a rookie fifth-round draft pick in Braxton Jones at left tackle. While that’s great for Jones, it doesn’t bode well for Justin Fields’ health in 2022. It still feels more likely that Jenkins will start at right tackle, with Larry Borom at left tackle, when Week 1 arrives. But that’s far from a sure thing.