Bears News

The Bears’ 5 top positional needs entering the 2024 NFL Draft

1 month agoChris Emma

When the work is complete in late April, the culmination of months to years scouting certain prospects, Ryan Poles and his brass shut the doors of the Bears’ draft rooms and prepare for every possibility.

Poles and the Bears’ executives, scouts and coaches will run through simulations that will have them ready for any scenario to play out – potential trades, prospects to fall and hopes that could become a reality.

NFL executives like Poles will speak publicly this time of year about their desire to select the best player available on the draft board – and that was especially the case for the Bears each of the last two years as they built the foundation of their rebuild. This was a roster in dire need of premium talent, regardless of position.

But the beauty of this opportunity for the Bears is they have a budding roster on the brink of contention and face an NFL Draft that matches top prospects with their remaining positional needs.

After the expectations of selecting quarterback Caleb Williams with the No. 1 overall pick, the Bears have three selections remaining at their disposal – picks Nos. 9, 75 and 122. Poles could very well acquire more draft capital, whether that’s with a trade down or dealing future picks. With that, the Bears can address their five most pressing positional needs with young talent.

Editor’s note: Given the expectation for the Bears to select quarterback Caleb Williams with the No. 1 overall pick this list does not include quarterbacks as a need.

1. Pass rusher

In Montez Sweat, the Bears secured the type of game-changing pass rusher their rising defense was lacking.

Poles dealt away the Bears’ second-round pick for this year’s draft to the Commanders in order to acquire Sweat, then signed him to a four-year, $98-million contract. The 27-year-old Sweat went on to lead both Chicago and Washington in sacks last season as part of a Pro Bowl campaign.

But the Bears need to sharpen their edge rush with the right complement to Sweat. It’s the greatest void for a defense that could be one of the NFL’s best in 2024. Yannick Ngakoue had just four sacks in 13 games before suffering a season-ending injury in December. DeMarcus Walker was an effective rotational player but isn’t a consistently disruptive rusher. Dominique Robinson hasn’t panned out as Poles’ scouts imagined.

Fortunately for the Bears, there are three proven pass rusher prospects available to them with the ninth overall pick. They could very well have their pick between Jared Verse (Florida State), Dallas Turner (Alabama) and Laiatu Latu (UCLA). I have projected Verse as the pick in my mock draft.

Verse would be the ideal complement to Sweat given his physical rushing style. He’s an absolute force with his rushes and can wreak havoc at the next level.

If the Bears pass on a pass rusher in the first round, they may see many of the top prospects are gone by the 75th pick.

2. Wide receiver

With the arrival of six-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Keenan Allen alongside top target DJ Moore, the Bears have less of a need at this position. But they can go enhance this unit in the draft.

If the Bears don’t select a pass rusher with the ninth pick, it’s likely because they landed a wide receiver instead. The top of their draft board will feature many of these prized prospects who happen to fit their top two needs for the roster.

The Bears can turn their dynamic tandem at wide receiver into a formidable trio by selecting Malik Nabers (LSU) or Rome Odunze (Washington) with the ninth pick. However, there is an intriguing option available to land coveted target Marvin Harrison Jr.

The Bears could seek to trade up with the Patriots (No. 3 overall pick), a team in the beginning of a rebuilding process. In doing so, they would jump in front of the Cardinals (No. 4 overall pick), who are most likely to select Harrison early in this draft.

But the Bears would be thrilled with either Nabers or Odunze, each stars at the collegiate level capable of transforming the offense for a young quarterback like Williams.

3. Defensive tackle

To become a truly great defense, the Bears must form greater depth on their defensive line.

While the Bears found their nose tackle in Andrew Billings and have a pair of rising players in Gervon Dexter Sr. and Zacch Pickens, they still need more for their defensive line. Coach Matt Eberflus needs to have his relentless 3-technique defensive tackle this season.

The Bears could well go away from pass rushers and wide receivers in the first round in order to select a defensive tackle like Jer’Zhan Newton (Illinois) or Byron Murphy (Texas). It wouldn’t be the sexy selection but it’s one that will greatly improve Eberflus’ defensive identity.

Day 2 of the draft may feature some interesting defensive line prospects – that’s where Dexter and Pickens were selected last year – but the great defensive tackles have gone at a premium over the last several offseasons.

The best defenses in the NFL have strong depth for their defensive lines. The Bears need to solidify that.

4. Tackle

In Poles’ first draft two years ago, the Bears found an unheralded tackle prospect out of Southern Utah named Braxton Jones. He wasn’t on the scouting radar of many, but Poles and his brass believed Jones could be a starting left tackle in this league.

Jones played in every snap his rookie season in 2022 and started in 11 games last season while limited due to a neck injury. Ever since he was selected, Jones was plugged into a starting role. But now in his third NFL season, he will be challenged to lock down that role.

Jones ranked 35th among 65 NFL tackles last season in Pro Football Focus grades. He has proven to be a good starter, but even Poles has admitted that the Bears will seek competition if it’s the right move.

The Bears would certainly be drawn to Joe Alt (Notre Dame) if he fell to the ninth pick, though that doesn’t seem likely. Olu Fashanu (Penn State) or Tailese Fuaga (Oregon State) are also options in the first round.

At the very least, the Bears should seek a developmental tackle prospect in the later rounds. That’s what they landed in selecting Jones two years ago.

5. Safety

Entering this offseason, the Bears were intent on parting ways with seven-year starting safety Eddie Jackson. He had just turned 30 and dealt with a rash of injuries. The cruel business of the NFL that caught up to Jackson.

But the Bears didn’t have an in-house replacement ready to step in at safety alongside Jaquan Brisker. It led them to signing former All-Pro safety Kevin Byard, who has enjoyed an accomplished career but is actually older than Jackson.

The Bears should seek a developmental safety prospect in this draft with the hopes that he could ultimately ascend Byard as the starter in their secondary. This isn’t a glaring need given that addition of Byard, but it’s one that can benefit the Bears’ long-term projections on defense.

New No. 1

After signing his contract extension last month, Jaylon Johnson declared a goal of his.

“I want to have a yellow jacket,” Johnson said. “I want to be the best 33 to wear the jersey. I have those types of goals and aspirations. With that and to get a yellow jacket, you got to be consistently great. For me, that’s my goal.”

That goal has taken a singular shift as Johnson will change his jersey number from No. 33 to 1.

Johnson will claim the jersey number previously worn by quarterback Justin Fields – giving up the famed No. 33 that was worn by franchise great cornerback Charles ‘Peanut’ Tillman. The Bears have yet to formally unveil their new jersey numbers, which include those for players like Allen, Byard and D’Andre Swift.

Johnson should very well expect to be the Bears’ best player to ever wear No. 1 on his jersey. That group includes Lee Artoe, Jimmy Conzelman, Jeff Jaeger, Oscar Johnson, Jake Lanum, Mike Nugent, Cody Parkey, Fields and now Johnson.

More changes inside Halas Hall

Bears president/CEO Kevin Warren spent much of his first year on the job overseeing operations at Halas Hall, conducting thorough interviews with each team employee and taking inventory on operations.

April 17 marks one full year on the job for Warren and he has concluded his first full year with some significant changes to the Bears’ organizational structure.

This week, Warren announced the hirings of Krista Whitaker as EVP of Legal and Business Affairs & Chief Legal Officer and Andrea Zopp as Senior Advisor, Legal and Business Affair. The Bears also promoted Liz Geist to the role of Executive Vice President of People and Culture & Chief Human Resources Officer.

In early March, the Bears promoted Karen Murphy to Executive Vice President of Stadium Development & Chief Operating Officer, then Corey Ruff to Senior Vice President of Strategy and Analytics & Chief of Staff. Warren also completed hires of Meka White Morris as Executive Vice President of Revenue & Chief Business Officer and Tanya Dreesen as Senior Vice President of Strategy and Global Affairs & Chief of Staff.

The Bears are expected to make more changes to their executive staffs in the coming weeks as Warren rebuilds operations at Halas Hall to his own vision.

Back to work

Year 3 for Eberflus begins in earnest Monday at Halas Hall as the Bears kick off their offseason program.

The first phase of the offseason program lasts two weeks and is limited to meetings, strength & conditioning work in addition to rehabilitation. The second phase allows for on-field workouts.

OTAs will be conducted May 20-21, May 23, May 28-29 and May 31. Veteran minicamp will be held June 4-6. With the Bears set to play in the Hall of Fame Game on Aug. 1, training camp is expected to begin in mid-July.

The new season isn’t too far away.

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