For all the buzz that came with drafting Justin Fields, it tends to wear off quickly when discussing the Bears’ offensive line.
In fact, the guys in the trenches tend to be a point of contention among analysts and talent evaluators.
For instance, Seth Walder shares projections for NFL offensive lines based on the ESPN-developed analytic Pass Block Win Rate. And when it comes to the Bears’ collection of pass blockers, things aren’t looking too great. Chicago’s projected PBWR is 57 percent, which ranks 19th among 32 teams. So while that is in the middle of the pack, Walder warns that ranking isn’t indicative of what’s in the trenches.
“If there’s a way to ‘game’ our projected PBWR model, it’s to move players farther outside along the line (from center to guard or from guard to tackle) from one season to the next,” Walder writes. “So my hunch is that the Bears end up a little worse than this.”
Walder seems to be insinuating that the musical chairs on the offensive line are artificially inflating the Bears’ projections. Moreover, Walder infers Chicago’s line will finish lower in PBWR rankings than it began. And, unfortunately, there isn’t much faith in the Bears’ collection of talent. Not after the offseason they had.
Don’t get me wrong. Drafting Teven Jenkins to start at left tackle, then doubling up at the tackle spot in the same draft with developmental project Larry Borom is a good start toward rebuilding the line. But Chicago’s football team has been taking hits from critics on how it has built the line. Bleacher Report’s Chris Roling said cutting starting left tackle Charles Leno Jr. was one of the worst decisions to go down after the NFL Draft came to an end. Meanwhile, Pro Football Focus’ outlook isn’t all that bright either. Steve Palazzolo lists the Bears’ offensive line 27th among the league’s 32 teams. Frankly, it’s outlooks like these that would make me OK with redshirting Justin Fields in Year 1.
But because games aren’t played on paper or via simulation, we can hope this group plays to its early projections. And if I squint a little, perhaps I can envision a scenario where the line out-performs its current perception.
It would start with Cody Whitehair remaining excellent at left guard, where he came through clutch after a late-season position change. Moving from left to right, a line that exceeds expectations would also feature James Daniels playing right guard as well as he did on the left side before his season-ending pectoral injury. An average to above-average line would see Germain Ifedi round into form and play as admirably as Bobby Massie did in 2018 and 2019 before injuries took him out of action. And, finally, it would see Jenkins as an anchor holding it down on the left side.
Admittedly, it feels like we’re asking a lot from this group. We’re looking at a rookie left tackle moving from one bookend at college to another at the pros. There’s also a right tackle who was brought into play guard a year ago. The team’s right guard is set to play his third different position in as many years. And the center is a second-year player with minimal starting experience.
All in all, I can see why this line doesn’t inspire much faith. But that’s why they play the games, right?