The dog days of the offseason are finally behind us now that training camp is underway, just in time for our countdown of the Top 100 Chicago Bears of all time to really heat up. As we get closer to the season opener, we get closer to naming the #1 Chicago Bear of all time.
Thomas Jones started his career with the Arizona Cardinals as the 7th overall pick of the 2000 NFL draft, 2 spots ahead of Bears legend Brian Urlacher (thanks AZ!). In college Jones was a 1st team all-American at Virginia who broke 15 school records and 8 ACC records including single-season rushing yards (1,798), all-purpose yards (2,054) and becoming the first player to rush for 200 yards and have 100 receiving yards in the same game. Jones was a beast in college and as the 7th overall pick was expected to continue that production in the NFL.
Jones had a rocky start to his NFL career and was widely considered a bust after three unsuccessful seasons with the Cardinals. He had some trouble staying healthy, but didn’t produce when given a chance either with only 9 TDs and 3.5 yards per carry in three seasons. The Cards gave up on Jones, signed Emmitt Smith before the ’03 season and then traded Jones to the Bucs for fellow bust Marquise Walker (WR). Jones backed up Michael Pittman in Tampa but looked like a different player and showed flashes of the talent that made him a top 10 pick (4.6 ypc) . The Bucs made just a half-ass effort to re-sign Jones and he choose to sign with our beloved Bears instead before the 2004 season.
The Bears had Anthony Thomas entrenched as their lead back going into 2004, but he had only 9 catches for 36 yards in 2003 and new HC Lovie Smith wanted a RB with a little more versatility so the Bears signed Thomas Jones to a 4-yr, $10M deal. The Bears brass gave A-Train votes of confidence all through the pre-season, but Jones ended up starting 14 games in his first year as a Bear and had a solid season (1,375 total yards, 7 TDs).
In Jones’ 2nd year with the Bears (2005) they brought in Ron Turner as the new offensive coordinator. Turner’s zone blocking scheme was a perfect fit for Jones’ skill-set and he had his best numbers as a Bear (1,478 total yards, 9 TDs). The Bears had drafted RB Ced Benson that season, but Benson clearly wasn’t ready to play so Jones was a workhorse with 314 carries on the season. Quick sidebar on Benson… If there was a bottom 100 Bears of all-time he would be on that list.
Benson was a bigger part of the offense in 2006, but Jones was still the lead back in what turned out to be a magical season for the Bears. They went 13-3 led by a dominant defense and a power running game from the Jones / Benson combo. It was mostly Jones (1,364 yards, 6 TDs), but Benson pitched in enough (701 yards, 6 TDs) to convince the Bears that he had potential to be the lead back.
After the ’06 season the Bears traded Jones and a late 2nd round pick to the Jets for an early 2nd round pick. At the time I thought this was one of the worst moves of the Angelo era and I turned out to be right on that one. Jones was solid in his first year with the Jets (1,336 total yards, 2 TDs), but had the best season of his career in his 2nd year in New York (1,519 total yards, 15 TDs) and made his first Pro Bowl. Jones was almost as good in his 3rd year with the Jets (1,460, 14 TDs) but the Jets let him go in free agency after the season and he was signed by the Chiefs. Jones played two mediocre seasons in KC (3.5 ypc) before retiring after the 2011 season.
In case you were curious what the Bears did with the draft pick they got for Jones… The Bears traded the early 2nd rounder they got for Jones to the Chargers for a late 2nd round pick (Dan Bazuin), a late 3rd rounder (Garrett Wolfe) and an early 5th round pick (Kevin Payne). The Chargers used the 2nd rounder to draft Eric Weddle. That wasn’t Jerry Angelo’s finest moment. If that wasn’t bad enough, Benson only played one more year in Chicago and averaged a paltry 3.4 ypc as the feature back.
Jones only played for three seasons in Chicago but his tough running style and workmanlike attitude resonated with Bears fans. Jones is probably twenty or thirty spots too high on this list, but he was one of my favorite Bears. In three years with the Bears Jones totaled 3,493 rushing yards, 724 receiving yards, and 22 TDs.
What do you think of the ranking? Too high? Too low? I guess you’ll have to check back to see who finished ahead of him to judge for yourself. We’ll be counting down a different person each day as we inch our way to the September 7th season opener.