Worth the Risk

Do the Bears finally have a running back that they deem as special? While only time will tell if Thomas Jones can bring his game to a new level, two of the best running backs in the league didn't hit their full potential until playing in the offense Terry Shea plans to run.

Marshall Faulk came out of San Diego State with comparisons to being a Barry Sanders type with more speed. The Colts selected Faulk with the second pick in the 1994 draft and he didn't disappoint as a rookie rushing for 1,282 yards. His production earned him Pro Bowl honors and the Offensive Rookie of the Year Award. Although his yards per carry fell to 3.7 yards, his sophomore campaign yielded another Pro Bowl birth.

The next two years were tough for Faulk. His numbers continued to drop with rushing totals of 587 and 1,054 yards. While he rebounded in 1998 with 1,319 yards rushing and 86 receptions the Colts decided to go in a different direction. Following a third trip to the Pro Bowl he was traded to St. Louis for a 2nd and 5th round draft picks.

In a new offense Faulk went wild. On his way to winning the Offensive Player of the Year Award for three straight seasons he averaged no less than 5.3 yards per rushing attempt. Faulk was named the NFL's Most Value Player in 2000 and finished second to Kurt Warner in 2001. He had five straight seasons with at least 80 receptions snapped this year mostly because of missing time to injury.

Faulk was a good player that became the best in the game when he went to St. Louis. He averaged more than 4.1 yards per carry before playing for the Rams.

While Priest Holmes wasn't even drafted coming out of Texas, he has a similar story to Faulk. Following a rookie season where he just tried to make the Baltimore roster, Holmes went over 1,000 yards in just 13 starts. A knee injury slowed his progress in year three, which eventually led to the Ravens drafting Jamal Lewis with the fifth pick in the 2000 draft. The duo split time during Baltimore's Super Bowl run, but with Lewis being the future Holmes landed in Kansas City as a free agent. Since joining Dick Vermeil, Holmes has averaged 1530 yards rushing, 68 receptions and 20 touchdowns per season. This year Holmes set NFL records with 27 rushing touchdowns, which is also the most scores in a single season.

Jones had a strong resume coming out of Virginia, which is why the Cardinals made him the7th overall pick in the 2000 draft. Playing in Arizona Jones never lived up to that billing. Part of it goes directly on his shoulders, but the Cardinals have been one of the NFL's worst franchises for a long time. After three pedestrian years in Arizona, Jones was traded to the Buccaneers and split time with Michael Pittman.

Jones had a career high 627 yards rushing and while that number is nothing to get excited about, he finished the season in strong fashion. Over the final 7 weeks of the season Jones averaged 76.5 yards per game and 4.9 yards per attempt.

Jones, 25, is still young enough to turn his career around. He has the speed that Anthony Thomas lacks and will play in the scheme that made Faulk and Holmes perennial Pro Bowl running backs. At 5'10, 220 pounds, Jones also has a similar build to that of Faulk (5'10, 211) and Holmes (5'9, 213).

Although Jones has never caught more than 32 balls in a year, he has the hands to see that number go up in an offense that will feature him out of the backfield. The fact that he's never had more than 138 carries in a season brings into question his durability to handle the bulk of the carries for the Bears. He's split time with Pittman in Arizona and then again in Tampa along with Mike Alstott.

"It's a different opportunity because I really think the situation now and the offense is geared for me in and my abilities," Jones said upon signing with Chicago. "This opportunity for me is a great opportunity to go out and finally be able to show exactly what I can do in different situations as far as getting the ball out of the backfield, and just getting the ball a little more consistently."

Both Faulk and Holmes hit their strides in their fifth year's in the league and first in the offense Shea is going to run. Jones is heading into his fifth NFL campaign and all involved with the Bears believe he's poised to have a breakout season. If Jones can put up anything close to the production to that of Faulk and Holmes then the Bears will have a steal and possibly a running back that is truly special.

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