There has been a bit of movement along the offensive lines throughout the NFC North in recent years.
And it’s not just the Bears, who are swapping guards to start camp this year.
The Lions signed two free agents to boost their line, the Vikings nabbed a former Lions lineman to patch up their line, and the Packers have lost their starting offensive guards in each of the last two offseasons. And yet, Green Bay didn’t miss a beat, in part because tackles David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga were excellent pass blockers.
So was Charles Leno Jr., for that matter:
The Pack may have lost their starting OGs over the last two offseasons, but they still return two of the best pass protecting OTs in the NFL pic.twitter.com/ktgDUH3m2h
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) August 2, 2017
A 95.2 pass blocking efficiency grade for Charles Leno Jr. is not something I expected to type at any point. Sure, PFF ranked the Bears offensive line as the fifth best in the NFL entering the season, but much of that was on the strength of the interior of the line. The tackles have been question marks for a while now, which is why it was a bit of a surprise the team didn’t use free agency or the draft to patch that particular area.
Perhaps the Bears saw something in Leno Jr. that others weren’t or aren’t seeing?
Leno Jr.’s 71.2 overall grade from PFF ranked 42nd among the 76 qualifying tackles. That grade registers in the site’s average grouping, but only four qualifying linemen currently on NFC North rosters had a lower grade than what Leno Jr. posted last year. Despite “average” play, Leno Jr. still played 1,011 snaps and started in all 16 games.
In fact, Leno Jr. has appeared in each of the Bears’ last 32 games, starting 29 of them. At minimum, it’s fair to suggest the Bears are getting decent value from a player drafted in the seventh round of the 2014 NFL Draft. Seventh round picks who turn into starting caliber players at any position, especially the offensive line, don’t grow on trees.
The 2017 season will be a big one for Leno Jr., who is playing in a contract year in his age 26 season. For what it’s worth, there was a report that the Bears wanted to extend Leno Jr.’s deal earlier in the season. If he can get the arrow pointing up on his career, that could make the decision to get a long-term deal done easier, because there’s something to be said about starting caliber offensive linemen who aren’t detrimental to your offense’s success.
Could the Bears upgrade at the position? Certainly. But Leno Jr. could prove to be the right guy for the job long term, and will have this make-or-break season to prove it.
(Prince) Charles.(Jay)Leno.(Ken Griffeey)Jr. Get it?