Bears take step to solidify offensive line in drafting Tennessee tackle Darnell Wright
LAKE FOREST, Ill. — Darnell Wright was left nearly speechless after hearing his name called to the Bears with the 10th overall pick in this 2023 NFL Draft. But those inside the draft room on the second floor of Halas Hall envisioned this moment all along.
The Bears scouted Wright as a four-year starter and All-SEC tackle at Tennessee, seeing a player with elite athleticism for his size at 6-foot-6 and 333 pounds. Chicago’s scouting brass got a close look at him at the Senior Bowl in January as he played on a team coached by offensive coordinator Luke Getsy. Coach Matt Eberflus and general manager Ryan Poles met with Wright at the NFL Combine in early March, playing a game of darts inside a suite at Lucas Oil Stadium and recognizing his inner drive.
But it wasn’t until the Bears traveled down to Knoxville on April 8 that they truly were solidified on the promise of Wright. At 10:30 a.m. that day, Bears offensive line coach Chris Morgan brought Wright out to a practice field at Tennessee’s football facility and worked him for 15 minutes. And then another 10 minutes. And then 10 more minutes.
Wright said Morgan and the Bears put him through the wringer in that workout.
“He just wanted to see if I’d quit,” Wright said. “And I wouldn’t quit.”
Poles knew then that the trip to Knoxville was worth the effort.
“You’re always looking to be convicted about things,” Poles said. “And that was the final box we were able to check and feel good about it.”
The Bears were able to select the best player available on their board who happened to fit a key need on the depth chart. In Wright, Chicago landed the tackle it has coveted this offseason. Poles backed out on the bidding for prized free-agent tackles Jawaan Taylor (Chiefs) and Mike McGlinchey (Broncos) on Day 1, and the Bears never seemed entirely interested in four-time Pro Bowl tackle Orlando Brown (Bengals).
Poles and the Bears evaluated their tackle options in this draft. Paris Johnson Jr. (Ohio State) was selected by the Cardinals, who traded up to the sixth overall pick. Chicago gave close consideration to Peter Skoronski (Northwestern) and Broderick Jones (Georgia) but it became clear during that workout in Knoxville that the Wright was the top tackle they hoped to select.
Wright projects to start immediately at right tackle for the Bears, solidifying an offensive line that has improved this offseason. Quarterback Justin Fields was sacked on 14.7% of his dropbacks last season and 55 times in total over 15 starts.
“That’s my job to keep him clean,” Wright said. “Amazing quarterback.”
The Bears traded down from the No. 1 overall pick with the Panthers, who sent a package in return to Chicago that included the No. 9 selection. Poles then made another move down one spot to the No. 10 pick, passing on the chance to select embattled Georgia standout defensive lineman Jalen Carter – whom the Eagles sought in swapping picks with the Bears.
Once believed to be the top overall prospect in this draft class, Carter’s draft stock fell after he was issued misdemeanor reckless driving charges for a fatal January crash in Georgia. The Bears hosted Carter for a visit at Halas Hall in early April, one in which they hoped to form a decision on his character.
Ultimately, the Bears were willing to pass on Carter and made their move for Wright. Poles declined to address the team’s perception of Carter and elected to keep the focus on Wright.
“He’s a tone setter who plays with an edge to him,” Poles said. “Which we love.
“A guy that we were comfortable with being the top tackle in the draft.”
Not long after Wright’s name was announced in Kansas City by commissioner Roger Goodell, his phone rang with a call from Halas Hall. Poles first spoke to Wright and he sensed a calm feeling of disbelief from his newest Bear. But as the phone was passed along to Morgan, the excitement raised in Wright’s voice.
Just as the Bears came to believe in what Wright could bring as their top pick, he hoped to find a future playing in Chicago.
“I haven’t even scratched the surface of what I can be,” Wright said. “I think they know that, and I know that.”