It didn’t take long for one of the biggest first-round busts of this decade to find a new team.
The Chicago Bears claimed offensive lineman Alex Leatherwood off waivers after the Raiders let him go just one year after making him the No. 17 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft – a tenure that ended with the Las Vegas broadcast team outwardly calling him “not good” during a preseason game.
Leatherwood, 23, was thrown into a starting role for Las Vegas in 2021 – both at right guard and right tackle – despite many thinking he was not a first-round talent and needed time to develop. He struggled throughout the season, finishing with a brutal 29.0 pass blocking grade, per PFF.
It got worse in the 2022 preseason, where the Raiders moved to him to right tackle despite him spending much of the 2021 season at guard. During last week’s preseason game against the Patriots, broadcaster and former NFL GM Matt Millen made headlines for being at a loss of words during a rough rep.
“Leatherwood’s… Leatherwood’s… not good,” Millen said.
New head coach Josh McDaniels and GM Dave Zeigler – who didn’t draft him – decided to cut bait. When Las Vegas cut their roster down to 53 players, they made the rare move of letting go of a first rounder for nothing just one year in.
Now he gets a second chance with Chicago, a rebuilding team that can afford to let him develop slowly. Leatherwood may be a better fit in a zone-blocking scheme with a more mobile quarterback than Derek Carr, as the Bears have Justin Fields.
Leatherwood was the final first-round pick in an absolutely brutal stretch for Las Vegas’ former GM-head coach tandem of Mike Mayock and Jon Gruden. In 2019, the first year of that tandem, the Raiders selected Clelin Ferrell (who has eight sacks in three years) at No. 4, Josh Jacobs at No. 24, and Johnathan Abram at No. 27. All three had their fifth-year options declined.
In 2020, the Raiders took Henry Ruggs at No. 11 as the first wide receiver off the board, before Justin Jefferson, Tee Higgins and CeeDee Lamb, among others. In November, Ruggs was allegedly the driver in a DUI crash that killed a 23-year-old woman and had a BAC nearly twice the legal limit, prosecutors alleged. Ruggs was cut from the team in the following days.
Not long after, the Raiders cut their other first-round pick from 2020 – Ohio State cornerback Damon Arnette – after a video of him brandishing a gun and threatening to kill someone surfaced.
In 2021, the last draft Gruden and Mayock were around to oversee, Las Vegas selected Leatherwood. Gruden resigned in disgrace in the middle of the 2021 season after a series of vulgar, homophobic and racist emails surfaced that were exchanged between he and ex-Commanders president Bruce Allen.