Contrary to popular myth, not every good NFL player started that way when they first got to the league. Many of them often need two or three years of development before realizing their potential. Some teams don’t have the patience or capability for something like that. the Chicago Bears are hoping to be different. GM Ryan Poles and head coach Matt Eberflus want to be a team that can draft and mold their own talent.
That might explain why they continue to meet with several prospects that experts don’t consider ready to play in the NFL but have enormous athletic upside. There is no better example than the most recent name to emerge among their private visits. Matt Waletzko comes from humble origins at North Dakota, an FCS school. Yet he has garnered loads of attention lately from several teams including Chicago.
That is because he’s kind of a freak of nature.
Teams are highly intrigued by Waletzko’s 36 inch arms and overall athletic ability (5.03 in the 40 & 7.26 3C).
— Justin M (@JustinM_NFL) April 15, 2022
Keep in mind that most offensive tackles have arms ranging between 33 and 34 inches in length. So for one to boast 36 inches is rare. Length matters for tackles because it allows them a reach advantage on pass rushers. Those who know how to use it can make it almost impossible to get into their bodies, rendering most rushes ineffective. For example, former Broncos Pro Bowler Ryan Clady had 36-inch arms. So did former Eagles Pro Bowler Tra Thomas. Cowboys star Tyron Smith has them too. Length matters.
In a league valuing tools above anything else these days, too many still sleeping on North Dakota’s Matt Waletzko. @matt_waletzko has rare get-around reach (85 6/8 wingspan was longest at @seniorbowl) and quietly had great Combine with 5.03 40-yd dash, 30.0 VJ, and 9-5 BJ. 📈💤 pic.twitter.com/syauc5ko0l
— Jim Nagy (@JimNagy_SB) March 17, 2022
Hell yeah. North Dakota OT Matt Waletzko with a sick rep pic.twitter.com/INy1qj3y1i
— Billy M (@BillyM_91) February 2, 2022
Finished my eval on #UND LT Matt Waletzko last night, and he’s a heavy handed, physical run blocker at POA. He plays with an attitude and finisher’s mentality.
Impressive athlete in space too. Can pull and root out 2nd and 3rd level defensive players. Solid development prospect. pic.twitter.com/PtZ7hDsQVB
— Devin Jackson (@RealD_Jackson) December 31, 2021
Adding to the intrigue for Chicago is Waletzko’s mix of athleticism and nastiness. He moves pretty well in space for his size and shows plenty of violence when mixing it up with defenders. Poles said he wanted guys that are quick and played with attitude. He fits the profile. As everybody knows, there’s always a but coming. In his case, it is not anything unique.
Chicago Bears have lots of teaching to do with Waletzko.
While the attitude, size, and strength are nice to see, it is apparent the young tackle has boatloads of work to do from a fundamental standpoint. He suffers from a myriad of issues such as too high pad level, sluggish foot speed, and erratic hand placement. Also, he’s too light at 305 lbs for somebody his size. He’ll need more mass. None of this is a shock. Young linemen often need to work in those areas, especially from smaller schools.
Drafting him means the Chicago Bears would be working with the understanding that he likely won’t be ready to play in 2022. His window would be 2023 or 2024. Much of it depends on how he acclimates to the NFL diet and coaching. If he’s willing to put in the work and can learn, his upside is positively enormous.
It comes down to patience and a little luck.
Expectations are Waletzko will go somewhere on Day 3 of the draft. Most likely in the 5th round or later. He could be part of a Bears strategy to double-dip on the offensive line. Draft one early and then another one later. Not a bad idea. It increases the odds of at least one panning out and puts the line in a great spot if they both do.
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