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I think we can all agree that draft season is exhausting. From mock drafts to big boards to crazy trade scenarios, you see everything.
But soon all of that will be in the past.
For the Chicago Bears, the 2023 NFL Draft will look a lot different for Ryan Poles. The second-year general went into his first draft having just six picks that he eventually turned into 11. This time around, Poles will start with 10 picks, including ninth overall selection in the first round, which will also be new territory for him.
The stage is nearly set for what should be an exciting draft.
Here are the top five needs for the Bears heading into the 2023 NFL Draft.
1. Offensive Tackle
The Bears have an obvious need at the right tackle position. Last season, the Bears had veteran Riley Reiff and second-year player Larry Borom playing at the position. According to Pro Football Focus, Reiff played 534 snaps at right tackle and Borom played 466. Reiff took over for Borom during Week 13 and finished out the season at the position. The veteran offensive lineman is now in New England, which leaves Borom at Halas Hall.
At the left tackle position, Braxton Jones played every single offensive snap for the Bears. Last year’s fifth-round draft pick out of Southern Utah had an up-and-down season, but he was available and at the very least earned another opportunity to build off his rookie year.
With the No. 9 draft slot, the Bears could have their choice at the top tackle prospect: Ohio State’s Paris Johnson Jr., Northwestern’s Peter Skoronski, Tennessee’s Darnell Wright or Georgia’s Broderick Jones.
But assistant general manager Ian Cunningham told reporters on Tuesday that an offensive tackle later in the draft may be an option, too.
“I feel like the Day 1 group, all the household names, everybody knows,” Cunningham said. “There’s a lot of this guy can play left tackle, this guy can play right tackle. There’s players that have played both left tackle and right tackle. There’s players that have played, also, inside. And then, there’s players that you kind of project inside. Or they can play outside. But then if you trickle down, I think you get a lot of that similar skillset, but maybe not the top-tier athleticism. But you feel comfortable with it. We were able to take Braxton last year in the fifth, and when you have a guy like Chris Morgan — who I think is one of the better offensive line coaches in the league and one of the best teachers in the league at the position – you feel comfortable with some of those guys.”
Some players who could be available on Day 2 of the draft include Oklahoma’s Anton Harrison, Syracus’ Matthew Bergeron and Ohio State’s Dawand Jones.
At some point, the Bears will take a swing on an offensive tackle and by the end of Saturday, we will have a clear picture as to how the organization viewed this group.
2. Interior Defensive Lineman
Poles attempted to upgrade this position last offseason with Larry Ogunjobi. That didn’t go through due to a failed physical and Justin Jones was signed instead to fill the 3-tech position. Jones played in all 17 games, making that a first of his career, and finished with 52 total tackles, three sacks, one forced fumble and four passes defensed.
Although Jones set career high in games played, tackles and passes defensed, the Bears still need a “disruptor” that coach Matt Eberflus wants in the 3-tech position.
Unfortunately, the options are limited in this year’s draft. Georgia’s Jalen Carter fits what the Bears are looking for when it comes to on-field production. But his off-the-field incidents make him a polarizing prospect. He also could be drafted by the time the Bears select at No. 9. Pittsburgh’s Calijah Kancey is my favorite prospect in this entire draft, but at 6-foot-1 and with 30 ⅝ inch arms, there are questions about how his game will translate at the next level.
In the next tier of interior defensive linemen, there is Northwestern’s Adetomiwa Adebawore and Wisconsin’s Keeanu Benton. Both players would help the defensive line as a whole to create more consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
It will be fascinating to see how Poles plans to address this all-important position on the defense.
3. Edge Rusher
In free agency, the Bears signed DeMarcus Walker to a three-year, $21 million deal and later added Rasheem Green to a one-year deal. Walker had a career-high eight sacks and 32 total tackles last season for the Titans. Green finished with 42 total tackles and 3.5 sacks in 2022 for the Texans.
The Bears could use all the help they can get with adding players that are capable of applying pressure to opposing quarterbacks, especially since the team finished with just 20 sacks last season. Trevis Gipson took a step back in a transition year to playing in a 4-3 front, and fifth-rounder Dominique Robinson didn’t register a single sack after getting 1.5 in Week 1 against the 49ers.
The team would greatly benefit from adding a top-end talent at the position. Potentially Poles addresses edge rusher in the first round. Iowa’s Lukas Van Ness and Clemson’s Myles Murphy would make for good additions to a defensive line that is in need of disruptive players.
On Day 2 of the draft, LSU B.J. Ojulari, Auburn’s Derick Hall and Georgia Tech’s Keion White all would provide prospects that can become productive pass rushers in the NFL.
Poles’ first pick as the general manager of the Bears was Washington cornerback Kyler Gordon. In his rookie season with the Bears, Gordon played at the nickel spot and also moved outside when injuries began to pile up toward the end of the season. He finished with 71 total tackles, three interceptions and six passes defensed.
If Gordon is slotted as the nickel next season, then an outside cornerback opposite of Jaylon Johnson is a big need for the Bears. Kindle Vildor is still under contract, but defensive coordinator Alan Williams could use another standout player at that position. Also, it’s worth noting that Johnson has yet to receive a contract extension – something the Bears and him have had discussions about since February.
The top two cornerbacks in the draft — Oregon’s Christian Gonzalez and Illinois’ Devon Witherspoon — easily could be selected before the Bears pick at No. 9. However, Day 2 offers up a variety of defensive backs Poles and company can choose from.
South Carolina’s Darius Rush, Kansas State’s Julius Brents and Utah’s Clark Phillips III would help improve the secondary.
5. Wide Receiver
The wide receiver position got a huge upgrade with the addition of DJ Moore. Justin Fields has a legitimate No. 1 receiver to work with as he enters his third season in the NFL. Moore along with a healthy Darnell Mooney and a Chase Claypool who will be more familiarized with the playbook makes for much improved wide receiver room.
The Bears also re-signed Equanimeous St. Brown and Dante Pettis on 1-year deals and third-round pick Velus Jones Jr. will be entering his second season in the league.
Still, the team can never have enough playmakers, especially since Mooney and Claypool will be unrestricted free agents after the 2023 season. Ohio State’s Jaxon Smith-Njigba is a former teammate of Fields and a fan favorite among Bears fans. USC’s Jordan Addison also fits what the Bears would be looking for at th position
But Days 2 and 3 of the draft could be when the Bears decide to take a wide receiver. Michigan State’s Jayden Reed and Tennessee’s Cedric Tillman would be enticing. On Day 3, players like Purdue’s Charlie Jones and Iowa State’s Xavier Hutchinson also would make a lot of sense.
Although the wide receiver position isn’t as much of a need, I would expect the Bears to still draft a pass catcher with one of their 10 picks.
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