When the Cincinnati Bengals were scouting their left tackle of the future in Jonah Williams, they probably noticed a large true sophomore playing right guard for the 2018 Alabama Crimson Tide. That 19-year old first-year starter was former five star recruit Alex Leatherwood; playing what may end up being his long-term position in the NFL.
Before he got the the NFL Draft, Leatherwood first replaced Williams as Alabama’s left tackle for the last two seasons. In fact, when Williams got hurt in the 2017 College Football Playoff National Championship, it was Leatherwood who came in for him as a true freshman and helped them win that game.
Leatherwood could’ve been a top 50 pick in last year’s draft, but he decided to stick around and win his second national championship in four years. He also put out another year’s worth of tape for the league to gauge where he is, and it’s safe to say he did not damage his standing with league evaluators.
Position: Offensive Tackle/Guard
Weight: 312 pounds
Projected Round: Late-First/Early-Second
Leatherwood was a freshman linebacker at Booker T. Washington High School in Pensacola, Florida and moved to left tackle as a sophomore. Per Dane Brugler’s draft guide, Leatherwood was the first athlete from Washington High to graduate early. Only three recruits from the 2017 class were rated higher than Leatherwood, and one of them was Najee Harris, his future teammate at Alabama.
Once Leatherwood took over at left tackle as a true junior, we got to see what kind of prospect he is. In pass protection, he enters his sets very seamlessly without exerting much force to get out of his stance. There are times when he appears a bit stiff in his hips and he doesn’t always anchor well, but his footwork consistently gives him wide bases to absorb power anyways.
In a class filled with short-armed tackles, Leatherwood’s 33 7/8” arms look pretty good in comparison. Length was never an issue with against SEC pass rushers, but he could stand to improve his punch timing. The base for him is already there, though, and he’s been said to take coaching well.
Fit with the Bengals
There may not be a more ideal prospect for the Bengals to draft in the second round. Leatherwood started 26 games at tackle for Alabama after starting his first 15 games at guard. It just so happens that the Bengals need a right guard for right now, and a right tackle for the future. The plan couldn’t be more seamless if they wanted it.
Leatherwood would be the Week 1 starter at right guard. He’s familiar with the position, it’s currently their biggest weakness on the offensive line, and some say it’s the position that’s best suited for his skillset. After 2021, the team can evaluate how Leatherwood performed and see if he’s the right guy to take over for Riley Reiff at right tackle. And if they want to re-sign Reiff for another year, they can keep Leatherwood at right guard and maintain some stability.
Having positional versatility is one thing, but Leatherwood has the elite athleticism to legitimately play any position in any scheme. He tested above the 90th percentile in explosion, speed, and flexibility for his size at his pro day. That caliber of athlete can fit in a wide zone scheme. He was also named a team captain last season, and we know how much the Bengals value that just by looking at the handful of captains they drafted last year.
There might be some reservations the Bengals have about Leatherwood’s game. But on paper, he looks like a perfect fit for what they’ll be looking for at the top of the second round.