On Tuesday, each NFL Club had to cut their rosters down to the required 53-man limit. That meant each team had to waive, release or place on one of the reserve lists about 27 players. That leaves many players available to the other League clubs.
If a player is “released,” it means he is a vested veteran, and he doesn’t go through the waiver process. He becomes an unrestricted free agent as soon as he is released. The other players have to be waived, which gives each of the other 31 Clubs an opportunity to put in claims on the players they may be interested in.
The Chicago Bears put in claims on several players and were awarded six from the waiver wire late yesterday morning. The six players are:
- Alex Leatherwood – OL – from the Raiders
- Sterling Weatherford – LB – from the Colts
- Armon Watts – DT – from the Vikings
- Trevon Wesco – TE – from the Jets
- Kingsley Johnathan – DE – from the Bills
- Josh Blackwell – DB- from the Eagles
All are very interesting players that should help the Bears improve, and here’s what I know about them:
Alex Leatherwood – Alex is the most exciting name because just a year ago, he was the Raiders' first-round draft choice, the 17th overall pick in that Draft, and just the third offensive lineman selected. Players selected that high are supposed to make an impact, so what went wrong?
While at Alabama, Leatherwood was a dominant left tackle on one of the best teams in college football. There was no Combine in 2021, so he worked out at his Pro Day and put-up excellent numbers. He measured 6’5 – 311 and ran a 5.01 in the 40. In some other measurable events he put up rare numbers for an offensive tackle. He had a vertical jump of 34.5”, which is rare. His 3-cone time of 7.45 puts him in elite company for linemen and his standing long jump of 9’10” is also elite. Put simply, he’s an exceptional athlete for such a big man.
Leatherwood was a left tackle while at Alabama, but for some unknown reason the Raiders put Alex at right tackle. That may sound like an easy adjustment, but for many it’s not. That would be like a good left-handed hitter trying to hit from the right side. It takes time to make the adjustment.
Leatherwood struggled on the right side, and according to some in the know that cost him confidence. I watched tape of Leatherwood from this pre-season, and he struggled in pass protection at right tackle. He was having problems with speed rushers, and that shouldn’t happen with a player with his athleticism. Maybe that wouldn’t happen if he was lined up on the left side, as we never saw that on his Alabama tape.
If it’s me making the decision, I would play him at left tackle and guard, because he’s had success on the left side. Leatherwood may have to be torn down and built back up after his experience in Las Vegas, but it's worth the risk because he was a former first-round pick. There is no question that he has immense talent.
The one negative by claiming Leatherwood is the Bears claimed his rookie contract. That means they are on the hook for the remaining $5.9 Million that Leatherwood is owed. It will cost the Bears some cap space if he doesn't work out.
Sterling Weatherford – Sterling was an undrafted free agent from Miami (Ohio) and a teammate of the Bears’ Dominique Robinson. At Miami, Weatherwood played safety, and at his size (6’4 – 224), he was huge for the safety position. His speed (4.59) is average for a safety but excellent for a linebacker. The Colts saw a guy who could play well in coverage yet was big, strong, and tough enough to play as a linebacker. His play in pre-season was very good, showing top instincts, range, and hitting ability, as well as being productive on special teams.
The Colts did not want to lose Weatherford, and their GM Chris Ballard was quoted yesterday saying it upset him when the Bears put in the claim. The Bears are getting a player who, once he learns the scheme, should be able to play all three linebacker positions as well as perform on specials.
Armon Watts – This is a very interesting pickup for the Bears. Watts was a nine-game starter for the Vikings last year when they played in a similar scheme as the Bears play now. This year, the Vikings are playing a 3-4, and Watts wasn’t a great fit. Before he became a starter last year, he played In the DLine rotation and had good production in that role. Last year he recorded 46 total tackles and five sacks which is good for an interior defensive lineman. Watching Watts on tape, he gets off the ball quickly, is strong at the point, can get rid of blocks, and plays hard. For the Bears, I can see him playing both on the nose and at the 3 tech. Coach ’Flus wants to rotate seven or eight defensive linemen every game, so Watts is sure to see a lot of game action. He is an obvious upgrade over Khyiris Tonga, who is more of a 3-4 nose.
Kingsley Johnathan – Kingsley is a very athletic edge defender. He measures 6’2 ½” – 260 with 4.75 speed, an excellent 34.5” vertical jump, 7.00 3-cone (rare), 10’ -Long jump, and 28 reps of 225. While he may lack ideal height, he has excellent arm length at 34.5”.
Kingsley wasn’t a full-time starter at Syracuse but got a lot of play time in the rotation and showed top pass rush skills with 15 career sacks. For the Bills this summer, he showed a very good first step and good moves coming off the edge. He lined up mostly on the right side. Johnathan can be stout versus the run and shows speed and good angles while in pursuit. The Bills are loaded with top edge defenders, so there was no room to keep Johnathan on the 53, but I have no doubt they wanted to keep him on the practice squad.
Trevon Wesco – Why did the Bears put in a claim for Wesco? The answer is simple; he’s a hell of a blocker. At 6’3 ½” – 267, Wesco is a load. He was a former fourth-round draft pick by the Jets and was used mostly as their Y tight end. He can block very well and will help the Bears with the run game when they want to line up with two in-line blockers in the game.
He is not an accomplished receiver, as he only has nine receptions for his career, but there aren’t many tight ends who can block like this man. He’s a load who gets movement on a consistent basis.
Josh Blackwell – Blackwell is another former undrafted free agent the Eagles signed right after the Draft. Like most of the other new Bears players, he is very athletic and explosive. At the Duke Pro Day last year Josh measured 5’10 ¾” – 183 with 4.34 speed. He also had a 10’10” long jump, a 37” vertical jump, and an excellent 6.75 3-cone.
In tapes viewed from the pre-season, Blackwell lined up as a slot corner and showed good man and zone cover skills. While he isn’t the biggest guy, he has a strong jam and is a very willing tackler when it comes to run support.
Josh replaces Duke Shelly as the Backup slot corner for the Bears, and in my opinion, even though he’s a rookie, he is an upgrade over Shelly as he’s bigger, faster, more explosive, and longer than Shelly.
The common denominator for many of these additions is that they are fast, athletic, and play hard. Another interesting fact is three of the six acquisitions were claimed by multiple clubs. Weatherford was claimed by the Bears and the Saints, Jonathan by the Bears and Giants, and Wesco by the Bears, Browns, Bengals, and Colts. You know the Bears personnel department is doing a good job when multiple clubs want the players the Bears wanted.