Charles Leno Jr. is one of football’s most underrated players. Leno isn’t a big-name left tackle, but he is steady, reliable, and productive. Oh, and he is entering the prime of his career after earning a career-best 80.4 grade from Pro Football Focus in 2017.
Still not impressed? I understand. After all, the Bears haven’t been set at left tackle for a while and it’s probably contributed in some way to the struggles the team has had at quarterback over the years. However, one encouraging trend could help change your mind:
Charles Leno Jr. has improved as a pass blocker in each of the past three seasons pic.twitter.com/dMUtMi0LsP
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) April 6, 2018
Leno takes a lot of guff because he isn’t a big-ticket left tackle, but he isn’t as bad as some make him out to be. In fact, he is quite good and has done a more than serviceable job protecting his quarterback’s blind side.
PFF suggests Leno has improved as a pass blocker in each of the last three seasons. His 24 pressures allowed in 2017 is nearly half the total he allowed in 2015, which was his first year as a starter. If Leno can continue on this course, it could go a long way toward changing his perception outside of those who follow the Bears closely.
The Bears have received a solid return on their investment in Leno, a seventh-round pick from in 2014. Leno is one of the few remaining players from the Phil Emery era and has been the team’s starting left tackle since replacing Jermon Bushrod during Week 3 of the 2015 season. He has started 45 consecutive games and played on each of the team’s last 2,887 offensive snaps, which now dates back three years. That’s a unique combination of reliability and durability.
And to think, Leno could have been a free agent this offseason and targeted by a number of teams looking to shore up their offensive line. Free agent Nate Solder set the market with a four-year contract worth $62 million that included more than $34.8 million in full guarantees. Leno certainly could have road those coat tails to a more lucrative deal than the four-year pact he signed in August included $21.5 million guaranteed and was worth up to $38 million.
Leno’s presence stabilizes the position responsible for protecting Mitch Trubisky’s blindside for the foreseeable future. It also keeps the Bears from reaching for an offensive tackle with the No. 8 pick or trying to convert a player (say, the ultra-talented Quenton Nelson) from guard to tackle. In the end, it’s nice to have stopped the revolving door of disappointing left tackles that included J’Marcus Webb, Chris Williams, and Frank Omiyale, among others. It’s one less thing GM Ryan Pace has to worry about moving forward.