It's no secret that the Chicago Bears are in need of a quality right tackle for the 2023 NFL season. At the beginning of veteran Free Agency last week, the Bears tried hard to sign former 49er Mike McGlinchey but dropped out when the guaranteed money got much higher than they were willing to commit, especially for a player who is already 28 years old.
There were no other veterans they were seriously interested in, which means it's a fairly good bet that the Bears will try to fill that need with one of their picks in the first two rounds of the upcoming NFL Draft. In fact, if the Bears don't trade back, the chances of them selecting a tackle at nine overall are pretty good. At nine, the Bears just may have the opportunity to select the first tackle off the board. If that is the case, the two best tackles available are Ohio State's Paris Johnson Jr. and Georgia's Broderick Jones.
Let's take a look at their games.
Paris Johnson Jr.
Johnson is a true junior at Ohio State who entered the Draft as an underclassman. As a true freshman, he played right guard and got into five games as a reserve. As a sophomore in 2021, Johnson started every game again at right guard. He was playing guard because OSU had veteran players at the tackle positions and wanted their five best linemen playing, so Johnson played inside. This past season with the left tackle position open, Johnson became the starting left tackle and started every game.
Physically, Johnson is just what we look for in a tackle. He stands 6060 – 313 with 36' arms and has very good athletic ability. He had 29 reps of 225 at the Combine, which is excellent for a player with such long arms.
Watching the tape, Johnson makes things look easy. He plays mostly from a 2-point stance but will get down into a 3-point stance at times. He has excellent initial quickness, and despite being 6'6", he comes off the ball low and under control. When he makes contact with his opponent, he has a natural snap in his hips and runs his feet to get movement. I wouldn't call him an overpowering tackle; he just plays so consistently and makes things look so easy that he wins on a consistent basis.
When trying to get to the second level, he runs well, can adjust on the move, and make productive blocks in space. When used to pull, it's the same. His overall athleticism and body control are excellent for such a big man.
In pass protection, he can set quickly, keeps his back straight, and has a very good punch to jolt his opponent. For the most part, he keeps his hands inside. He shows very good ability to sink his hips and anchor, and his mirror ability vs moves is excellent. He also has the quick lateral agility to set wide and stop speed. Johnson is very alert for stunts and blitzes and constantly plays with poise. It's fair to say that going into next month's Draft he is the best tackle in this Draft. He shows on tape that he can easily play well in space, and that makes him a strong fit for the Bears. The fact that he spent over a season playing guard on the right side means there would be little or no adjustment for him to play right tackle.
Like Johnson, Jones is a third-year player, but he doesn't have the extensive starting experience that Paris has. As a freshman, he lined up as a backup right tackle and got into just a couple of games for mop-up duty. As a sophomore in 2021, he was again a backup but got into every game. When the starter at left tackle went down in the ninth game with an injury, Jones started the rest of the season and gained valuable experience. This past season he again started every game at left tackle.
In the Georgia media guide, Jones was listed as being 6'4", and because media sizes are generally overstated, I felt that he might not be quite that tall. In his case, his media guide size was understated as at the Combine he measured 6050 – 311 with 34 3'4" arms. As big as he is, he still ran 4.97 in the 40, had a 30" vertical jump, and a 9'0 standing long jump, so he is explosive. He did not bench at the Combine nor at his Pro Day last week.
From an experience and technique point of view, Jones is not as advanced as Johnson, but he may have more upside down the road. Looking at his hand use in both the run and pass games, he still needs work. He doesn't consistently keep his hands inside, but at the same time, he is more violent with his hands.
Watching Jones' overall play, he is a strong and nasty player who looks to finish and punish on a consistent basis. As good an athlete as Johnson is, I feel that Jones may be a little better as his feet are a bit quicker, and he seems to have a bit more "quick twitch" to him. Johnson has not timed to date, and he looks like a 5.0 to 5.05 type compared to Jones’ 4.97. Yes, it's negligible.
As a run blocker, Jones consistently gets movement and easily gets to the second level and out into space. Like Johnson, he is a perfect fit for the Bears' outside zone scheme. In pass pro, Jones shows a very quick and explosive punch. Where he can get in trouble is with his hands, as he can get them outside the frame of his opponent. His quick feet, agility, and recovery are rare. No one is going to beat him with speed, and he anchors extremely well.
Overall, I really like both players. Both have experience on the right side, but Jones may be a natural left tackle, and if the Bears drafted him, they may have to move Braxton Jones to right tackle. Both players are plug-and-play types, with Johnson being more ready for the NFL than Jones, but Jones may be the better player two years down the road.
What it gets down to is if the Bears make that decision to select a tackle at nine and both are there, it's which one are they most comfortable with. They both have the talent to be long-time starters and potential Pro Bowl players. The Bears can win with either one. Ryan Poles and Matt Eberflus could have a tough but nice decision to make in five weeks.