In the NFL today, the Philadelphia Eagles have arguably the best offensive line in the League. Some feel in order to build a top offensive line, it has to be done with first-round draft picks. The Eagles are a perfect example of why that isn't necessarily true.
All five of the Eagles' offensive line starters were originally drafted and developed by the Eagles. Developing offensive linemen starts with a good OLine coach, and the Eagles have one of the best in the business in Jeff Stoutland. Stoutland is so highly thought of by the Eagles front office that he has stayed with the Eagles even though they have had three different Head Coaches during his time in Philly.
Stoutland came to Philly in 2013 as part of Chip Kelly's original staff. Before joining the Eagles, Stoutland was the offensive line coach for Nick Saban at Alabama. I worked with Jeff in 2013, and I know firsthand how strong a coach he is. All his players are very fundamentally sound and well-coached. They also fit the profile of what he is looking for in an offensive lineman. Some of his draft picks are ready to start immediately, but others need developing, which takes time. Sometimes it may be a few years, but when they are ready to step in, they produce.
The only first-round pick of the Eagles' five starters is right tackle Lane Johnson. Johnson was selected in 2013, and the only OLine coach he has played for is Stoutland. When Johnson was in college, he was originally a tight end and was switched to tackle while at Oklahoma, where he played on the left side. The Eagles drafted him to be their future left tackle and eventually replace Jason Peters, but Peters defied the odds and played at a high level for several years after Johnson was drafted. With Peters on the left side, Johnson was placed at right tackle, where he has become one of the better right tackles in football. He's big, strong, durable, and athletic. In essence, the Eagles have a left tackle playing on the right side, which makes them very strong at the tackle position.
The starting left tackle is a perfect example of developing a player with traits. Jordan Mailata never played football until the Eagles drafted him in the seventh round of the 2018 Draft. He was a former rugby player in Australia who was a giant (6'8 – 350) of a man with rare athleticism. The Eagles saw the natural traits and took the time to develop him.
As a rookie, Mailata made the 53-man roster even though he wasn't ready to play. The Eagles kept him because they didn't want to chance putting him on waivers in order to place him on the practice squad. He stayed on the 53 for a good part of the 2018 season, learning how to play the game in practice.
His second season was much the same until the Eagles found a convenient injury to place him on injured reserve. It wasn't until his third year that he began to play, and he started 10 of the 15 games he played in. Now, in his fifth season, he is one of the better left tackles in football. Why? Because the Eagles took the time to develop him properly. He didn't play until he was ready to play.
Neither of the starting guards were first-round picks. Isaac Seulamo was a third-round pick in 2016, and in his first two years he played as a backup, only starting a total of six games in these two seasons because the starter was injured. In 2018 he started nine games, and then finally in 2020, he became the full-time starter. He is a very steady player who is proficient as both a run and pass blocker. His contract is up at the end of this season, and he is bound to hit a home run in free agency.
The other guard is Landon Dickerson, who played center at Alabama, but the Eagles moved him to guard because of his athleticism to play in space, and they had an All-Pro at the center position. Dickerson was a second-round pick and the only other premium-round pick starting for Philly on the OLine.
The center and anchor of the Eagles' offensive line is a perennial All-Pro. Kelce was a sixth-round pick in 2011 and has started every game he has been healthy enough to play since he was drafted (172 games). As a rookie, Kelce wasn't the biggest guy at 6'2 – 285, but he was very strong and athletic. At 35 years old, he can still play in space as well as any center in the League.
As Kelce won't play forever, the Eagles drafted his eventual replacement this past April when they selected Nebraska center Cam Jurgens in the second round.
The only draft pick on the offensive line the Eagles missed on is 2019 first-round pick, Andre Dillard. Dillard was drafted to be the Eagles' left tackle but has never been able to earn the job. While they hoped he would eventually develop, it was instead Mialata who surpassed him. Dillard is a free agent after this season.
One of the architects of putting the Eagles line together is the Bears Assistant General Manager Ian Cunningham. Ian knows firsthand how to draft and develop offensive linemen, and that's exactly what the Chicago Bears did last April. They didn't spend any high-round picks on the offensive line, but they found players who had very desirable traits and could be developed.
Braxton Jones was selected in the fifth round from FCS Southern Utah. Jones has rare athleticism for a tackle. Coming from the FCS level, he was raw, but because his traits were so strong, the Bears made him the starter right from the get-go. Yes, Jones has had to learn on the fly, but he has improved every game. He is already a high-caliber run blocker. Where he needs improvement is in pass protection which is not unusual for a rookie. Jones handles speed well because of his lateral agility, where he has some difficulty is with bull rushers. That is something that can be fixed in the off-season. He needs to add bulk and strength to his lower body, which will happen over the next six to seven months. There is not a doubt in my mind that he will become a winning left tackle for the Bears. His natural traits and football character are too strong for him not to succeed.
The other interesting offensive line draft pick the Bears have is Ja'Tyre Carter, a seventh-round pick last April. Like Jones, Carter played at the FCS level of college football, playing left tackle at Southern University. Carter is also a freak athlete, having run a sub 5.00 in the 40 and a 34" vertical jump. His movement skills are excellent for a big man, but that is not surprising as he was a very good point guard at 250 pounds in high school. In fact, he was so good, he had mid-major scholarship offers to play basketball.
The point I'm making is this; the Bears' offensive line is not as bad as many think. Many of the "parts" are currently on the roster, they just need to be developed, and that of course takes time. I feel the Bears are one player away from having a winning OLine, and that is having a solid right tackle. That player may be Alex Leatherwood, but none of us know if he is the answer. If not, then free agency could be an option where there are a number of very good right tackles who should be available. Two are Jack Conklin, who is with the Browns, and San Francisco's Mike McGlinchey.
Others will say the Bears need a center. In my opinion, the center is here, and his name is Lucas Patrick. Granted, many fans are down on Patrick, but it's not his fault he got injured, and it's not his fault that he had to play out of position at guard instead of his natural center position. His tape playing center with Green Bay in 2020 and 2021 is excellent. If he returns to that form, the center position is in good hands.