As NFL Draft approaches, Bears’ needs still apparent on defense
More than prioritizing one position over another, general manager Ryan Poles and the Bears have approached this pivotal offseason seeking value across the board.
The Bears came away from the start of this offseason a better football team after acquiring star wide receiver DJ Moore and signing impact starters on defense like linebackers Tremaine Edmunds and T.J. Edwards. But there remain great voids for this defensive front, which is still lacking premium players up front.
Poles wasn’t interested in offering $20 million annually to Javon Hargrave, who after turning 30 landed a four-year, $80-million deal with the 49ers. Daron Payne (Commanders), Dre’Mont Jones (Seahawks), Zach Allen (Broncos) and Dalvin Tomlinson (Browns) each landed lucrative deals elsewhere and the market for defensive linemen moved away from the Bears. The Bears signed veterans DeMarcus Walker and Andrew Billings while reaching a deal Thursday to sign Rasheem Green, adding a trio of versatile defenders for the line.
But the Bears still find a need for their defensive line as they look towards the NFL Draft late this month. Coach Matt Eberflus has described the 3-technique defensive tackle position as “the engine that makes everything go” for his defensive identity. That disruptive presence is still missing. A pass rush that posted only 20 sacks in 17 games last season is lacking players to generate pressure.
Before setting their draft board, the Bears must first make a firm decision on embattled former Georgia standout Jalen Carter.
Carter plead no contest last month to charges of reckless driving and drag racing involved in a fatal January auto crash. He was sentenced to 12 months of probation, a $1,000 fine, 80 hours of community service and will attend a defensive driving course. Teams are concerned over Carter’s character and whether he can emerge as a star in the NFL as he was with Georgia’s two-time championship teams.
Carter’s draft stock continued to plummet as he arrived at Georgia’s pro day last month nine pounds heavier than he weighed previously at the NFL Combine and unable to complete drills.
The Bears brought in Carter for a pre-draft visit this week, a meeting that Poles said would truly shape the team’s decision on whether he’s worth the risk.
“We’ll sit down, put it all on the table and see how we want to handle it,” Poles said of Carter’s potential fit for the Bears.
Carter posted 18.5 sacks over three years at Georgia and once appeared to be the most talented prospect in this entire class. Without legal troubles and character concerns, it would’ve been stunning for Carter to even be available for the Bears with the No. 9 overall pick. There was a fair discussion as to whether Poles should hold the first overall selection and simply take Carter. Now, there are necessary conversations about his NFL future.
The Bears could find a star for their defensive line in Texas Tech product Tyree Wilson – if he’s not selected before the ninth overall pick. Wilson is 6-foot-6 and 271 pounds with an 86-inch wingspan, a disruptive player against both the run and pass.
There’s also great intrigue in Iowa pass rusher Lukas Van Ness, a Barrington native who has drawn the attention of NFL scouts. He boasts prototypical size at 6-foot-5 and 272 pounds and logged a 4.58 40 time at the Combine. Van Ness models his game to that of J.J. Watt, a player to whom he has been compared.
“I feel like his potential is through the roof,” Iowa linebacker prospect Jack Campbell said of his teammate Van Ness.
If the Bears move for another player in the first round – I have them selecting Ohio State tackle prospect Paris Johnson Jr. – they can still find defensive line talent on Day 2. Chicago is set with picks No. 53 (from Ravens), No. 61 (from Panthers) and No. 64, a cluster of draft capital that offers opportunity.
Poles could potentially package a pair of those picks to move up in the draft and land a player falling from the first round. He can secure three talented prospects to bolster the roster, or even potentially deal down again with a pick and find value later in the draft.
After all, it’s value that has driven the decisions thus far for Poles and the Bears – trusting their own scouting reports, price points and the body of work that forms the transformation of this roster.
As the Bears look towards this draft with hopes of fortifying themselves as a contender, it remains a priority to bolster the defensive line.