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2021 NFL Draft: Top offensive linemen for Bears to target

The Bears have an apparent need along their offensive line, so let’s break down 20 of the top draft prospects in the 2021 class.

NCAA Football: Texas El Paso at Texas Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

The Bears have struggled mightily on the offensive side of the ball, and a big part of those issues have stemmed from their offensive line.

They recognized that the performance of their offensive line was less than ideal in 2019, so they fired offensive line coach Harry Hiestand and replaced him with Juan Castillo. However, they decided to only add one new starter to their line, replacing the retired Kyle Long with Germain Ifedi, who was signed to a one-year, veteran minimum contract.

As of this writing, that decision to neglect the personnel perspective of the positional retooling is coming back to bite them.

With James Daniels out for the season and the rest of the offensive line playing at a level that in the long run, may not be sustainable for the team’s success, the Bears will have to take a good, hard look at their foundation up front this coming offseason and determine whether or not they can be a legitimate Super Bowl contender with the pieces they have in place.

The Bears are currently on track to have draft picks in the first three rounds of the 2021 draft, marking the first time they have done so since 2016. With a heavier abundance of early picks that they haven’t had in recent years, they will almost surely consider using one of those selections on an offensive lineman.

Luckily for them, the 2021 draft has its fair share of talented big men, and to take an early look at what the class has to offer, here are my current top 10 tackles and top 10 interior offensive linemen.

Tackles

1. Penei Sewell, Oregon (6-foot-6, 325 pounds)

There’s precisely a 0 percent chance Sewell will be available for the Bears. He is everything you want in an offensive tackle: he’s big, strong, technically sound, athletic, mean and intelligent. I truly struggle to find a weakness in his game.

Draft Projection: Top 3

2. Samuel Cosmi, Texas (6-foot-7, 310 pounds)

An athletic and coordinated blocker who would fit well in the Bears’ zone-blocking scheme, Cosmi’s usage of polished footwork and hip rotations allows him to nullify the speed rush to the outside and block on the move efficiently. He is also an intelligent pass protector who can pick up blitzes easily. He can work on getting a bit lower at the point of attack, but his physical tools project him as an easy first-round pick.

Draft Projection: Top 20

3. Alex Leatherwood, Alabama (6-foot-6, 312 pounds)

Much like Cosmi, Leatherwood is another lengthy lineman who brings plenty of agility and body control on the move to the table. He has experience at both guard and tackle, and while he could realistically at both roles, his impressive range as a blocker could make him an intriguing long-term tackle. He plays with good situational awareness and has a nasty edge in his game, even though he isn’t the strongest blocker out there.

Draft Projection: 1st Round

4. Jackson Carman, Clemson (6-foot-5, 335 pounds)

Carman may very well be an actual vehicle disguised as a human being. His massive frame and his nastiness at the point of attack makes him one of the best pure maulers in the 2021 draft. He’s surprisingly nimble and plays with good pad level, though his hand usage can be tweaked a bit. If you want a tough-as-nails tackle prospect but can’t pick high enough to take Sewell, Carman’s your guy.

Draft Projection: 1st-2nd Round

5. Dillon Radunz, North Dakota State (6-foot-6, 299 pounds)

Though Trey Lance steals all of the headlines in Fargo, an argument could be made that Radunz might be the best prospect on the Bison right now. He is an athletic and lengthy tackle prospect who plays with textbook footwork and flexibility. He is more powerful than his skinnier frame might suggest—though he could bulk up a bit for the NFL level—and his technique has consistently improved over the past couple years.

Draft Projection: 1st-2nd Round

6. Abraham Lucas, Washington State (6-foot-7, 328 pounds)

Lucas is a large individual who brings the anchor strength needed to nullify a power rush off the edge and the motor needed to deliver the final death blow on a double-team block. He has plenty of experience in pass protection, and his footwork and technique shows it. While his body control as a run blocker can be a bit out of whack and his pad level can still improve, his physical tools indicate he could be an eventual starter with some development.

Draft Projection: Day 2

7. Walker Little, Stanford (6-foot-7, 320 pounds)

Were it not for a season-ending knee injury in 2019, Little could have very well been a first-round pick in the 2020 draft. He is a huge blocker who plays with much better quickness than one would expect. He packs a solid punch at the point of attack and, while his hand placement both need some work, he has a high ceiling and possesses all of the tools needed to be a solid starter in the league down the line.

Draft Projection: Day 2

8. Jalen Mayfield, Michigan (6-foot-5, 320 pounds)

The lone returning starter on Michigan’s offensive line entering 2020, Mayfield could end up selected higher than three of the four Wolverine blockers taken in the 2020 draft. He is a powerful blocker who plays with a mean streak but can also take good angles by adjusting his set points to square up to defenders. He’s not a great technician at the tackle position yet, but his physical game and his size should see him in Day 2 consideration.

Draft Projection: Day 2

9. Cole Van Lanen, Wisconsin (6-foot-5, 313 pounds)

Wisconsin is famous for producing its fair share of hog-mollies along the offensive line, and Van Lanen appears to be their next man up. He is a sound blocker who does a good job of getting low and blocking with his weight underneath him. He is also a strong player with a nice punch upon contact and enough power in his legs to keep churning and push defenders backwards. A lack of elite athleticism and flexibility will hurt his ceiling a little bit, but he could very well step in as a solid starter in the NFL.

Draft Projection: Day 3

10. Daniel Faalele, Minnesota (6-foot-9, 400 pounds)

It’s not often you see an offensive tackle as big as Faalele, much less one who moves the way he does. He plays with plenty of raw power and physicality at the line of scrimmage, but he is also a nimble mover who can accelerate to the second level pretty quickly. He isn’t nearly as polished as some of the offensive linemen he’ll get drafted ahead of, and while that may affect his grade on my board, his massive—no pun intended—upside will get him selected pretty high.

Draft Projection: Day 2

Interior linemen

1. Creed Humphrey, Oklahoma (6-foot-5, 307 pounds)

Humphrey could have very well been a first-round pick in 2020, but with his decision to return to Oklahoma for another year, he hasn’t hurt his stock any this year. He is a polished blocker who plays with ideal pad level, active hands and a nasty edge at the point of attack. He is a smart player who does a good job of making intelligent moves as a zone blocker, as well. A center in college, Humphrey may have to move to guard since he is left-handed, but wherever he plays, he should be a talented player.

Draft Projection: 1st Round

2. Wyatt Davis, Ohio State (6-foot-4, 315 pounds)

A first-team All-American in his first season as a starter in 2019, Davis broke out onto the scene with a tremendous campaign last year. He is a powerful blocker who has the grip strength to seal off defenders in the run game and the tenacity to pound them into the dirt. He is also a coordinated blocker, and his understanding of his assignments as a zone blocker and ability to pick up blitzes and twists are a good indication of his football IQ. If you want a Day 1 starter who brings toughness to an offensive line, Davis would be a great fit.

Draft Projection: 1st Round

3. Alijah Vera-Tucker, USC (6-foot-4, 300 pounds)

Vera-Tucker is a well-rounded blocker who does a lot of things pretty well. Though not the biggest player along the offensive line, he blocks with a high motor and plenty of power, and a big part of that comes with his consistency in his weight distribution, pad level and strike placement. He is an intelligent player who is a solid communicator at the line of scrimmage and can pick up blitzes and stunts well. He doesn’t have the highest ceiling in the world, but his snap-by-snap reliability should see him drafted early this year.

Draft Projection: Day 2

4. Rashawn Slater, Northwestern (6-foot-4, 315 pounds)

Having opted out of the 2020 season, Slater’s current available film is, save for workouts, the final product teams will have to go off of with him. Though he was a tackle at Northwestern, he projects incredibly well as a guard at the next level. He is a top-tier athlete for an offensive linemen who accelerates well and has great lateral quickness on the move. His technique in his pads and hand usage help him neutralize defenders, and he has a bit of a mean streak in him, despite not having that bulldozer-like strength. He should be a quality starter in the NFL for years to come.

Draft Projection: Day 2

5. Josh Myers, Ohio State (6-foot-5, 313 pounds)

Myers is a solid prospect who may not have the flashiest skill-set, but his reliability could see him turn into a starter at the NFL level. He has very good length for a center, and he brings nice coordination and footwork on the move. He is an intelligent blocker who is always looking for a way to chip in on a double-team or in pile-pushing situations, and he blocks with a nasty edge at the point of attack. He isn’t the most athletic player, and his pad level can improve a bit, but he should turn into a solid starting options along the interior.

Draft Projection: Day 2

6. Drake Jackson, Kentucky (6-foot-2, 292 pounds)

If you want collegiate reliability, you’d be hard-pressed to find too many centers that fit the bill better than Jackson, who allowed just one sack and missed two assignments all year in 2019. He is a powerful blocker who physically dominates defenders at the point of attack, paving lanes for his teammates in the run game. As a stouter blocker, he has natural leverage and uses that to his advantage, playing with great pad level and maintaining a low center of gravity. A lack of ideal length or agility could see him fall down boards a bit, but he is a prospect worth keeping an eye on.

Draft Projection: Day 2-3

7. Zion Johnson, Boston College (6-foot-3, 310 pounds)

It takes a special talent to transfer from an FCS school to a Power 5 school, start right away and excel out of the gate, but that’s exactly what Johnson did. The former Davidson lineman is a strong and nasty guard prospect who does a good job of keeping his weight underneath him and staying low to maximize the raw power in his frame. He plays with a high motor and looks to punish defenders upon contact. He doesn’t have elite length or athletic ability, but he brings possible starting potential as a mid-round prospect.

Draft Projection: Day 2-3

8. Trey Smith, Tennessee (6-foot-6, 335 pounds)

Many are higher on Smith than I am at this stage, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t bring intriguing talents to the table. He is a massive blocker with experience at tackle but an NFL future at guard. He packs plenty of power in his frame and can maul opponents at the line of scrimmage with his raw strength and mauler mentality. Though he doesn’t bring top-notch quickness in space, his brute force that he displays on tape should see him taken fairly early in the draft.

Draft Projection: Day 2

9. Trey Hill, Georgia (6-foot-4, 331 pounds)

Another nasty offensive line prospect with a powerful frame, Hill is a road-paver in the run game and has the grip strength and force proportioned in his frame to move defenders around with ease. He typically does a good job of staying low with his pads and has collegiate experience as both a guard and a center. A lack of athleticism and coordination could hurt his stock, but he can start in the league with a few minor improvements.

Draft Projection: Day 2-3

10. Cade Mays, Tennessee (6-foot-6, 320 pounds)

Mays is a player I’m looking forward to watching more of in 2020, as he looked good at Georgia in 2019 and has, by all accounts, kept that up as a transferring player to Tennessee. He has a lengthy and powerful frame, and he blocks with active hands and a strong anchor in his lower body. He has experience as both a guard and a tackle, offering him tremendous versatility early in his career. As is the case with many mid-round blockers, his athleticism isn’t the greatest, but he looks the part of a future starter down the line.

Draft Projection: Day 2-3