Wednesday, the Chicago Bears continued putting the final touches on their 53-man roster. On Tuesday, the NFL saw each team reach their initial limit while making dozens of cuts.
The Bears ended up putting in claims on several players, claiming a total of six altogether — an NFL-high.
One of those players claimed was 2021 first-round pick Alex Leatherwood, formerly of the Las Vegas Raiders and coming to the NFL by way of the Alabama Crimson Tide.
Leatherwood was labeled a bust by many after just one season, but not everybody knew the entire story. The Raiders were, of course, a mess in 2021. Leatherwood was placed in a position where it would be difficult for him to succeed, and if the Bears are smart, they’ll go the correct route.
By claiming Alex Leatherwood, the Chicago Bears are taking a worthy risk with plenty of upside.
In 2018 is where you could start to see the potential for Leatherwood to be an NFL caliber offensive lineman, when he lined up at right guard for 15 games at Bama. After that year, Leatherwood was voted Second Team All SEC before moving to left tackle going forward.
Even after moving to tackle, Leatherwood’s notoriety grew further as he earned First Team All SEC at that position. Still, draft experts believed his traits best suited him for the guard position. Although he earned high honors at left tackle his junior year, the tape showed room for improvement in pass blocking.
Looking at his collegiate tape, Leatherwood’s biggest issues came on the outside at tackle where he didn’t have strong enough hands to handle the elite edge rushers. He also struggled to get out quickly in space, laterally. His traits certainly suited him best on the interior, and ideally in a zone run scheme — which is what the Bears run.
In addition, Leatherwood was actually not bad when it came to inside pass rushers. He operated much better “in a phone booth,” which sounds a lot like what we’ve been seeing with Teven Jenkins as of late.
Everything said about Leatherwood in his pre-draft analysis screams guard, yet Tom Cable opted to play him at tackle in Las Vegas. It should be noted that Cable has had mixed results in the NFL as an offensive line coach, not always being able to find success. Moving Leatherwood to tackle, in the NFL, seemed like a blatant mistake at the time — and here we are, now. It was absolutely a mistake.
Cable has since been fired, and has not yet found another job.
Enter Ryan Poles, an ex-offensive linemen and now in charge in Chicago. Poles has been extremely decisive with his roster choices thus far, making this “his” team. He’s also allowed Matt Eberflus to play his guys at different spots, simply trying to find the best players at each one.
Leatherwood is still a project, at this point, but with his traits coming out of Alabama, he’s a worthy addition to this Bears team. He’ll likely be a guard on this roster, and he’ll be able to provide good depth in his first season with the team. Beyond 2022, Leatherwood could have an opportunity to start if he’s able to develop.
On the flip side, should Leatherwood not end up panning out, then the Bears aren’t out a whole lot. Taking a flier on the remaining $5.9 million of his contract looks very small by comparison. If he doesn’t stick around long-term, the Bears aren’t out major cash.