The Chicago Bears are on the clock… Well, not anymore. For the first time in the modern draft era (and for the third time ever in franchise history), the Monsters of the Midway had the number one overall pick for the 2023 NFL Draft. With that, General Manager Ryan Poles and the front office immediately had a dilemma on their hands. They have their quarterback, need more talent at the skill positions, and want more draft capital.
Poles has proven to make the tough decisions for the franchise's long-term future, and he can play mind games with the best of them, even to the chagrin of Bears fans.
On March 10th, 2023, Ryan Poles found a trade partner in the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers reeling from their own years of mediocrity and poor front-office management are looking to make a splash with a lock at quarterback. The Bears were able to get a solid wideout in DJ Moore and a haul of draft picks, including swapping their 1 for the Panthers’ 9. With quite a few needs (Edge Rusher, Defensive Tackle, Offensive Line, Corner Back, Wide Receiver), the question becomes, what do the Bears do at the ninth spot?
The Bears need help on their front seven. Statistically speaking, these Monsters played more like chipmunks than Bears. What was once a feared and vaunted front seven has been reduced to nothing. Granted, most of this is due to the previous regime(s) and the current front office’s fire sale of top defensive talent since Ryan Poles and Matt Eberflus took over in the Windy City.
There are five teams currently slated ahead of the Bears that could potentially look for an elite player coming off the edge. While it would be highly improbable for the Bears to be stuck looking at the sixth-best rusher, it is conceivable they’d be at least two down on their own big board.
Most scouts have Will Anderson from Alabama or Myles Murphy out of Clemson as locks at this position. Although I’m not completely sold on Murphy, it’s easy to see Anderson going to Arizona and their new head coach, Jonathan Gannon. Honestly, he should be the overall number 1 pick, but there are so many teams desperate for a quarterback, it reminds me of the 2011 draft, where many teams reached and most if not all failed.
Nevertheless, Tyree Wilson out of Texas Tech has recently taken the world by storm with impressive skills and an equally impressive stout body type. Wilson seems ready for the next level and if available, could be the spark the Bears’ defensive front seven desperately needs.
Further down the list, Chicago can find Nolan Smith out of Georgia, if they are interested in a firebrand, even if slightly undersized, he’s the man for the job. His energetic personality is only outmatched by his ability to attack the edge with ferocity and an innate ability to work the offensive line out of position. This is coupled with some great coverage skills out of the backfield. If the Bears are willing to drop down again to build draft capital, they will find Smith ready, willing, and able.
With only two teams ahead of Chicago that might be in search of help in the middle of the front seven, it would seem ideal to snag a tackle at nine. Naturally, with the lack of interested teams in need, comes a lack of viable options.
The obvious and unanimous choice for a tough defensive tackle comes in Jalen Carter from the University of Georgia. Early in the draft process, back when the Bears held the number one pick, it seemed to be a perfect fit. Now as the months have progressed, the Bears have moved on from number one and Jalen Carter has found his character in hot water and nothing tanks draft prospects more than character questions and poor test scores. Still, Carter appears ready to be taken by Detroit at six or Atlanta at eight. That leaves the Bears in a tough position with not much else in terms of superior talent at their spot.
At this point, it appears that the Bears would be ready to look elsewhere for their first pick in Kansas City. Personally, I’m a fan of Calijah Kancey from Pitt and there is growing admiration for Lukas Van Ness out of Iowa. Kancey is readily compared to Aaron Donald, and while he may not be an exact clone, the resemblances are enough to take notice. Van Ness, on the other hand, matches the mold of the traditional Iowa defenders. Tough against the run, physically impressive, if not a step slow (because he tends to play upright), and always ready to push offensive linemen around. However, with Van Ness and Kancey, it appears the Bears could easily fall further back in the first round and they’d both be available. There may be a pattern here.
While the average fan typically thinks of the Chicago Bears and defense as synonymous, they have been not so quietly building a top-tier offense in Lake Forest. Even better, no one ahead of the Bears appears to be ready to draft an offensive lineman. Justin Fields has been given some real weapons, now is the time to find him an anchor to keep him upright, safe, and most importantly healthy.
Peter Skornski out of Northwestern and Paris Johnson Jr. from Ohio State seem to be no-brainers to protect Fields. Johnson has all the right intangibles, a great mind that can analyze defensive fronts, an angry motor that will allow him to push any defender out of the way to create space for runners, and having worked with Fields before, familiarity and an undeniable level of trust. Skornski is an elite blocker, if undersized for most of the spots on the line. These two options give the Bears enough to ponder at nine. Or, Ryan Poles can sit back and perhaps trade down, definitely a pattern. Trading down allows the Bears to reassess their needs and continue to build. With this move, and the Bears' recent haul from Carolina, the Bears can easily snag Dawand Jones out of Columbus on day two.
When a team has a quarterback like Justin Fields the natural instinct is to give him as many weapons as possible. The Bengals did it with Joe Burrow and why shouldn’t the Bears do it with Fields?
Jaxon Smith-Njigba is enticing at the nine spot. Reuniting two of Ohio State’s best players of all time and watching the potential magic unfold would be enough for any offensive-minded person to salivate. JSN is a clear first-round receiver, coming out of a program that has had a recent run of supreme talent at wideout. The statistics are all there, even if Jaxon barely played in ‘22. Put that aside, the Bears would be getting a receiver with soft hands and the ability to get open, given any route on the tree.
Quentin Johnston from TCU is everything a team could want in a receiver. His measurables are nearly perfect for a deep-threat receiver. The uncanny precise route-running would give Fields the perfect target every drive. One of the only downsides compared to Smith-Njigba is the downfield blocking. Brian Hartline focuses on run-blocking for his receivers as a mandatory component in Columbus. Grasping at straws, Johnston simply doesn’t have that same ability, yet.
If the Bears chose to go with a receiver at this point, they’d only really have to contend with Arizona potentially snaking one of these two, but I just don’t see it. I see the Cardinals going for the edge and allowing the Bears to be in the perfect position to grab either one and be completely happy with their decision.
To Bears fans, this might seem frustrating. It would be the antithesis of what they’ve become accustomed to. There would be no shame in falling further down the board to continue building draft stock and lay in wait for the perfect player at the best spot. There are plenty of players the Bears could pick up, enough to make one’s head spin at this point. Sadly, this is due to years of mismanagement, but Ryan Poles seems to be righting the ship.
Regardless of what happens tonight, the Bears seem to be in the process of regaining the title “Monsters of the Midway.” Poles has done a fantastic job thus far, he’s even converted this sullen, skeptical Bears fan. Excitement is beginning to buzz about the Bears’ potential, and only time will if the team’s front office have made the right decisions. But for now, In Ryan We Trust.