© 2023 BSN LIVE, INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
For the third time in four years, the Chicago Bears did not have a first-round draft pick.
But for the first time in 14 years, the Bears came away with double-digit draft picks. Longtime readers of this column know the post-draft “Bears Things” is always my favorite of the year and after days of phone calls and text messages, the 2022 version is here for you.
Inside The Draft Process
Regardless of how the Bears’ 2022 draft picks work out, it’s hard to complain about new general manager Ryan Poles’ process. For anyone upset about how former GM Ryan Pace used to trade away draft picks for players he had conviction on, this draft must have felt like Christmas. Poles used a patient approach, identified certain players he wasn’t willing to pass on despite trade offers, and then made a sudden shift on Day 3 to turn three picks into eight.
Many — including myself — wondered if Poles would trade back in the second round, but instead he landed two defensive backs who should be plug-and-play starters. The Bears considered Washington cornerback Kyler Gordon a first-round talent and they got him with the No. 39th overall pick. At that point, you don’t even consider trade back offers, if there were any. There’s no doubt the Bears benefitted from Gordon’s disappointing 4.52 40-time at the NFL Combine, but they believe his play speed is faster than that. Then at No. 48, it was going to take a mega-deal to get the Bears to move off Penn State safety Jaquan Brisker.
“It would’ve taken something crazy for me,” Poles said at Halas Hall Friday night. “At the end of the day, it was nice just getting our guys and they were at a value that we felt comfortable with. So nothing really made sense to move on from that caliber of player.”
With the team’s third pick at No. 71, Poles drafted Tennessee wide receiver Velus Jones Jr., an older prospect who turns 25 next week, but one who should get on the field quickly and command attention from opposing defenses. When Poles mentioned Deebo Samuel as a comp, he wasn’t necessarily declaring a belief that Jones will be as good as Samuel, but it was a strong indication the Bears believe he can be used similarly. Expect him to be used as an extension of the running game with jet sweeps, bubbles, etc. Despite not landing an elite top receiver (the Bears really didn’t have access to one of those players without a first-round pick this year), Poles did well to at least target a weapon who will cause safeties to get sucked down and help Justin Fields identify coverages pre-snap. That shouldn’t be lost with the Velus Jones Jr. pick.
As for Day 3, Poles started the day with three draft picks and ended it with eight. In a draft that was deeper than usual because so many prospects stayed in school last year due to COVID, it was smart to add as much Day 3 draft capital as possible. After adding early contributors on Day 2, he targeted developmental projects with high traits on Saturday. If half of them work out, that’s a major victory.
The final scoreboard on the Khalil Mack and Anthony Miller trades matter too. By trading the 2023 sixth-rounder acquired in the Mack deal for two seventh-round picks, Mack ultimately netted Brisker (likely the starting strong safety), Elijah Hicks (possible early special teams contributor) and Trenton Gill (possibly the team’s next longterm punter). And by trading back in the fifth round, the original Miller trade ultimately netted offensive tackle Braxton Jones and running back Trestan Ebner (more on both of those selections in a minute). Considering Miller was a bust and the Texans didn’t even keep him, that’s already a win, regardless of whether or not the draft picks work out.
There’s a lot to break down with the individual players, but Poles did well to draft 11 players — the most the team has selected since 2008 when former GM Jerry Angelo made 12 selections. Ironically, that was the same year Poles was signed by the Bears as an undrafted free agent.
Ranking The Picks
Now that the picks have been made, it’s time to examine how quickly they’ll contribute to the team. The order in which the players were drafted is usually not the order in which they’ll see the field. Some draft picks are plug-and-play starters. Others are developmental projects destined for the practice squad. And then there are the late-rounders who will get a jersey right away because they can contribute on special teams.
This is one of my favorite exercises every year, but here’s my ranking of the picks based on how likely they are to play Week 1 of 2022:
- CB Kyler Gordon, Washington — Pick 2.39
The Bears have two open cornerback jobs and believe Gordon can play inside and outside. You’d think that doubles his chances to secure either the No. 2 corner spot or the slot corner spot. On film, Gordon looks like the perfect outside corner in Matt Eberflus’ defense, capable of playing man or zone and breaking on the football to create takeaways. He’s going to play.
2. S Jaquan Brisker, Penn State — 2.48
The new regime liked DeAndre Houston-Carson enough to bring him back, but he’s ideally suited as a versatile backup and special teams ace. You have to think the strong safety job is Brisker’s to lose. A team captain at Penn State who fits the culture Poles is trying to build in Chicago, the guess here is Brisker becomes a key piece for the Bears’ defense very quickly.
3. P Trenton Gill, NC State — 7.255
The hang time has room for improvement, but Gill has all the tools to beat out Ryan Winslow in training camp. Gill has a strong leg to flip the field and places the ball nicely, especially to the right. He can also boom the ball on kickoffs if necessary and was North Carolina State’s holder too. Former punter Pat O’Donnell also handled holding duties so that will be another important consideration in the punter battle.
4. WR Velus Jones Jr., Tennessee — 3.71
Poles talked about Jones Jr. similar to the way former Pace talked about Tarik Cohen and Darnell Mooney after drafting them. You just get the sense the Bears plan to get Jones Jr. on the field early, even if it’s just in sub packages. And don’t sleep on Jones Jr.’s size. He’s a strong runner with the ball in his hands. Already a strong candidate to be the team’s punt returner, Jones is also a very good gunner. I’d be shocked if the wide receiver isn’t active Week 1.
5. RB Trestan Ebner, Baylor — 6.203
On a team that lacks offensive weapons, Ebner fits the outside zone scheme, has great receiving ability and can immediately return kicks. The Bears might need to get the ball in his hands a few times a game. He should compete for the No. 2 running back job.
6. DE Dominique Robinson, Miami Ohio — 5.174
Robinson is a project, but his traits are intriguing enough that he could see the field early on obvious pass-rush downs. There are some Mark Anderson vibes here, as Anderson was also a fifth-round pick who was used as a pass-rush specialist in this same defensive scheme as a rookie. I’m not saying Robinson will match Anderson’s 12 sacks from 2006, but their height/weight/speed numbers are nearly identical coming out of college. Robinson was also a four-phase special teamer in 2021.
7. S Elijah Hicks, Cal — 7.254
It might surprise you to see Hicks this high on this list, but I talked to a couple of talent evaluators who had mid-round grades on Hicks and couldn’t believe he didn’t receive more attention in the pre-draft process. The safety wasn’t invited to the Combine or the Senior Bowl and got hurt in practice before the East-West Shrine Game. That undoubtedly hurt his stock. Hicks has early special teams contributor written all over him and he has the credentials to stick as a backup safety with three interceptions and four forced fumbles last season.
8. OT Braxton Jones, Southern Utah — 5.168
Jones didn’t have the best Senior Bowl and that likely helped the Bears grab him with the 168th overall pick, but don’t be surprised if he’s immediately involved in the tackle competition, perhaps on the right side first. His traits match up with some of the top tackles in the draft, but he played for a struggling FCS program and is making a big jump up in competition.
9. OT Zach Thomas, San Diego State — 6.186
The offensive linemen are harder to project at this point and this is just a hunch, but I expect Thomas to be given the opportunity to compete for the starting right guard job. Part of that is out of necessity and could change quickly if the Bears add another veteran guard, but Thomas’ body type, length and impressive mobility project him as a guard in an outside zone scheme.
10. OG Ja’Tyre Carter, Southern — 7.226
Admittedly, Carter was the prospect I knew the least about before the Bears drafted him, but the word on him is that he has good length and is stronger in pass protection than in the run game. He will ideally be suited as a versatile backup who can play both tackle and guard. He might need some time on the practice squad first.
11. C Doug Kramer, Illinois — 6.207
Kramer is fundamentally sound and has enough experience that he can probably make a spot start and get you through a game, but his lack of versatility will make it hard for him to be active on game day. A team captain at Illinois, he’s a guy the Bears will want in the locker room though. He could bounce back and forth from the practice squad and the 53-man roster depending on injuries.
Undrafted Free Agents To Know
Of all the undrafted free agents, don’t be surprised if Wisconsin linebacker Jack Sanborn is the biggest contributor in 2022. A downhill linebacker from Lake Zurich with experience in multiple spots in Jim Leonhard’s 3-4 defense, Sanborn could be in the mix right away as the team’s Sam linebacker. In Eberflus’ defense, that linebacker is only on the field in the base package and needs to be able to backup the Mike and Will linebacker spots. Sanborn has experience in the middle and on the weak side. Many teams had draftable grades on Sanborn and he was highly sought after as a free agent, so the Bears had to be aggressive in landing the linebacker.
Iowa State tight end Chase Allen is also one to watch. He has a big catch radius and is a really good blocker. He’s just not the most athletic tight end, which is the biggest reason he didn’t get drafted.
Also keep an eye on offensive tackle Jean Delance from Florida. He may end up pushing a couple of the drafted linemen for a roster spot.
– Worth noting: The Bears drafted four players who were team captains in college: Brisker, Thomas, Kramer and Hicks.
– As a reporter, I obviously appreciated the Bears scouts being available to the media after each pick this year, but I also think it’s really cool that they were put in the spotlight for all their hard work. Those area scouts work tirelessly — and travel an obscene amount — so it’s very rewarding when a player they were responsible for scouting actually gets drafted by the team. And when that happens, they should get the public credit they deserve.
— Favorite quote from last week came from Robert Quinn on the idea of the Bears being in a rebuild:
“I mean, I don’t think that’s the right way we should phrase it, because the guys in the building are professionals and I think everyone carries themselves to high expectations. I believe, me personally, no player is better than me, and I believe everyone else should carry themselves the same way. So to say, ‘rebuild’ is, I guess, a funny word. I think it’s just getting guys to believe who they truly are, and perform at their high level of expectations, because everyone’s talented enough, because they’re here. Now you just gotta go prove it.”
What you may have missed…
Hours and hours of live reaction to the Bears’ draft. All three of our live draft shows are available to watch on the CHGO YouTube channel or listen to as podcasts wherever you listen to your pods.
What’s on deck …
We’ll continue to get more insight on this year’s draft class on The CHGO Bears Podcast. We’ll also have full coverage of Bears rookie minicamp this weekend at Halas Hall. Make sure you’re following our Twitter account @CHGO_Bears for up to the minute updates.
Get Chicago's Best Sports Content In Your Inbox!
Become a smarter Chicago sports fan with the latest game recaps, analysis and exclusive content from CHGO’s writers and podcasters!
Just drop your email below!