When Ryan Poles became the general manager of the Bears, he knew that their current roster would not be fixed in one offseason.
With no first-round pick in the 2022 draft and several open starting spots from a 6-11 team with multiple bad contracts on the books, Poles inherited a roster with a lot of holes. The Bears had struggled on offense for much of the Matt Nagy era, but that rang especially true in 2021.
A big part of those issues stemmed from the offensive line. Injuries did affect the group, sure, but the unit struggled collectively with protecting quarterbacks Justin Fields, Andy Dalton and Nick Foles. With no true star up front, it was unlikely Chicago would trot out a stellar unit in 2022. On paper, stellar isn’t a word that should be used to describe their current group of offensive linemen.
There is one word that could describe the unit, though, and that word is one that didn’t apply to last year’s offensive line: intriguing.
Poles went with a hard reset up front; just one of their starting 5 linemen project as starters heading into the 2022 season. Cody Whitehair — the aforementioned starter — Sam Mustipher and Larry Borom are the three linemen out of the 9 active blockers the Bears rostered Week 1 who remain on the 53-man roster.
If there’s one thing that stands out about the Bears’ current offensive line, it’s upside. Granted, the group is pretty inexperienced. Braxton Jones and Ja’Tyre Carter are both rookies, Teven Jenkins has played in 6 NFL games and is learning a new position, and Larry Borom and Alex Leatherwood are in their second seasons in the pros.
However, the long-term potential with the Bears’ offensive line is palpable. The Relative Athletic Scores for each of their linemen tell a story:
- Braxton Jones: 8.44
- Cody Whitehair: 7.99
- Lucas Patrick: 9.30
- Teven Jenkins: 9.97 (OG)
- Riley Reiff: 5.91
- Larry Borom: 7.42
- Alex Leatherwood: 9.97 (OG)
- Ja’Tyre Carter: 7.76
- Sam Mustipher: 0.85
If you include both the practice squad and injured draft pick Doug Kramer:
- Kellen Diesch: 9.75
- Zachary Thomas: 8.97
- Doug Kramer: 8.47
- Lachavious Simmons: N/A
- Dieter Eiselen: N/A
Poles outright said that the Bears’ offensive line needed to get lighter and faster, and his additions up front reflect that quote.
Save for a major outlier in Mustipher, all of the Bears’ offensive linemen are above-average from an athletic testing perspective. All but two of their 12 linemen with RAS grades are in the 74th percentile or higher, with 7 of them being in Kent Lee Platte’s “elite” grade territory.
This generally means that Poles is taking a chance on athletic traits and upside up front. Only three of their rostered offensive linemen are older than 26 years old, and while that generally leads to inexperience, that reflects untapped upside and the possibility for long-term development.
Braxton Jones fell to the fifth round mostly for being an FCS offensive line prospect, but his athleticism and length indicates he has high development potential. Teven Jenkins was a highly-touted prospect in 2021, and his physical gifts have translated very well to right guard in the limited playing time he has had after his position switch. Alex Leatherwood struggled as a rookie for the Raiders last year, but he was a first-round pick and seen as one of the top blockers in that class for a reason. He has good length, quick feet, a flexible lower half and positional versatility. Larry Borom exceeded expectations as a fifth-round pick last year, as well.
Is there room for error with this group? Most certainly. Jones is a bit raw and could struggle with the learning curve of going from the FCS to the NFL. Jenkins was inconsistent as a rookie and has been the subject of trade rumors due to perceived injury and maturity concerns. Leatherwood was outright cut after just one year, which is concerning, even if a new regime is in place in Las Vegas. Borom also showed some inconsistency as a starter and hasn’t solidified himself as a long-term option in the lineup, either.
That said, Poles is betting on upside with a lot of these guys, and if the Bears’ coaching staff proves capable, the potential for growth is well worth the risk. That’s not even including sleepers like Ja’Tyre Carter, Zachary Thomas and Doug Kramer. Practice squad offensive tackle Kellen Diesch is another athletic specimen worth keeping tabs on over the course of the year.
Poles likely knows that there will be growing pains with this Bears offensive line. With that expectation, he decided to swing for the fences and take chances on multiple raw, yet gifted linemen.
For a regime that seems to be prioritizing long-term growth over expensive, short-term band aids, that approach works perfectly.