With the 2023 College Football Playoff National Championship taking place on Monday night, there are plenty of prospects Chicago Bears GM Ryan Poles will be watching in the game.
Bears fans, however, may not know which prospects will be making waves this upcoming draft season. To jump-start the offseason, here are 10 players that Bears fans should be paying attention to in the championship between Georgia and TCU.
Jalen Carter is the 1st overall prospect and the 1st ranked interior defensive lineman.
Carter has been linked to the Bears for months now. Not only is he arguably considered one of the absolute best players in this year’s draft class, Carter also fills a major position of need as he could become the dominating 3-tech that Poles has been searching for to become the engine of Matt Eberflus’ defense.
He has six sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss over his last two seasons. Those aren’t eye-popping numbers, but Carter still has the attention of scouts due to his athletic profile and physical traits. He also has a good blend of pass-rush moves and a knack for making consistent plays against the run. It should also be noted Carter missed two games this season due to a knee injury.
One reason to watch for Carter is the fact he was practically missing in action in the Peach Bowl versus Ohio State. Despite playing a career-high 52 snaps, Carter was only able to make one tackle.
Will Carter have a much-needed rebound performance on college football’s biggest stage? You best believe the Bears are paying close attention to Carter on Monday night.
2. Quentin Johnston, WR (TCU)
Quentin Johnston is the 15th-ranked prospect and second-ranked wide receiver.
From one star player to another, Johnston has been considered one of, if not the best receivers of the 2023 class. His case to be the top guy at the position received a huge boost with a strong performance in the Fiesta Bowl against Michigan. He had 163 receiving yards and a touchdown on six catches.
At 6-foot-4 and 212 pounds, he has a big frame and a wide catch radius. However, the receiver is more than a possession type. Despite the bigger build, Johnston has elite speed and acceleration that makes him a dangerous weapon.
The Bears are going to add talent around Justin Fields as he enters his third season. There’s no doubt Fields needs a true X receiver, a bonafide WR1. Johnston has the potential to be that sort of player at the next level.
If the Bears end up trading down and Johnston is still available, there’s a good chance that Poles would heavily consider using the pick to provide Fields his go-to guy.
After a brilliant outing in the Fiesta Bowl, it’s time to watch Johnston to see if he can stack another standout performance in the biggest game of his career.
3. Kelee Ringo, CB (Georgia)
Kelee Ringo is the 8th-ranked prospect and 1st-ranked cornerback.
What? A corner? Well, with a team with as many holes as the Bears have, you can’t really rule anything out. Plus, good front offices cover their bases and leave no stone unturned. After drafting Kyler Gordon and Jaquan Brisker in the second round last year, Poles has proven that he values defensive backs.
And yes, young players like Josh Blackwell and Jaylon Jones displayed promise throughout the season, so it would not be wise for the Bears to decide to stop adding talent in the secondary.
Ringo is a highly athletic corner that excels in press-man coverage. He also provides inside-out versatility that the Bears have proven to value, too.
You’re already going to be watching Johnston, so keeping an eye on Ringo, who should draw the TCU wideout’s number a fair amount, won’t be difficult. In fact, you should look forward to two of the best players in the entire draft class duking it out in the championship game.
4. Broderick Jones, OT (Georgia)
Broderick Jones is the 22nd-ranked prospect and the 3rd-ranked offensive tackle.
There’s no surprise the Bears need help all across the offensive line. As much as you like Braxton Jones, there’s no guarantee he is the team’s left tackle of the future. And nobody stepped up at right tackle this season. The Bears surely will be looking to add more talent at the position.
Keep an eye on Jones, who is currently considered a top tackle in the draft.
5. Darnell Washington, TE (Georgia)
Darnell Washington is the 36th ranked prospect and 2nd ranked tight end.
Make no mistake about it, Cole Kmet took a good step forward in 2022 and looks to be one of the more promising young foundational pieces on the team. Still, outside of Kmet, the Bears had virtually zero production out of the other tight ends on the roster.
Washington suffered a lower legu injury against Ohio State, but coach Kirby Smart is hopeful that he will play. If he does take the field, you literally won’t be able to miss him. At 6-foot-7 and 270 pounds, your eyes get drawn to his imposing physical stature. The strength of Washington’s game is his blocking ability. But that doesn’t mean he hasn’t proven to be a reliable receiving option when given his chances.
Washington is a player that could raise the floor at the tight end position of the Bears and give the team two young players with complimentary skillsets that make the team better both on the ground and through the air.
6. Chris Smith, Safety (Georgia)
Chris Smith is the 71st-ranked prospect and the 6th-ranked safety.
Yes, the Bears have Eddie Jackson and Jaquan Brisker. But just like with Ringo, he’s a very good player that deserves attention on Monday night.
Smith is a versatile defensive back the Bears could have on the field in a variety of packages. He can provide more to the defense than just a typical safety role. He’s had a strong season in Georgia with 58 tackles, five for loss, three interceptions and five passes defensed.
If the Bears want to use a mid-round pick on a playmaker in the secondary that plays with a high motor and displays a strong football IQ, Smith would make sense.
7. Sedrick Van Pran, IOL (Georgia)
Sedrick Van Pran is the 73rd-ranked prospect and the 4th-ranked interior offensive lineman.
Van Pran is the first of a couple of intriguing mid-round prospects that could help solidify the interior of the Bears’ offensive line, which surely needs an overhaul outside of Teven Jenkins.
Van Pran projects as a starting-caliber center at the next level, and the Bears should welcome an upgrade over Sam Mustipher. One thing that should stand out during the championship is Van Pran’s high motor and the intensity that he plays with. Poles has made it clear that it’s this sort of player he wants protecting his quarterback and setting the tone upfront. Van Pran also has good athleticism and football IQ to not only reach the second level in a hurry but also to find the right guy and make timely impact blocks.
8. Steve Avila, IOL (TCU)
Steve Avila is the 91st-ranked prospect and the 7th-ranked interior offensive lineman.
Avila is another aggressive offensive lineman the Bears should be watching on Monday night. Avila projects as a guard in the NFL, and as of now, it remains uncertain if Cody Whitehair will be back with the team next season. He has the ideal size and frame that you look for in a guard. Avila also possesses good leadership skills as he was voted a team captain for this season.
The Bears can’t add too much talent in the trenches on either side of the ball. So, may as well scout as many prospects as possible at these positions of need.
9. Kenny McIntosh, RB (Georgia)
Kenny McIntosh is the 107th ranked prospect and the 9th ranked running back.
Is David Montgomery coming back to Chicago? That’s one of the biggest questions Poles needs to answer. And we may not learn the answer for some time. So with this uncertainty in place, it doesn’t hurt to watch the top running back prospect in this game.
McIntosh fits what the Bears want out of their running backs. He’s a patient runner that has a good feeling for the blocks being set up in front of him and can pickup yards after contact. And he has proven to be one of the best pass catchers out of the backfield in his class. In this way, McIntosh is an ideal blend of Khalil Herbert and Montgomery.
10. Dylan Horton, DL (TCU)
Dylan Horton is the 164th ranked prospect and the 19th ranked defensive lineman.
With the Bears’ desperate need to find more pass rush next season after a historically bad performance in 2022, Horton is a player that should be on the Bears’ radar. He has a toolbox full of different pass rush moves including a quick first step, and multiple counter moves to keep fighting towards quarterbacks. He plays with the hustle and intensity that Eberflus wants out of his players.
Horton is an interesting prospect as he can provide value along the interior of the defensive line, but also has the potential to become a disruptive pass rusher coming off the edge.
If you’re looking for mid-round players that have the potential to become impactful players for the Bears, Horton is one of your guys to watch in the National Championship.
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