Schrock’s Bears Big Board 1.0: Ryan Poles’ big Round 1 question originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
The Bears filled some holes in free agency, but general manager Ryan Poles prefers to build through the draft.
With four picks in the top 64 of next month’s 2023 NFL Draft, Poles should be able to inject more talent into a roster that went 3-14 last season.
Chicago has needs across the board, and it’s imperative that Poles leave the first three rounds of the draft with no less than three players who can be massive Day 1 contributors.
With the 2023 NFL Draft one month away, here’s our first Bears-only big board filled with players for Poles to target in the first two rounds:
Biggest needs: OT, DT, EDGE, WR, CB
1. Will Anderson, EDGE, Alabama
With Jalen Carter’s pro-day struggles and character concerns, Anderson should be the top player on most boards. He is a dominant edge rusher who has the look of a future All-Pro. Unfortunately for the Bears, it’s hard to envision a scenario where he falls to them at No. 9. That was the risk of trading down this far.
2. Tyree Wilson, EDGE, Texas Tech
If head coach Matt Eberflus were to create an edge rusher in a lab, it might look a lot like Wilson. The Texas Tech edge rusher is long, bendy, and athletic, with a relentless motor and an 86-inch wingspan.
“He might not dominate in Year 1, but he has the highest ceiling of any defensive prospect in this class,” one NFC scout told NBC Sports Chicago.
There’s a slight chance Wilson is on the board when the Bears go on the clock at No. 9, but it’s more likely he will hear his name called within the first seven picks.
3. Paris Johnson Jr., OT, Ohio State
Your leader in the clubhouse to be the Bears’ pick at No. 9.
Johnson allowed only two sacks and 14 total pressures last season for the Buckeyes. He’s 6-foot-6, 313 pounds, with 36 1/8-inch arms. Prototypical left tackle material.
“He can do everything you want a tackle to do,” one AFC scout told NBC Sports Chicago. “He needs reps but I’d bet on him being on of the best players in this class. Maybe the best.”
4. Jalen Carter, DT, Georgia
If on-field production and pure talent were the only things that mattered, Carter would be No. 1. But the questions about his character, maturity, love of the game, and recent pro-day flop inject a lot of unknowns into the equation.
The Bears desperately need a disruptive three-technique. Carter can do everything Eberflus asks of the “engine” of his defense. The Bears plan to host Carter for a pre-draft visit to gather more information. If Carter’s slide continues, he could be sitting there at nine, where Poles will have to decide if Carter’s issues are a product of youth and immaturity or part of a bigger problem.
It’s a question the Bears have to have the right answer to if they plan to select the Georgia star.
There’s a good chance the Bears’ decision at No. 9 comes down to Carter or Johnson. Do you take the young but talented offensive tackle with an All-Pro ceiling or the potential best player in the class with a few red flags?
Making the wrong choice could be an early speed bump in Poles’ rebuild efforts.
5. Broderick Jones, OT, Georgia
Jones gave up just two sacks and 17 total pressures during his final two seasons at Georgia.
At 6-foot-5, 311 pounds, Jones has dominant physical tools and plays with a violent physicality that offensive line coach Chris Morgan and Eberflus would love.
He’s still a bit raw but would be a good option for the Bears at No. 9 or in a trade-back.
6. Christian Gonzalez, CB, Oregon
The Bears have more significant needs than corner, but Gonzalez has the physical tools and experience to be a Day 1 starter at corner.
At the NFL Scouting Combine, Gonzalez ran a 4.38 40 with a 41.5-inch vertical and an 11-foot-1 broad jump.
“[Gonzalez] has all the physical traits you want in a top corner,” the NFC scout said. “He can play in any scheme and any alignment. Size, twitch, versatility, smooth hips. I don’t think the cornerback conversation should be close.”
7. Peter Skoronski, OT, Northwestern
If it weren’t for the 32 1/4-inch arms, Skoronski would probably be the runaway top tackle in the class. While the short arms might have Skoronski shift inside to guard in the NFL, he’s the most technically-sound lineman in this draft with great footwork.
Maybe he’s a guard, but Skoronski should get a shot at tackle first. That could very well be in Chicago.
8. Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR, Ohio State
The addition of DJ Moore makes wide receiver less of a need for the Bears, but Smith-Njigba will be one of the few remaining blue-chip players available when the Bears go on the board at No. 9.
The Ohio State wide receiver is an elite route-runner who excels at making contested catches and eats defenses up in the middle of the field.
The Bears need to add elite talent, no matter the position. If Smith-Njigba is the best player left on their board when they go on the clock at No. 9, I’m OK with them pulling the trigger.
9. Bijan Robinson, RB, Texas
Speaking of blue-chip talent, Robinson has a legitimate case that he’s the best overall player in the class. He just plays a position that isn’t valued as highly in the modern NFL.
Robinson is the best running back prospect since Saquon Barkley. He’s got elite balance and elusiveness coupled with the power, speed, and pass-catching ability you want in a top-tier, every-down back.
10. Nolan Smith, EDGE, Georgia
No. 9 is probably too high for Smith, but if the Bears trade down again, expect the Georgia product to be on their radar.
The 6-foot-2, 238-pound edge rusher wowed at the combine, running a 4.39 40 with a 41.5-inch vertical. There are some questions about Smith’s size, but he has the bend, burst, and motor to be a highly-productive edge rusher in the NFL.
“Don’t bet against Smtih being one of the best players in this class,” the AFC scout told NBC Sports Chicago. “He’s made of the right stuff and was arguably the best player on that [2021 Georgia] defense.”
11. Devon Witherspoon, CB, Illinois
Witherspoon has rocketed up draft boards after a sterling 2022 campaign.
Per Pro Football Focus, Witherspoon was top five in the country in completion percentage allowed, forced incompletions, passer rating allowed when targeted, and yards allowed per coverage snap.
I still like Gonzalez more, but Witherspoon had the best tape of any cornerback last season. I don’t think he’s a realistic option at No. 9, but he should be in the mix if Poles moves down again.
12. Calijah Kancey, DT, Pittsburgh
Kancey is one of my favorite players in this draft class.
At 6-foot-1, 281 pounds, Kancey is undersized but he understands how to create and use leverage which makes him almost impossible to block. He might have some issues defending the run, but he’d be a great fit in a Bears’ defense that wants its three-technique to get upfield and disrupt the passer.
Kancey’s rise up the draft board makes Chicago an unlikely landing spot, but he’s precisely what Eberflus is looking for in a defensive tackle.
13. Darnell Wright, OT, Tennessee
Both Will Anderson and B.J. Ojulari named Wright as the toughest tackle they faced last season.
For good reason.
After moving back to right tackle in 2022, Wright didn’t allow a sack and gave up a pressure rate of just 1.7 percent, per PFF.
If the Bears prefer to leave Braxton Jones at left tackle, then Wright is their best chance to solve their right tackle question.
But with Wright expected to go late in Round 1 or early in Round 2, it will take some draft maneuvering by the Bears to bring him to Chicago.
14. Felix Anudike-Uzomah, EDGE, Kansas State
Put Anudike-Uzomah on the list of my draft crushes alongside Kancey and Smith.
The Kansas State product is a bendy edge rusher with a bevy of pass-rush moves in his toolbox. Over the past two seasons, Anudike-Uzomah registered 89 pressures and 14 sacks for the Wildcats.
“He’s an every-down edge rusher with all the traits you look for,” the AFC scout said. “He’s got an incredibly high floor with a ton of room to grow.”
Anudike-Uzomah started the pre-draft process as a likely Day 2 pick, but he could go late in Round 1.
The Bears have a massive need at edge rusher, and Anudike-Uzomah ticks all the boxes. But can they find a way to secure him?
15. Lukas Van Ness, EDGE, Iowa
Van Ness generated 46 pressures and sacks last season at Iowa despite not being a starter.
“Hercules,” as he’s known, has impressive power and the versatility to play both inside and outside.
He does need to expand his pass-rush moves past the bull rush, but he’s a dark horse option for a Bears team that needs to find ways to generate pressure.
16. Will McDonald IV, EDGE, Iowa State
An explosive, bendy edge rusher with good hands, McDonald is a versatile edge rusher that reminds some scouts of Randy Gregory.
He excels at getting upfield and is creative at getting off blocks. He has the look and feel of a future sack artist in the NFL.
17. Adetomiwa Adebawore, DL, Northwestern
Here’s another prospect whose draft stock has soared since the combine.
At 282 pounds, Adebawore ran a 4.49 40 with a 1.61 10-second split and has gone from a Day2/3 prospect to a fringe first-rounder. While there are questions about his NFL position, Adebawore has the strength to slide inside and the explosiveness to attack off the edge.
He’d obviously be a great fit with the Bears, but his pre-draft performance might have taken him out of the Bears’ range unless they can find a way into the top part of Round 2.
18. Bryan Bresee, DT, Clemson
With guys like Anudike-Uzomah, McDonald, and Adebawore rising, someone has to go the other way.
That might be Bresee, who struggled with injuries at Clemson.
The 6-foot-5, 298-pound defensive tackle is an exceptional athlete who needs reps after an injury-plagued college career. Bresee has the burst and strength required to be a good pass rusher in the NFL, but his game needs refinement, which could lead to a mini-draft slide.
Could the Bears be waiting?
19. Anton Harrison, OT, Oklahoma
Have I mentioned the Bears need a tackle?
Harrison could be a good option should they elect to address the defensive line with their first pick.
The 6-foot-4, 314-pound tackle can play on either side of the line. He allowed just one knockdown (sack/hit) last season, per PFF.
He has good size and length but could struggle with NFL speed due to his average athleticism. Still a name to watch for on Day 2.
20. Myles Murphy, EDGE, Clemson
Murphy isn’t my favorite edge rusher in this class, but he’s still worthy of consideration should he slide into the Bears’ lap.
The size, speed, and power are there, but Murphy needs to vary his pass-rush moves and refine his game to be an effective every-down rusher in the NFL.
He could end up being a very good pro, but it will likely take some time. With a late Round 1 projection, he’s not the ideal fit for the Bears.
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