The Bears’ offensive line didn't necessarily live up to expectations in 2019.
One year after a solid overall performance that saw two starters make it to the Pro Bowl, Chicago’s offensive line failed to build off of the previous year’s performance. They finished as the fourth-worst run blocking unit in the league according to Football Outsiders, with their pass protection grade not being much better: they still finished in the bottom 10 league-wide.
While right guard may be the bigger immediate need for the team, they could also stand to add a young, talented player at offensive tackle for the future.
The Bears have the opportunity to save either $6.7 million or $8 million by releasing Bobby Massie next offseason, depending on whether they apply a post-June 1 designation. Given their cash-strapped situation and Massie’s disappointing year in 2019, a reasonable move like his release could leave Chicago in need of a new starting offensive tackle.
At first glance, the 2021 draft figures to have a handful of potential starters at the offensive tackle position. While it may not have as many clearcut first-round talents as this year’s group did, there are still a handful of starting-caliber players that could make an impact in the NFL.
Here are five offensive tackle prospects the Bears should keep an eye on heading into the 2020 season.
Penei Sewell, Oregon
When talking about offensive linemen in the 2021 class, it would be remiss to not talk about Penei Sewell.
Oregon’s blindside protector is arguably the best offensive tackle prospect since Jake Long was selected first overall in 2008, and he could push Quenton Nelson as the best overall offensive lineman to enter the draft in quite some time. The 6-foot-6, 330-pounder has an incredible blend of size, power, hand usage, pad leverage, instincts and athleticism that make him a blue-chip prospect at a very important position. He packs a powerful punch at the point of attack and has great drive in his lower body, his textbook pad level allows him to stay low and generate leverage, and his hand placement allows him to manhandle opponents upon contact. Sewell is unlikely to be an option for the Bears unless they bomb the 2020 season and miss out on a top quarterback prospect. However, the 2019 Outland Trophy winner might just be the best overall prospect in next year’s draft, and he’s certainly a name to remember going forward.
Alex Leatherwood, Alabama
A soon-to-be three-year starter at Alabama with experience as both a guard and a tackle, Alex Leatherwood enters the 2020 season as one of the best blindside protectors in college football.
The 6-foot-6, 311-pounder is a lengthy and athletic blocker who has the physical upside to develop into a starter quickly in his NFL career. He is an impressive lateral athlete who moves well in pass protection and can counter speed rushes with his quickness, and he also has the acceleration to climb to the second level or pull off outside-zone blocks effectively. Leatherwood plays with good pad level, has good situational awareness and has shown some flashes in how he uses his hands. While not the strongest or nastiest offensive lineman out there, he has a skill set that can be easily molded into a starter at either tackle or guard at the next level, and that could give him some first-round consideration come next year.
Samuel Cosmi, Texas
If you’re looking for upside at the offensive tackle position, then Samuel Cosmi might just be your guy.
Cosmi stakes a reasonable claim for being the best athlete at the offensive tackle position in this class. His ability to explode out of his stance, shuffle laterally in pass protection and change direction seamlessly offers plenty of intrigue for his projection at the next level. He plays with good footwork and adjusts his set points well, rotating his hips accordingly in order to square up to the edge rusher and take a precise angle to his opponent. Entering his third year as a starter for Texas, Cosmi is a coordinated athlete who has very good body control when climbing to the second level, His athleticism is made even more impressive when considering he stands in at 6-foot-7 and weighs 310 pounds. He’s still a work in progress, as his play strength and pad level could stand to get better before he makes the jump to the pros, but Cosmi has the tools to be a high-quality starting tackle in the NFL.
Jackson Carman, Clemson
While the aforementioned Leatherwood and Cosmi stand out with their athleticism, there are tackles in this class like Jackson Carman who have made a name for themselves with technique and brute strength.
Carman is a massive individual at 6-foot-5 and a whopping 345 pounds. He has an incredibly thick frame with tree trunks for legs, and that bulk translates to his style of play. He is a powerful blocker who packs a powerful punch at the point of attack and, combined with his ability to stay low and keep his weight underneath him, has good recovery strength in his anchor in pass protection. Carman has a nasty edge in his game, as he isn’t afraid of slamming his opponents into the dirt. For a player who is as big as he is, he’s also surprisingly nimble and can mirror speed rushes with good footwork and effective angles in pass protection. While his acceleration and body control in space and his placement in his strikes can improve, the Clemson left tackle is certainly a name to watch going forward.
Abraham Lucas, Washington State
Today’s NFL is a pass-first league, so why not target an offensive tackle who has taken as many reps in pass protection as Abraham Lucas?
Having started the past two seasons in a Mike Leach Air Raid offense, Lucas has had plenty of experience as a pass blocker at the collegiate level. The 6-foot-7, 324-pound blocker has a massive frame with a large wingspan and a naturally powerful frame. He has the anchor strength to neutralize a bull rush and recover from other power moves, shutting down his opponent in the process. He packs a forceful punch upon contact and has shown the ability to pitch in on double-team blocks and deliver the final death blow to a defender. Lucas also plays with good technique in his feet and hips in pass protection, taking measured steps in his shuffle and squaring up effectively to take the best possible angles to shut down a rush to the outside. As is the case with a lot of super tall offensive linemen, his pad level could improve a bit, and his tall frame makes it tougher for him to get low and change direction in a coordinated manner. He also needs a bit of improvement in his technique as a run blocker, though bringing in a new head coach who runs the ball much more often than Leach could be beneficial to him. Lucas is a work in progress, but he certainly has starter upside in the NFL.