One of the biggest misconceptions about Ryan Poles’ first NFL Draft is that he didn’t draft for need.
If the Bears didn’t have Kyler Gordon and Jaquan Brisker starting at cornerback and safety last year, who would have been the starters at those positions? Both players were inserted into the starting lineup on their first day. While 2022 third-round pick Velus Jones Jr. never met expectations, there’s no question that wide receiver was also a need. So was the team’s fourth pick, offensive tackle Braxton Jones.
Ryan Poles can talk about taking the best player available all he wants but, looking back, it’s obvious the Bears saw clear needs and used the draft to attempt to fill them.
The confusion regarding those first two picks is a result of perception. Entering the 2022 draft, Bears fans were mostly excited about Thomas Graham Jr. at cornerback and the team had signed veteran slot corner Tavon Young. The team clearly saw it differently as neither Young nor Graham played a snap for the Poles/Matt Eberflus Bears.
So, what does that mean for this year? The Bears will draft for need, but it might not necessarily be the need we’re looking at. At least, not right away.
The public perception is that the team’s biggest need – offensive tackle – will fit nicely with the best players available when they’re picking. But we have no real way of knowing how the Bears view the offensive tackle class. It’s also possible that the Bears think the offensive line scouting talents of Poles and AGM Ian Cunningham will help them uncover some diamonds in the rough later, allowing them to focus on other positions early.
If the Bears don’t go offensive tackle or defensive line, here are a few positions that might — but shouldn’t — surprise you:
The name on the top of my list, of course, is Oregon’s Christian Gonzalez. He’s the total package of size, speed, athleticism and production — but he isn’t the only prospect who could warrant consideration.
Illinois’ Devon Witherspoon has the physicality and ball production the Bears want from their cornerbacks. Penn State’s Joey Porter Jr. is a physical freak — six-foot-three corners with 34-inch arms that can also run a 4.46 don’t typically exist.
We don’t know what the Bears think of Jaylon Johnson, other than they made him earn his starting spot despite being inarguably one of the best players on the roster. Gordon started outside but plays in the slot most of the time. Kindle Vildor and Jaylon Jones both had their moments last year, but the Bears could see an opportunity to create an elite secondary.
It’s not that fans don’t see this position as a need — almost every an mock has the team taking a center in the second or third rounds. But the position could be more valuable to the Bears than we realize.
The question regarding Northwestern’s Peter Skoronski shouldn’t be if he’s a guard or a tackle. It should be if he’s a guard or a center. Skoronski is the total package except, well, his arms are short. Not just short for a tackle, they’re short for a guard — according to MockDraftable, he’d be in the 11th percentile for arm length for guards. It’s worth noting that some considered Skoronski a center as he entered college and center is unquestionably a more important position than guard.
While most fans do see center as a need, don’t be surprised if the Bears see center and guard as needs. Neither Cody Whitehair nor Teven Jenkins are particularly reliable options at the moment. Don’t be surprised if the Bears use two early picks on the interior of the offensive line.
Maybe they view Bijan Robinson as a more versatile version of Adrian Peterson?
The conversation regarding running back value is valid, but there still is something to be said about having a back who can break big runs on any given play. The Minnesota Vikings never regretted using a top-10 pick on Adrian Peterson and 32 NFL decision makers would do the exact same thing tomorrow. Of course, there are no sure things in the draft, which is part of the reason why running backs tend to drop. But we don’t need to go into that never-ending conversation.
The Bears gave D’Onta Foreman a one-year deal and, for some reason, they never really wanted to lean into using Khalil Herbert as more than a change of pace last year. The problem with both is a lack of production in the passing game.
Like with the center position, I don’t think this is something the Bears would do with the ninth pick and maybe not even in the first round. But if we’re looking at potential options further down or in the second round, fans might expect an offensive or defensive lineman, just to see the team take a running back.
Once again, there aren’t any really good options in the first round for this spot, but it’s something the Bears could consider after a trade down or on Day Two of the draft.
The Bears loved what Eddie Jackson gave them last year, but he is about to turn 30 years old and is coming off of a major foot injury. Considering his injury history in college, the Bears can’t really count on Jackson to be a part of their future. Could we see a situation where they draft a player then trade Jackson to a contender, while eating a big chunk of his contract?