LB Christian Jones – Coming into the 2014 draft, Jones was considered a lock for an early day two pick. He had just finished a dominant season at outside linebacker for the national champion Seminoles and was scouted as a scheme versatile linebacker with ideal size, good speed, and the power to be an impact run stopper.
Jones ended up dropping out of the draft completely, due to a failed drug test at the combine that wasn’t made public until months later. The Bears won a bidding war with the Jags for Jones as a priority undrafted free agent, which seemed like a steal at the time.
His rookie year reinforced the notion that the Bears money was well spent. He started five games, had 41 tackles, and looked like a potential impact player as the weakside OLB in the Bears 4-3 scheme.
Then in 2015, the Bears brought in new management, a new coaching staff, switched to a new defensive scheme and Jones was suddenly on the roster bubble. There might not be a player on the roster who has gone through as dramatic of a role change as Jones in the last few years.
He went from 5-star college recruit, to a stud linebacker on a national championship team, to a starting outside linebacker on the Bears as a rookie, and then to the bottom of the Bears roster as maybe a special teams contributor.
Jones could have quit on the Bears at that point with more than enough potential to be picked up by another NFL team, but he focused on excelling at special teams and adding value wherever he could. He barely hung on to a roster spot in 2015 but started to rebuild his value this season.
Jones was a key member of the Bears special teams unit in 2016 with the third highest coverage grade behind Sherrick McManus and Josh Bellamy. He also learned to play both inside and outside linebacker in a new scheme and graded out positively at both positions in a reserve role.
He still has the size (6’4, 240) and speed (4.58) to be an impact player in multiple roles for the Bears, would be owed about half of Acho’s minimum salary, and still has plenty of potential left at just 25 years old. Jones hasn’t lost the physical traits that made him a projected early draft pick a few years ago and now has the maturity to do whatever it takes to add value to the team.
Losing Acho would be a tough loss in the locker room, but Jones has shown the ability and maturity to take over his role as a leader on the special teams unit with the added bonus that he could still develop into an impact player at either inside or outside linebacker.
Verdict: Keep him
DB Demontre Hurst – Has bounced between the Bears active roster and the practice squad the last three years, but has made plays when given a chance. Hurst has two interceptions and three pass defenses in just four career starts.
He also has the versatility to play both corner and safety, while contributing on special teams. The downside is that Hurst is small even for corner standards (5’9, 175) and the Bears shouldn’t keep four sub 5’10 corners (Callahan, LeBlanc, Boykin, Hurst).
It may come down to Hurst verse Boykin and if that’s the case the Bears should choose the more experienced corner with proven ball skills in Boykin. Hurst’s best chance of making the roster may be a full-time switch to safety, where he has more potential than Prosinski (who doesn’t) and is more reliable than Jones-Quartey or Bush.
I don’t think the Bears are as high on Hurst as I am, considering they have released him three times in the last two seasons. With the Bears looking to add multiple secondary options this offseason, Hurst’s days on the team are probably numbered but he has bounced back from being released multiple times already and I wouldn’t be surprised if Hurst is on the Bears active roster at some point in 2017.
Verdict: Let him go (but keep him on speed-dial)