Justin Fields is the most important Chicago Bears draft pick in recent team history, but the 2021 NFL Draft provided the club with another player who is a critical piece to their rebuilding project in second-round pick, Teven Jenkins. The rookie offensive tackle missed all of training camp and the first 13 games of the season before making a forgettable debut in Week 14’s loss to the Green Bay Packers. But in Monday night’s game against the Minnesota Vikings, he looked very much like the Bears’ future at left tackle.
Jenkins was the Bears’ fourth-highest graded player on offense, per Pro Football Focus, and while his 67.2 grade is far from elite, it was a significant improvement from his Week 14 score of 25.0. His performance was actually better than his final grade indicates, too. Jenkins earned an 81.6 for his pass blocking and a 78.6 for his effort in the run game. His final grade was impacted by three penalties, bringing his total to seven yellow flags in two games.
“I thought he did a good job in pass pro,” Bears coach Matt Nagy said after the game. “… Technique-wise, fundamentally, I think his confidence, another young guy that’s going to keep getting better and better with the more time he plays.”
Jenkins’ ability to bounce back and have a strong game against the Vikings is remarkable considering he’s barely had time to adjust to the speed and power of the NFL game while recovering from back surgery. With no training camp or preseason to work through the normal rookie jitters, Jenkins’ ability to manhandle pro defenders in primetime was impressive:
It’s not just his power that stood out Monday night, either. In this rep, Jenkins proved he has enough quickness and athletic ability to protect Fields’ blindside, even if it looks a bit labored:
But it’s the brute force Jenkins possesses that will be his calling card, both as a pass protector and run blocker:
Of all those clips and all the good ‘football stuff’ Jenkins did on the field against Minnesota, his defense of Fields, after the rookie quarterback took a hard hit on the sideline, was maybe his most impressive moment. And yes, Jenkins was penalized for sticking up for his quarterback, but it was worth every single lost yard:
Jenkins, just two games into his career, is already providing the Bears’ offensive line with an attitude adjustment. He’s bringing a nasty and mean demeanor to a group of starters that’s been lacking one since the days of Olin Kreutz. And it’s not like Jenkins is just a goon drawing penalties and costing Chicago’s offense. He actually looked like a very good starter Monday night, and if he can emerge as the offensive line’s leader too, it’ll be a huge box checked in the Bears’ rebuilding plan.
"I told him I liked what he did there, and I appreciate him, but at the same time he's got to be smart," Fields said of Jenkins after the game. "But I definitely love the mindset and I love him sticking up for me. I think that's what we need more of.”
Jenkins won’t be perfect over the next three games. He’s going to have his fair share of whiffs, missed assignments, and penalties. But if the improvement from his first game to his second is any indication of the player he’s going to be, the Bears won’t have to worry about left tackle for a very long time.