NFL Draft: Will OT options be too good for Bears to pass in Round 2?
The only NFL clubs that began last season without a former Day 1 or 2 draft pick starting at offensive tackle, or multiple first-rounders across their starting offensive line, belonged to the Miami Dolphins, the New York Jets and the Bears.
The Dolphins began last season as favorites to pick No. 1 overall, exceeded expectations and are picking fifth. The Jets hired a new coach, let his lame-duck general manager lead the NFL in free-agent spending before firing him and went on to their sixth losing season in the past eight years.
The Bears were thought to be Super Bowl contenders before -- not unlike the Dolphins and Jets -- crashing and burning spectacularly on offense, where no non-QB position disappointed more than their line.
The 'Phins and Gang Green are likely to spend first-round selections a few weeks from now on anchor tackles for their impending and incumbent franchise quarterbacks, respectively. However, the Bears aren't currently slated to make their first selection until Round 2 is well underway, at No. 43 overall (then again at No. 50).
Last week we argued that, clearly all in on 2020, the Bears would be best served eschewing a Day 2 quarterback because they must find instant contributors with their first two picks, including at least one offensive lineman. Yet the O-line urgency also has since diminished at least partially with the Bears signing former Seahawks first-rounder Germain Ifedi to a one-year deal that has him penciled in to replace fellow former first-rounder Kyle Long as the starting right guard.
That big move was reflected in our post-free agency mock draft, where we eschewed both quarterback and offensive line and sought speed and dynamism at the skill spots for Pace with the two second-rounders. It worked out OK, we thought, as the Bears still found a stud guard in Round 4 who could play immediately and keep Ifedi at his familiar RT post, pushing Bobby Massie.
Here's the counterargument to that approach: Chicago already is heavily invested in its WR and CB corps, and its two best blockers are along the interior. Moreover, the Bears -- whose lack of O-line pedigree and production we highlighted above -- might be able to find a first-round-caliber offensive tackle with the 43rd overall pick. It says here that at least one of the three prospects we'll touch on below might've sneaked ahead of 31st overall pick Kaleb McGary, if not also Tytus Howard (23rd overall), last April.
Ezra Cleveland of Boise State seems the least likely to be there when the Bears are up at 43, but how about the prospect of replacing one former Boise State product at left tackle in Charles Leno with another? Cleveland has elite movement skills that allow him to recover from almost anything, and although he needs time in the weight room, he could get exactly that with Leno locked in for at least one more season.
But unlike Leno, the former No. 246th pick overall who was not only Phil Emery's final but perhaps finest draft pick as Bears general manager, Cleveland has prototype dimensions and special athleticism and agility. Sure, we want to see Cleveland play the aggressor a bit more and continue to refine his fundamentals, but he has all the ability needed to stabilize the Bears' wobbly blind side long term.
One of our favorites at any position in this draft class is Auburn's Prince Tega Wanogho. A late bloomer with grown-man strength who's surprisingly dependable down-to-down, Wanogho consistently held his own against top competition in the SEC. It's not always pretty from a technique standpoint, but the results are consistent.
Tega Wanogho, unlike Cleveland, appears ready today from a physical standpoint and shows some of the advanced flashes like alertness and finishing that could foretell a Pro Bowl future. He needs work as a run blocker but, again, wouldn't necessarily have to learn on the job.
It's possible that TCU's Lucas Niang could help the Bears the most initially because of his combination of size, strength and starting experience as a road-grading right tackle with bad intentions. His skill set might me most transferable as a rookie right guard, but the upside and fact that the other two have played on the left makes them slightly preferable.
Still, if the Bears came away with any one of this trio on Round 2, they'd not only secure impressive value, they'd be taking out an ultra valuable insurance policy for 2021, when Leno and Massie can be reasonably cut free. Pace also would immensely upgrade the pedigree of his offensive line in an offseason without a first-round pick or Brinks truck to back up in free agency and perhaps make life a bit easier long term for whichever quarterback is leading the Bears beyond next season.