People underestimate the value of a league average left tackle. Pundits will wax poetic about the unquantifiable worth of an elite blind-side protector. But I would argue that the upgrade from an average to an elite tackle is less dramatic than the upgrade from a low-level starter to an average tackle—just look at the NFC North’s own Minnesota Vikings to see how poor tackle play can hold an offense hostage.
When that average tackle comes in the form of a 7th round pick who has improved every year in the league, the Bears should be thanking their lucky stars—or in this case, Phil Emery, who left our Beloved with diamond-in-the-rough Charles Leno Jr. as a parting gift. And from what we hear, Ryan Pace is grateful for Leno’s competent play following the then-criticized decision to enter 2016 with Leno as the starter.
Charles Leno Jr. was drafted in 2014 to add depth to the offensive line. After playing only played 29 snaps his rookie season, he was thrown into the starter role following a Jermon Bushrod injury. He played 85% of the 2015 snaps, with some sloppy play early but weekly improvement culminating in an overall mediocre season. In 2016, his game was clearly improved, particularly in pass blocking, and he was the only Bear to play every one of their 1010 offensive snaps.
In interviews, continued improvement seems to be Leno Jr.’s motto, and his play on the field suggests it may be more than just his favorite athlete cliche. To be excited about projecting Leno as the long term answer at tackle, I would want to see him continue that improvement, particularly in his run-blocking game.
Age: 26 years old
Experience: 3 years
Weight: 305 pounds
Contract and salary cap
According to Overthecap, Leno Jr. is set to make 1.8 million in the final year of his contact, all of it counted against the cap. However, I wouldn’t be shocked (or mad) if a new deal gets done before the end of the season.
Reason for improvement in 2017
Leno improved dramatically from 2015 to 2016. He talks about the game slowing down with experience as he learns what to expect, what movements matter, and which don’t. Ryan Pace noted that he seems to play better as he gets more confident, and Leno himself seems quite confident that he can continue to improve.
Reason for regression in 2017
I honestly don’t expect regression from Leno. His improvement has been consistent, and not for reasons one would expect to go away. You could argue that 2016 was an outlier, and Leno will regress closer to his 2015 play. But if you make that argument, I would have to roll my eyes, which is more effort than that argument is worth.
Final roster odds
100%. Sure there are circumstance where Leno Jr. wouldn’t be on the roster. But any of them would mean serious bad news for the Bears and I will be more concerned about that than the fact I was wrong about my roster prediction.