Struggles of Charles Leno Jr. Make Tackle a Bears Need
Not many Bears rile up fans on social media or sports talk radio like left tackle Charles Leno Jr.
Maybe Mitchell Trubisky does, but considering Leno is supposed to be out of the limelight as a lineman his percentage of the criticism seems large to the point of being excessive.
Leno actually has had productive seasons at various points in his career and it was just this past Bears season when he suffered a complete disaster.
Sportradar, the NFL's official stat partner, cited Leno for seven sacks allowed. He committed 13 penalties, which was tied for the fourth most in the NFL. It's not the first time they said he struggled with seven sacks. It's actually the second straight year he allowed seven, and in 2017 he also committed 13 penalties.
Still, Leno was in the Pro Bowl after the 2018 season and had lower penalty numbers and sacks allowed earlier in his career. Between 2015-2018, Pro Football Focus never gave Leno a season's grade lower than 70.1. He was in a range between 70.1 and 78.7 throughout this period. On their grading scale this is supposed to be above and beyond an acceptable mark.
However, last year PFF fixed Leno Jr. with an abysmal 58.6 grade.
It's fairly obvious the Bears plan to try and upgrade their offensive line or bring in young talent to eventually improve it. This isn't fixed to one position because they also need help at right guard, and possibly even right tackle.
At the season-ending press conference, general manager Ryan Pace might have been more critical of his offensive line than any other area.
"We struggled in that area this year," Pace said. "That's real. I think we know it starts up front with those guys.
"That's something we really got to look at from a personnel standpoint. From a schematic standpoint we're going to look at it. That was real this year. That hurt us."
The problem with improving at left tackle through free agency is Leno's contract extension would have the Bears eating big dead cap money for two years, and some more into a third year. The money they swallowed on Cody Parkey's contract would look like hors d'oeuvres by comparison.
It's never easy to come up with left tackles in free agency because better ones are highly coveted, even cherished. This year, for example, the Colts' Anthony Castonzo is supposed to be the consensus best left tackle in free agency. Anticipate the Colts making some type of move to keep him, even though he's talked about possibly retiring at 32.
Castonzo would make an excellent Bears addition if they had the cap space because of their need and also because he's from the north Chicago suburbs not far from Halas Hall.
Arizona left tackle D.J. Humphries went through three years of injuries after being drafted and finally played a full season in his fourth year. He's also slated to be a free agent.
The Jets' Kelvin Beachum and Eagles' Jason Peters are free agents but Peters is never leaving Philadelphia at age 38 and Beachum has had his share of seasons like Leno did in 2019.
A better option might be using one of the two second-round picks on a tackle and let them compete on equal footing for the starting job. It would be a cap-friendly solution. It might produce a young starter or inspire Leno to better things.
In fact, the website NFLdraftsite.com had the Bears using both of their second-round draft picks on tackles in a seven-round mock draft. Considering right tackle Bobby Massie's injuries in 2019, this might not be a bad idea either.
Here is a list of the top tackles who could be second-rounders, projected by Drafttek.com and NFLdraftsite.com and based on their scouting reports as well as those of Walterfootball.com. As players go through the combine and pro days, the list will grow in scope and detail and can drastically change.
A massive human being at 6-foot-7, 369 pounds who left after his junior year and has shown spurts of domination as both a power blocker and an agile pass blocker. He can also display a necessary mean streak. He functioned very well at left tackle but many regard him as a right tackle because of his size.
Ideal size for a left tackle at 6-8, 314 and could even add weight. A very sound pass blocking technician but has a problem past with 16 games missed due to various non-career-threatening injuries.
Prince Tega Wanogho Jr.
A 6-7, 310-pounder who never really watched American football until coming to America in high school, he is a Nigerian-born Prince. Wanogho played basketball and soccer and it shows with good footwork and quickness as a pass blocker, or when pulling to run block. He had played football positions demanding more agility first, like tight end and defensive end. He was graded as top SEC tackle and top SEC run blocker in 2018 according to Pro Football Focus. Wanogho does have a red flag. He played through a knee injury last year and then was held out of the Senior Bowl work because of it.
Very experienced as a fifth-year senior who opted to stay at U-Conn. The 6-7, 305-pounder has played guard, right and left tackle. He played two seasons at left tackle and is a good fit for a zone-blocking scheme like the Bears run because of his athletic ability.
Houston's 6-7, 310-pound left tackle excelled as a pass blocker and improved greatly in his final season as a run blocker. He played in an offense requiring him to develop as a pass blocker. Jones hadn't been widely respected because he didn't face SEC-level competition, but opened eyes with a dominant week of Senior Bowl practices.
Georgia's 6-7, 340-pounder improved his overall technique and eliminated sloppy play in his final season. He's definitely more of a right tackle prospect as a power blocker who anchors well and then lets his upper body do its work. Drives defenders well and uses his hands better than most big men according to scouting reports.