Former Las Vegas Raiders coach Jon Gruden and his staff selected Leatherwood 17th overall in 2021, but when a new regime took over a year later, the 23-year-old offensive lineman fell out of favor quickly. The Raiders waived him in a somewhat surprising move, and the Bears were the only other team to put in a claim for him.
Chicago will now take on the remaining three-years left on his rookie deal, along with the $5.9 million he’s guaranteed with the hope he can become an eventual starter on the O-Line.
Some NFL scouts seem to think the Bears made a mistake by taking a chance on Leatherwood, however.
NFL Scouts Question Bears’ Decision to Claim Leatherwood
Dan Pompei of The Athletic spoke to three NFL scouts about the strengths and weaknesses of Chicago’s roster, and all three had concerns about Leatherwood.
“The scouts questioned whether Leatherwood was worth the waiver claim and the contract that went along with it,” Pompei reported on September 8.
“He comes with a huge bag of issues on and off the field,” one scout told Pompei, adding the pickup of Leatherwood “was a hope and a prayer” for the Bears.
Another scout agreed: “By taking that contract, they did the Raiders a solid. He’s really struggled,” he said.
The 6-foot-6, 312-pound Leatherwood was a stud for three years at Alabama before getting drafted in the first round last year, and he has no major red flags to speak of injury-wise, so the Bears weren’t risking that much by taking a flier on him.
Bears Have a Plan for Leatherwood
As a senior for the Crimson Tide in 2020, Leatherwood earned an impressive 85.4 run blocking grade from PFF. He was also solid in pass protection, surrendering nine hurries, four QB hits and 3.0 sacks in 474 snaps played at left tackle.
The young O-Lineman also displayed nice versatility, playing 922 snaps at right guard in college. Heading into Week 1, Chicago has him penciled in on its depth chart as the second-string right tackle behind Larry Borom, and it sounds as though the team plans on being patient with Leatherwood as he develops.
“In terms of success with him here, I think we all believe in player development here, and we’ve put pieces in place to allow players to be their best selves,” Bears GM Ryan Poles said about Leatherwood. “So we’re going to approach that in many different ways, and we’re going to give him an opportunity to develop and grow. Forget the draft pick thing. That’s over. So let’s start from the ground floor. Let’s build you up and take your time and whatever that is, we want to put him in the best position to succeed.”
“We’ve got nothing but good reports and we’re excited to have him and we’ll see where he goes from here,” Bears head coach Matt Eberflus said, via the Daily Herald. “It’s a clean slate, it’s a fresh start.”
For his part, Leatherwood is grateful Poles and company took a chance on him.
“They were excited to have me here,” Leatherwood said on September 1. “It’s a new opportunity. And, yeah, I’m excited.”