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Establishing Realistic Expectations for Teven Jenkins

| May 24th, 2021

The Bears traded up in the second round to select Teven Jenkins and then promptly cut Charles Leno, paving the way for Jenkins to take over as the starting left tackle on day one. Bears fans have high expectations for Jenkins, helped along by Ryan Pace saying he gave Jenkins a first-round grade.

With that context in mind, I thought it might be helpful to look at recent history of tackles drafted in the second round. This can give us an idea of what to expect from Jenkins, and see what rough odds are for him becoming a quality starter vs. being a bust. I looked at all draft picks from 2011-20 to give a 10-year sample featuring 26 players. Full data can be seen here.

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Most Start as Rookies

18 of the 26 tackles (a very nice 69%) drafted in the second round started as rookies. Starter can be a bit difficult to define here due to injury and mid-season depth chart changes, so I considered them starters if they played more than half of their offense’s snaps and started in more than half of the games they appeared in, according to Pro Football Reference.

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They Stay on the Field

All 18 of the players who started as rookies spent at least three years as a starter, or have not yet played three years in the NFL but are projected to continue starting in 2021.

11 of the 13 with four or more years of experience spent at least four seasons starting.

Of the 12 rookie starters drafted in 2015 or earlier (so at least 6 NFL seasons by now), nine of them have been a starter for six or more years, with more than half (7) being a starter for at least 8 years (or 6+ years and projected to continue starting in 2021).

On the flip side, zero of the eight who did not start as rookies ever became long-term starters. Only four of them spent even one season as a primary starter, and only one reached 2 seasons. None of them was a starter for three or more years.

This would seem to indicate that we should be extremely worried if Jenkins does not earn a starting role in 2021, but if he does establish himself as a starter this year, it is highly likely he will remain a starter for at least the duration of his rookie contract, if not longer.

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Most are Not Left Tackles

So that’s good news: players with Jenkins’ draft pedigree have a good chance to develop into long-term starters. Now for a few splashes of cold water.

First, most of them do not do so at left tackle. Of the 18 rookie starters in this study, only three played left tackle.

  • Six moved inside to guard as rookies, and none of them ever moved back to tackle.
  • The remaining nine played RT as rookies, though three of those shifted inside to guard or center in the first few years of their career, meaning half of the starters end up on the interior of the OL.

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Not Much Top-Shelf Talent

And now for the second dose of harsh reality: only two of the 18 starters earned a Pro Bowl or All Pro berth (so far), and neither of those came during the players’ rookie contract (first four years). Neither of them were at LT either; Mitchell Schwartz made it once as a RT, and Kelechi Osemele is the only multiple honoree, but every time was at guard.

The second round has been a good spot to land rock-solid OL contributors in recent years, but it’s not a great place to find a stud tackle. Guys like Rob Havenstein, Donovan Smith, Cam Robinson, and Cordy Glenn have all been quality starting tackles for an extended period of time, but none of them are viewed as among the best at their position. So a realistic expectation is that Teven Jenkins can be a quality long-term starter for the Bears, but it might not come at left tackle, and he likely won’t be an all-pro caliber player.

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