Ranking the Bears’ seven waiver wire signings
The Chicago Bears made several roster changes after establishing their initial roster of 53 players. After the roster cuts, new general manager Ryan Poles and head coach Matt Eberflus continued to make their mark on the roster by removing seven players from waivers — the most in the NFL.
Poles and Eberflus inherited a team with limited project capital and money to spend on free agents. To make matters worse, they changed the attacking and defensive scheme, leaving them with a roster of players that didn’t fit the future vision.
The seven waiver requests this week are player additions that the front office says fit the culture, scheme, or are value picks with an advantage.
Below, we note the seven new additions to the roster.
OL Alex Leatherwood
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Alex Leatherwood was a polarizing pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. Many scouts disagreed despite the Raiders’ insistence he was the right tackle of the future. Instead, the consensus was that Leatherwood was a guard at best and not a first-round pick.
After struggling to find success with the Raiders at tackle, he was moved to guard and continued to struggle before being released. As a result, the Bears are getting a player with size and athleticism, but who lacks the fundamental skills to succeed.
He struggles to get his hands on pass rushers and lets them enter his body far too quickly, and he’s often too slow and unable to handle speed when on the edge. On a positive note, where Leatherwood excels is in stroke blocking. For the Bears, a team that has allowed the most sacks in 2021, adding a guy who is great at blocking the run but bad at blocking the pass is a headache.
Leatherwood is the equivalent of a fixer, and like all fixers, you hope it doesn’t become an event that takes too much time and money to produce an attractive end product. On the other hand, he’s still on a rookie contract, so if he improves quickly, the Bears could strike gold.
NT Armon Watts
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Armon Watts has played in every game for the Vikings in 2021 and has been a surprising cut this season. A former sixth-round pick, he had three tackles for loss, five sacks and two forced fumbles last year. He’s a true 4-3 defensive lineman, which the Bears lack.
Given his size and strength, Watts can play both one-man and three-man for the Bears, providing depth behind Justin Jones or starting Angelo Blackson.
Signing Watts is a much-needed move for the Bears, who lack defensive linemen who fit a 4-3 defensive scheme. Watts is a player who should get plenty of playing time this year.
WR Ihmir Smith-Marsette
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The speedster provides depth to the wide receiver room after injuries to N’Keal Harry and Tajae Sharpe landed them on IR. Given his ability as a returner, Ihmir Smith-Marsette also relieves Velus Jones Jr., who moonlighted as a returner while playing wide receiver.
Given Jones’ lingering injuries during the preseason, the team should focus on keeping their reps exclusively with offense. However, with Smith-Marsette running a 4.43 dash for 40 yards, he will be a dangerous kick and punt returner and should be exciting to watch.
As a receiver, he’s unlikely to get any meaningful snaps on offense, but he could be a deep threat that puts pressure on defenders and opens things up for others.
DE Kingsley Jonathan
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Kingsley Jonathan was an undrafted free agent who played five years at Syracuse and had 21.5 tackles for a loss and 15 sacks. He’s undersized for most NFL rosters at 6’4 260 pounds, but he’s a very motorized guy who will make quick plays.
Signing with Buffalo as an undrafted rookie almost guaranteed Jonathan would be released. Instead, after fielding one of the best defenses in the NFL, Buffalo added Von Miller and Shaq Lawson to their defensive line, which also features first- and second-round picks Greg Rousseau, Boogie Basham and AJ Epenesa. .
Jonathan was drafted first in the CFL draft and could end up there. His IQ and style of play are a good fit for Eberflus’ defensive style, but his lack of size could prevent him from having a long career in the NFL.
LB Sterling Weatherford
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Another development, Sterling Weatherford, is a great safety who converted to linebacker. While teams could use him in a nickel package as a sub linebacker, his upside is becoming either a starting linebacker or a sub.
There’s a lot to love about Weatherford’s game. He’s quick (4.5 40 yards), capable of playing man and area coverage, and an excellent tackler in the running game. He will likely support Joe Thomas and has a huge advantage.
TE Trevon Wesco
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Following James O’Shaugnessy’s discharge from non-football related illness, Trevon Wesco’s choice makes a lot of sense. It’s a versatile rear/rear hybrid that excels at blocking the run. The former New York Jet will also immediately contribute on special teams.
Wesco is unlikely to ever evolve into a pass-catching threat, but he brings depth after losing O’Shaugnessy and can contribute in many ways. So while he’s unlikely to generate the most buzz, Wesco or DL Armon Watts will have the most immediate impact for the Bears this season.
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Josh Blackwell is a slots corner who rebounded in the NFL trying to find a home after being drafted in 2021. He’s cheaper than Duke Shelley, who he replaces, and that seems like a worth bet.
The hope is that Blackwell can become a contributor for far less than it would cost to keep Duke Shelley, who probably wasn’t what the coaching staff wanted. However, if Blackwell plays in 2022, it will be through injury or on special teams.