I should probably say right out front, when I started doing this little miniseries last week, it kind of took on a different pall than I had intended it to - I'd intended to look at a few pre-2011 draft picks that stand to gain the most from the 2012 season, but it's been taking a slightly different turn from that. With this post, I'll try to bring the series back, and what better way to do it than with a player that has a lot to lose... but a lot to gain.
Struggled at right tackle in 2010? Yes. Struggled at left tackle in 2011? Hell yes. But the third year could be when the founder of "J-Webb Nation" claims his turf.
I don't think too many people would stand up and admit to thinking J'Marcus Webb has been anything but a liability at tackle throughout his short tenure, so when we say "Picks to Improve" it smacks a little of "There's nowhere to go but up." But while I'll admit Webb had a horrible season and that he shouldn't be handed the starter's spot, I think we often forget there's been a lot out of the line's - and particularly his own - favor.
We've been over the myriad of reasons that he's struggled over his two seasons in the league - his young age, his seventh-round draft status, prototypical size but lack of technique, last season switching sides amidst a shortened offseason, scheme that practically requires All-Pro-level tackle play to be run as designed - and often pointed to them as signs that he can't possibly be as bad as he was. For all those factors, and for the occasional flashes he has shown, the one overarching fact that can't be ignored is that he was bad.
Ideally, no team would want a seventh-round draft pick as "prototypical" as Webb is starting anywhere on the line immediately. A team might see "prototypical" and read "outstanding measurables for his position," but while that's true, if he had the necessary technique and skill, he'd already have been drafted long before that point - the two aren't mutually exclusive, but when the "prototypical" word is around in the seventh, there's a reason for it. And that's what the Bears got with Webb - seventh round production out of a seventh-round pick.
So, yes, Webb was bad, and Webb was thrust into a starting role well before his maturation date. Which is why throwing him into a competition for left tackle is best for him right now. If Webb wins, he's almost assuredly a better player for it. If not, he'll be allowed to develop without exposing Jay Cutler to a furious defensive end with each growing-pains-mistake made, and should Chris Williams falter, maybe Webb can surprise with a resurgent latter-part-of-the-season performance.
The J'Marcus Webb we see in 2012 will be a better tackle. How much better remains to be seen.