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Chicago Bears

How Ryan Poles, Bears can strike with ninth pick in NFL Draft

12 months agoChris Emma

Since he was hired as general manager in late January of last year, Ryan Poles has set the Bears on a long course with sustained success as the ultimate destination. They’re only getting started along this winding road.

For the Bears to become the perennial playoff team and a consistent Super Bowl contender, Poles must fulfill on his promise to build through the NFL Draft. As Thursday night nears, with Chicago owning the No. 9 overall pick, the 37-year-old Poles must put his draft plan into action with hopes that these decisions become franchise-altering.

Poles already pulled off a milestone move by trading the No. 1 overall pick to the Panthers in early March, acquiring the No. 9 overall pick, a 2024 first-round selection, a pair of second-round slots and dynamic wide receiver DJ Moore. It was the haul he hoped to find after Year 1 of his rebuilding plan saw the Bears (3-14) bottom out with 10 straight losses to end the season.

Now it’s on Poles to get this draft right and strike the opportunity in place – or else the Bears’ rebuild will be a long, arduous process and the general manager will see the patience afforded to him run thin.

The Bears have not awarded a second contract to any of their own first-round picks since Kyle Fuller, the No. 14 overall pick in 2014. It’s one of the greatest indictments to former general manager Ryan Pace, who failed to deliver on his goals for the Bears largely due to first-round misses. But Pace’s final draft brought Chicago quarterback Justin Fields in a bold trade up to the No. 11 pick in 2021. The 24-year-old Fields is now the prized quarterback that Poles is building around.

Because of the promise Fields displayed last season – showcasing personal growth, a comfort with the new coaching staff and strengthened leadership of the locker room – the Bears were comfortable dealing down from the top pick and bypassing their opportunity to select a new quarterback.

Whether Poles was right in making that decision will not be clear for several years. If Fields falls short of his potential while Bryce Young becomes the next great NFL quarterback, it will be the albatross Poles can never shake off. Pace knows this well after passing on Patrick Mahomes to select Mitchell Trubisky in 2017.

But there’s simply no certainty that comes with the draft. It’s an inexact science that even the most brilliant football minds have never quite figured out. All a general manager like Poles can do is trust the work to this point and hope it pays off.

So, what will Poles and the Bears do with the No. 9 pick as they look down the road towards sustained success? There’s plenty to consider.

Evaluate the trade-down options

In early March, as Poles worked through the table of offers for the top pick in this draft, he strongly considered the possibility of dealing down twice – first with the Texans for the No. 2 overall pick, then again to the Panthers and landing at No. 9. 

The Texans weren’t moving for this trade and the Panthers were offering their package that included Moore, one that Poles and the Bears simply couldn’t pass up. But in the days and hours leading up to this draft, it remains possible that Poles could strike another deal down. This is the first and most pivotal step that the Bears must consider before turning in their card for the ninth pick.

The Bears aren’t just one player away from becoming a contender, which is why another trade down makes sense. Chicago could land draft capital for Day 2 or even potentially a first-round pick in return by dealing down in the first round.

The fascinating dynamic with the top four quarterbacks in this draft – Young, Will Levis, C.J. Stroud and Anthony Richardson – offers important potential for the Bears with the ninth pick. The Panthers seem set in selecting Young with the top pick, while Levis appears like he could land to the Texans with the second pick or even the Colts in the fourth slot. If either Stroud or Richardson falls to the ninth selection, the Bears will have serious suitors for a trade up. 

The Titans (11th pick), Commanders (16th pick), Buccaneers (19th pick) and Ravens (22nd pick) could each be calling looking to make a move with the Bears to select their quarterback of the future. 

Poles and his Bears brass will be watching closely in those first selections with the phonelines open for trade offers. 

But it’s not just the quarterbacks that could leave the Bears with the right opportunity to trade down. The 2022 NFL Draft produced a record nine trades that were made within the first round – and none of those involved a quarterback prospect. 

The Steelers could be interested in trading up from the 17th pick to select the first tackle off the board, and ESPN reported that they have already contacted the Bears. 

Poles said in March that the Bears have “six or seven” prospects with blue-chip grades, meaning they are worth selecting at the top of the draft. If that entire cluster has been eliminated from the draft board with the No. 9 pick, Chicago would be wise to trade down.

Once again, the Bears are open for business for another deal in this first round.

Best player available

At the beginning of the NFL’s free agency period, teams will work to fill their depth chart and address positions of need with players available on the open market. To operate a draft with such an approach would be reckless.

Drafts are the lifeblood of successful organizations – an opportunity to select premium young talents and take chances on perceived potential. It’s why the term “best player available” is so often mentioned by NFL executives. 

Despite the glaring needs of the Bears’ roster, Poles must maintain the best-player-available strategy in selecting for this draft because he knows well that this team has not yet arrived at a position for sustained success. The Bears cannot pass up on a blue-chip prospect because he doesn’t fit an obvious need.

To put this in more direct terms, if the Bears view Illinois cornerback prospect Devon Witherspoon as the top player available on the board for the No. 9 overall pick, they shouldn’t hesitate to select him. Even though Chicago is well set with cornerbacks Jaylon Johnson and Kyler Gordon, Poles shouldn’t pass on the best player available.

Poles has already operated with this strategy in mind as he selected Gordon and safety Jaquan Brisker with his first two selections last year in the second round. The Bears had greater needs on the offensive line and at wide receiver, but Poles believed in the potential of Gordon and Brisker and passed on selecting a lower-rated player at a position of need.

Oregon cornerback prospect Christian Gonzalez is considered near even with Witherspoon in consensus evaluations at their position. Witherspoon is the more polished prospect, an All-American for the Fighting Illini for whom coach Bret Bielema said has “his best football is in front of him.” Meanwhile, Gonzalez is a gifted athlete at cornerback who logged a 4.38 40-time at the NFL Combine. 

The Bears could also consider adding another top target for Fields at wide receiver with Jaxon Smith-Njigba (Ohio State) or Quentin Johnston (TCU). 

However, the Bears are fortunate that some of the top prospects in this class fit for positions of need.

The most likely prospects in play

Through a year of great promise from Fields, there’s also the inescapable reality that the Bears must consider. Their prized young quarterback was sacked 55 times and on 14.7% of his dropbacks. 

At best, Fields and the Bears saw a play break down and their quarterback rise back up to his feet. The worst case would be that this struggling offensive line gets Fields hurt. Addressing the offensive line – and specifically the position of tackle – remains a great priority for Poles and the Bears.

It feels more likely than not that the Bears will select a tackle in the first round. But it’s a matter of which one is the best fit. 

Paris Johnson Jr. was a teammate to Fields at Ohio State, a three-year starter for the Buckeyes who could fill the Bears’ vacancy at tackle for years to come. He met with Poles and Chicago’s draft team at the NFL Combine in March and said it would be an “honor” to block for Fields once again. 

The Bears could prefer Northwestern offensive lineman prospect Peter Skoronski, a Park Ridge native and consensus All-American who is arguably the safest selection to be made in the first round. But Skoronski has drawn criticism from NFL scouts for his arm length, which might force him to become a guard in the league. 

Poles’ brief history in the draft suggests he will be more attracted to prospect potential rather than selecting for a specific positional fit. That means Skoronski is likely high on the Bears’ draft board.

The Bears could find their future at right tackle in Darnell Wright, who would fit well if Poles truly believes in Braxton Jones as a long-term fit at left tackle. Wright is a 6-foot-5, 333-pound prospect who was first-team All-SEC last season at Tennessee. Broderick Jones, a tackle prospect out of Georgia, could be the better fit given how his athleticism fits the Bears’ running scheme.

There’s no clear-cut top tackle available in this draft and that bodes well for the Bears. If they believe in each of these three prospects, Poles can strike a trade down several selections and still come away with the Bears’ future at tackle – all while adding more draft capital for the deal.

The Bears could come away with a sharpened edge rush by drafting Tyree Wilson (Texas Tech) or Lukas Van Ness (Iowa). Wilson seems less likely to be available for the No. 9 pick but the fascinating Van Ness, a Barrington native, should be on the board for Poles to consider.

There are a few other prospects that the Bears have to consider for the ninth pick.

The Carter decision

In March, embattled Georgia defensive lineman prospect Jalen Carter pleaded no contest to the misdemeanor reckless driving charges for his involvement in a fatal January crash. 

Carter will receive 12 months of probation, a $1,000 fine and 80 hours of community service, and he’ll also be required to attend a state-approved defensive driving course, ESPN reported. Carter won’t be sentenced to jail time.

With the legal process for Carter now concluded, NFL teams must consider his character in making a decision on whether to select him. It’s a possibility in play for the Bears.

Poles along with head coach Matt Eberflus and team president Kevin Warren hosted Carter for a visit at Halas Hall in early April, a meeting that Poles said would determine whether he could be a legitimate prospect in play for the Bears. It’s not clear how that visit went and how Poles and his brass are leaning as it relates to Carter’s future.

Carter arrived at his Georgia pro day in March nine pounds overweight and unable to complete drills. Eberflus may not value Carter’s fit for his “HITS Principle,” which leads with Hustle.

Superagent Drew Rosenhaus turned down invitations from teams selecting outside of the top 10 to visit with his client Carter, whom he is confident will selected before that point. The Bears have their own decision to make on whether Carter is worth this pivotal pick.

What about Robinson?

There’s a conventional wisdom in the NFL Draft that says to not select a running back in the first round. Texas star running back prospect Bijan Robinson is great enough to buck that consideration.

Robinson is an all-around running back who rushed for 1,580 yards and 18 touchdowns last season at Texas and could immediately become one of the top backs in the NFL once he’s drafted. It’s worth noting that five of the top 10 leading rushers in the league last season were selected in the first round.

Robinson could become a superstar for the Bears alongside Fields and would instantly transform Chicago’s offense into one of the best in the league. But Robinson doesn’t make much sense for the Bears, who are not yet a contender that can afford the luxury of selecting a first-round running back.

There’s certainly a case to be made for Robinson to be selected by the Bears. It just doesn’t seem likely.

Who will it be for the Bears?

When Poles began assessing the Bears’ roster, he sought significant improvements for the offensive line. With this draft, Poles will make his most important investment in that unit.

There are plenty of promising offensive line prospects available, and careful consideration is needed to sort through the options in play. There’s great possibility in Johnson, Wright and Jones as long-term fits for the Bears’ protection unit.

I believe that the Bears will be drawn to the All-Pro-caliber future of Skoronski and make him the pick. 

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