Lessons From Ryan Poles’ first two drafts

| April 9th, 2024

Ryan Poles is just a few days away from running his 3rd NFL draft for the Chicago Bears. Now that we have two years of draft history to go on, let’s dive in to see what lessons might apply for 2024.

Targets athletes

The first and most clear trend is that Ryan Poles likes to draft athletic players. We see this through a few different metrics:

  • Relative Athletic Scores (RAS): This scales athletes on overall athleticism from 0-10, with 5 being average, 9 being the 90th percentile, etc.
    • Through 2 seasons, the average Poles draft pick has had an RAS score of 8.6, in the 86th percentile for their position, and that increases to over 9 – top 10% of athleticism – if you look only at picks from Days 1 & 2.
    • Overall, only 1 of 13 players drafted in the first 5 rounds have had an RAS below 8, indicating they are not in the top 20% of athletes at their position.
      • Side note: S Elijah Hicks and P Trenton Gill, both 7th round picks, did not test to qualify for RAS, so they are excluded from the numbers above.
  • Athleticism Score: This athleticism metric from Next Gen Stats is less clear about how it is calculated, but generally is grouped from 50-99, with 50s being below average, 60s average, 70s + 80s above average, and 90s elite in terms of overall athleticism.
    • Of the 16 players with an athleticism score published on their NFL draft profile, 15 have a score above 70, indicating they are above average. Once again, this trend is even stronger if you look only at the higher and more meaningful picks, as all 13 players drafted in the first 5 rounds score in the 70s or 80s.
    • Overall, the average athleticism score is a 76.
      • This data set is missing a host of 6th-7th rounders: S Kendall Williamson, S Elijah Hicks, P Trenton Gill, DT Travis Bell, and C Doug Kramer

To be fair, most of the high draft picks in the NFL are athletic players. Thus, this lesson doesn’t really tell us specific names the Bears might target. But it does let us look for players at need positions the Bears might avoid.

The overwhelming majority of players projected to go in the top 2 rounds have a high RAS, but there are a few highly rated guys who aren’t super athletic, like DE Darius Robinson (3.97 RAS) or C Zach Frazier (6.46 RAS), and it seems unlikely the Bears will be interested in a player like that.

Once you start to get into the middle rounds, there are more guys who aren’t great athletes, and I will be surprised to see the Bears target anybody from this list of mid-round players at positions of need:

Not afraid to trade

Through 2 drafts, Poles has pulled off 8 trades that involved pick swaps. In 7 of those, he moved down to create extra picks, which seems to be his preference. Given that the Bears currently only have 4 draft picks for this year, I anticipate we will see him trade down at least once to pick up extra selections, and I won’t be shocked to see multiple trade downs.

The Bears’ pre-draft actions also hint that they are heavily considering trading down early in the draft. Teams are limited to bringing in 30 players for pre-draft visits, and the Bears have used several of them on players projected to go in the 20-50 range despite not currently having a pick between 9 and 75.

  • OT JC Latham (20th on consensus big board)
  • C Jackson Powers-Johnson (25th)
  • C Graham Barton (27th)
  • DE Chop Robinson (28th)
  • OT Tyler Guyton (30th)
  • WR Xavier Worthy (35th)
  • C Zach Frazier (47th)

That’s a whole lot of players – more than 20% of their allotted visits – who are projected to go in a range where the Bears have no picks, which indicates to me they are seriously considering trading back from the 9th pick.

To be fair, Chicago has also done their homework on potential fits if they stick at number 9, as they’ve brought in with players ranked 5th (WR Malik Nabers), 6th (WR Rome Odunze), 8th (Dallas Turner), and 10th (Brock Bowers) on the consensus big board. My guess is that the Bears will have 1-2 guys they would take at pick 9 if they are available, but otherwise will look to trade back a bit and pick up an extra pick or two in the draft.

It’s also worth noting that Poles also showed a willingness to move up in the draft for a guy he covets last year, when he gave up a 4th round pick to move from 61 to 56 and secure CB Tyrique Stevenson. Given the small number of picks this year, a trade up seems less likely, but Poles could get creative and look to move up with 2025 draft capital. They currently have an extra 2nd round pick for next year, and that could be packaged with pick 122 this year to get into the 2nd round (this is what the Bears did to trade up for WR Anthony Miller in 2018).

Double dipping 

Another trend we’ve seen clearly through Poles’ first two drafts is the willingness to draft 2 or even 3 players at the same position.

  • In 2022, he selected S Jaquan Brisker in the 2nd round, and then S Elijah Hicks in the 7th.
  • In 2022, he selected 3 interior offensive linemen – Zachary Thomas, Doug Kramer, and Ja’Tyre Carter – in the 6th and 7th rounds.
  • In 2023, he took DT Gervon Dexter in round 2, DT Zacch Pickens in round 3, and DT Travis Bell in round 7.
  • In 2023, he  took CB Tyrique Stevenson in round 2 and CB Terell Smith in round 5.

It’s hard to envision a double dip this year with only 4 picks, but if they pick up a few extra selections via trade down, then it could be a real possibility. The two positions I could see that most realistically happening at are DE and WR. In both cases, the Bears need another starter, which could prompt a high pick, and there’s also room for a later pick to push for a roster spot against pretty weak depth.

Once again, the Bears have already hinted at this possibility. Head coach Matt Eberflus was caught on mic telling Ryan Poles they should “take two of them” while watching defensive linemen work out at the Combine.

Defensive (over)investment

Another clear trend we see is that Poles loves to invest in defense early in the draft. Five of his seven day 1-2 picks have been spent on defenders, despite the Bears having just as many (if not more) offensive needs over the last two years. This trend has carried over to veteran signings as well, where the Bears have handed out significantly more money to the defense ($115M/year, $226M guaranteed) than offense ($58M/year, $89M guaranteed).

This is what happens when you double down on a defensive head coach who likes to run a simple scheme that requires high level players to work (rather than winning schematically), and I fully expect the trend to continue in 2024. Outside of QB, which is obviously going to be the #1 pick, Chicago has 2 clear holes in their current starting lineup: WR3 (currently Tyler Scott) and DE2 (currently DeMarcus Walker). I fully expect them to prioritize defensive end as being more important. Depending on how they view Gervon Dexter, they might also see 3-technique defensive tackle as a huge need as well.

Wrapping it up

In short, here are the four main lessons we have learned from Ryan Poles’ first two drafts:

  • He only wants to draft plus athletes.
  • He likes to trade down to accumulate more picks.
  • He likes spending multiple picks on one need.
  • He generally invests more in the defense than the offense.

The last three trends all seem to be aligning nicely, in my view. If Ryan Poles trades back from pick 9, he will be in range to invest a first round pick on a pass rusher (DEs like Jared Verse or Chop Robinson or DTs like Byron Murphy or Johnny Newton feel like possible targets), and then have extra picks he can spend to further bolster the pass rush later in the draft.

There is no saying for sure how the draft will unfold – I am sure the Bears’ ultimate action at 9 depends on what happens between picks 2 and 8 – but my read of Poles’ draft history, plus Chicago’s moves so far this offseason – makes me think that is his plan A.

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2024 Bears Offseason Primer: Rounding Out the Roster

| February 16th, 2024

The Super Bowl is behind us, and the NFL offseason has officially arrived. Now is the favorite time of year for fans of downtrodden teams like the Bears. Over the next few months, every team will magically turn their weaknesses into strengths and enter training camp with hopes of playing in next years’ Super Bowl — if you don’t believe me, just survey each fanbase in July.

The Bears might not be Super Bowl contenders in 2024, but they took a clear step forward in 2023 and have the resources to improve the roster this offseason, setting up another step in the right direction next fall. But before we get into the whirlwind of draft prep (the Combine starts February 26) and free agency (starts March 13), it’s worth taking a look at where the roster currently stands. Let’s examine:

  • What the Bears’ depth chart looks like as of today
  • Which Chicago impact players are set to hit free agency
  • What Chicago’s salary cap situation looks like
  • Bears players that could be considered for cuts or extensions

Current Depth Chart

Let’s start by looking at who the Bears currently have under contract for 2024. This is based on the 53 players currently signed as of February 7, sorted loosely into what a depth chart would look like below.

A few thoughts:

  • This looks much better than the version I did at a comparable time just a year ago, but it still needs quite a bit of work before it’s truly become a good roster.
  • The most notable weaknesses that jump out are WR2, WR3, and C, where the current ‘starting’ players are clearly not starting-caliber.
    • I would also argue CB needs some work, as I would feel a lot better about Terell Smith as the top backup than a starter.
    • Still, this is a much shorter list than last year, when I said the Bears needed to add 11 starters.
  • Beyond that, improved competition for starters and/or rotational depth is needed at RB, TE, interior OL (G/C),  DE, DT, and S.
  • The Bears still lack in top-level players. Their only All-Pro from a year ago, Jaylon Johnson, is slated to be a free agent, and they lack difference makers. I count DJ Moore, Teven Jenkins, and Montez Sweat as high-level players, with the Bears hoping youngsters like Darnell Wright, Gervon Dexter, Tyrique Stevenson, Kyler Gordon, and Jaquan Brisker can rise to that level in due time.

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Bears Should Move on from Matt Eberflus

| January 3rd, 2024

Chicago’s season will come to a close in Green Bay on Sunday, when the Bears will finish without a winning record for the 5th season in a row and 10th time in the last 11 years. Since the Bears are already out of the playoff race, the game itself is fairly inconsequential for them, but the offseason that follows it will be hugely important, as Chicago will have to decide whether to stay the course or make a change at both head coach and quarterback.

I already examined Chicago’s decision about Fields yesterday, so today I want to take a look at head coach Matt Eberflus. The decision on Eberflus will actually come first, as the Bears will likely officially announce whether he is fired or returning for 2024 in the 1st half of next week.

In-season turnaround

Through the 1st four weeks of the season, the Bears were 0-4, had been outscored by 62 points, and looked like one of the worst teams in the NFL. Since then, they are 7-5, have outscored their opponents by 57 points, and look like a dangerous team. It’s a real credit to Eberflus that he kept the team focused and resilient so they could bounce back from their disastrous start to the season.

However, there are 2 points to consider here:

  1. If Eberflus deserves praise for the Bears’ good stretch starting in week 5, then he also deserves significant blame for their 0-4 start. Why did it take a month for his team to look like they belonged in the NFL?
  2. It’s also worth noting that Chicago has faced a remarkably easy schedule this year.
    • Their opponents cumulatively have a win % of 0.461, which is the 4th easiest schedule in the NFL.
    • When the Bears have played decent teams, they have really struggled, posting a 1-7 record against teams who are currently .500 or better.
    • To be fair, 4 of those games were the 0-4 stretch to start the season (though 3 of those 4 teams are exactly .500 right now, so not exactly stellar), but the Bears are still 1-3 against .500 or better teams since then, compared to 6-2 against sub-.500 teams in the same stretch.

Defensive Improvement

The other main point in Eberflus’ favor is that Chicago’s defense has gotten really good since he took over calling plays. It took a few weeks for him to find his footing, as Eberflus took control of the defense in week 2 but the turnaround didn’t start until week 5. From weeks 1-4, Chicago’s defense gave up 29 points/game (which would be 31st in the NFL over the full season) and ranked 31st in expected points added (EPA) and 26th in success rate. Since week 5, Chicago’s defense has given up 17.4 points/game (which would be 3rd in the NFL over the full season) and ranked 3rd in EPA and 6th in success rate.

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Bears Should Move on from Justin Fields

| January 2nd, 2024

The Bears still play one more game this season, but not much is riding on it. They’ve already been eliminated from the playoffs and locked in the #1 pick in the draft thanks to their offseason trade with the Carolina Panthers. Beating Green Bay to keep them out of the playoffs on Sunday would be fun, but it doesn’t ultimately matter for the Bears’ future.

Accordingly, it’s time to shift attention to the monumental offseason that Chicago faces. The Bears are in a great position right now. They showed in 2023 that they are ready to compete, yet they also hold two 2024 1st round draft picks – including the aforementioned 1st overall pick – and have significant salary cap space (currently slotted for $62M, 8th most in the NFL, but both of those numbers will change significantly as teams make cuts and sign players to extensions).

Chicago has all the ingredients of a team poised to become a significant factor in the NFC over the next few seasons, provided they utilize their resources at hand well. That work will begin this offseason with two franchise-altering decisions: what to do at quarterback and head coach. I want to examine both of those decisions this week, starting with QB Justin Fields today and moving to head coach Matt Eberflus tomorrow.

Justin Fields Has Clearly Improved

Let’s start by noting that Fields has made clear improvements as a passer each season, as you can see in the table below.

A quick glance at these stats shows that Fields has developed into roughly a league average passer this year, though he still takes sacks at a higher than average rate. When you factor in his rushing ability, that has real value. Fields has shown that he is clearly a starting QB in the NFL.

QB Comparison

With that in mind, let’s compare Fields directly to his peers. While the table above looked at all passes thrown in the NFL this year, the table below shows how Fields compares only to the 31 QBs who have thrown the ball at least 230 times. His ranks compared to these peers are shown in parentheses, and any ranks in the top 25% are highlighted in green, while any in the bottom 25% are highlighted in red. A few notes:

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Self-Scouting Luke Getsy’s 2022 Play Calling

| August 2nd, 2023

The Bears’ offense was one of the worst in the NFL in 2022 for a variety of reasons. I have already highlighted issues with personnel on the offensive line, running back, and wide receiver, and looked in depth at some of the ways quarterback Justin Fields struggled in his sophomore campaign.

Today I want to take a closer look at play caller Luke Getsy to see what we can learn about how he masked and/or contributed to Chicago’s struggles. With that in mind, I looked at how Chicago’s play calling compared to the rest of the NFL at difference down and distance scenarios. All statistics are from Pro Football Reference’s Game Play Finder.

Two quick important notes:

  • In order to keep game situation from skewing the data, I only looked at the first three quarters.
  • I also explored data only between the 20s to avoid field position impacting the play calls and how defenses played.

1st Down

Let’s start with a look at 1st down, which is about the most neutral situation an offense can be in. The table below shows how frequently and effectively the Bears ran and passed the ball compared to their NFL peers. Chicago’s rank is shown, and any values in the top 25% are highlighted in green, while those in the bottom 25% are highlighted in red.

A few thoughts:

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Thoughts from 07/29 practice

| July 29th, 2023

I had the chance to attend Bears practice today, and wanted to share a few observations.

Before we go too far, here’s your obligatory reminder not to read too much into one unpadded practice in the early days of training camp. None of these observations are meant to be absolutes about what is going to happen this season.

With that out of the way, let’s get down to it.


  • I’ll start with Justin Fields, who is far and away the most interesting Bear this year. I spent more time watching him than I should have, and thought it was a mixed bag overall.
    • First the good: Fields was totally in control during team drills. The 1st string offense seemed to dominate their red zone 11 on 11 session (though I didn’t have a great view of it), and they were 2 for 2 in two minute drills to end practice, including consistently getting the ball snapped with about 30 seconds left on the clock when . I especially loved seeing Fields rip a quick slant to Claypool right at the top of his drop to pick up an easy 15 yards. He needs to really improve in the quick game this year, so that play – while not a huge highlight – was my favorite of the day.
    • Now the bad: in all of the QB drills where they were throwing the ball into nets with no defenders present, Fields kept doing a double or triple clutch before letting the ball fly. That’s an issue in the quick game, and I’d like to see him just get the ball out quicker in those situations to practice what it should look like in a game. His accuracy on short passes was also not super consistent, which has also been an issue through his first 2 NFL seasons.
  • One other QB I was interested in seeing was undrafted rookie Tyson Bagent, who is making the jump to the NFL out of division 2 Shepherd. The ball has a really nice spin coming out of his hands, and his accuracy on short and medium passes was quite solid, but his lack of arm strength really showed up on anything deep. He also looked really skinny next to the other QBs, so if he sticks around on the practice squad this year, he’ll need to spend some serious time in the weight room and improve his arm strength to have any chance at making it in the NFL.
  • The Bears did a lot of red-zone work, and Robert Tonyan kept showing up everywhere. He was on the field with the 1st and 2nd string offenses, and was probably their most targeted player. I’m not sure if that was just a product of the day or a sign that they want to feature him as a red zone weapon.
    • The red zone sessions also featured a ton of motion, which was great to see. It’s something that provides the offense with an advantage, and it’s something that the Bears didn’t use much of last year, but almost every play in 11-on-11 and 7-on-7 featured somebody motioning before the snap.
    • They also had a lot of designed QB runs in the red zone session, and not just with Justin Fields. PJ walker and the 2nd string offense had a good number of them too. I expect that will be a real part of their red zone offense this season.

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Offseason Optimism and Concern: Defense

| July 26th, 2023

Training camp is that magical time of year when every NFL fan can have exactly what they want. If you are an optimist who wants to believe your favorite team is going to be good, there’s plenty of reason for hope. If you get your jollies on being negative (you know who you are), it’s not hard to find something to be pessimistic about.

Regardless of which side of the fence you fall on, today’s article will have something for you. Let’s go through the roster position-by-position and identify why you should be hopeful and why you should be concerned. We did the offense yesterday, so today will focus on the defense.

Defensive Line

Reason for hope: Uhhh… this isn’t exactly an easy place to start. I guess it can’t be worse than last year, when the pass rush was arguably the worst the NFL has seen in the last five years after trading Robert Quinn away midseason. The Bears return Justin Jones and Trevis Gipson, who are both capable but not dominant players, and invested in a whole host of players between free agency (DeMarcus Walker, Andrew Billings, Rasheem Green) and the draft (Gervon Dexter, Zacch Pickens). Dexter in particular has a ton of physical tools and earned rave reviews throughout offseason practices, and could be a rookie who surprises. This group probably won’t be great at rushing the passer, but they don’t have to be to still be effective and help the Bears have a competent defense (as DBB’s Andrew Dannehy pointed out a few weeks ago).

Cause for concern: Barring a rookie stepping up in a big way, nobody on the roster even remotely resembles a top-level starter that can produce while drawing extra defensive attention. At best, this defensive line is a bunch of secondary pieces who can hopefully hold up against the run, but won’t offer much else. You know it’s bad when Terrell Lewis – who enters his 4th NFL season with 6 career sacks and is switching from LB to DE this offseason – drew the most hype of any defensive lineman during OTAs.


Reason for hope: The Bears signed two of the best linebackers available on the free agent market in Tremaine Edmunds and TJ Edwards. Both are solid all-around players who can defend the run and the pass, and they are just entering their primes as they prepare for their 5th NFL season. The depth behind them is pretty solid too, as Jack Sanborn impressed as a rookie last year and 5th round pick Noah Sewell drew positive reports from OTAs when he ran with the starters while Sanborn was out hurt.

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Offseason Optimism and Concern: Offense

| July 25th, 2023

Training camp is that magical time of year when every NFL fan can have exactly what they want. If you are an optimist who wants to believe your favorite team is going to be good, there’s plenty of reason for hope. If you get your jollies on being negative (you know who you are), it’s not hard to find something to be pessimistic about.

Regardless of which side of the fence you fall on, today’s article will have something for you. Let’s go through the roster position-by-position and identify why you should be hopeful and why you should be concerned. We’ll start today with the offense, and move to the defense tomorrow.


Reason for hope: Justin Fields took a small step forward in Year 2, and now enters Year 3 with a vastly improved supporting cast and familiarity with the offense, both of which are firsts for his NFL career. He fits the criteria for making the leap to superstardom better than any other young QB in the NFL.

Cause for concern: Fields takes a ton of sacks and has really struggled on short and quick passes so far in the NFL. Those passes make up a bulk of a QB’s pass attempts, and there is no guarantee he gets better there. If he can’t improve at the easy stuff, he’s never going to be a quality NFL starter.

Running Back

Reason for hope: Khalil Herbert and D’Onta Foreman are two of the best rushers in the NFL, as they finished 4th and 7th, respectively, in rush yards over expectation in 2022. They are both significantly better runners than David Montgomery, which should improve Chicago’s rushing attack that was already among the best in the NFL.

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Grading the Roster: Defense and Special Teams

| July 20th, 2023

Camp approaches, which means it’s time for me to grade the roster. Like I’ve done the last few years, I’ll grade on a 1-10 scale, with 1 being the worst in the NFL, 10 being the best, and 5 being an average NFL unit. Let’s get right down to it.

Defensive Ends: 1

Key Players: DeMarcus Walker, Trevis Gipson, Rasheem Green, Dominique Robinson

Others: Terrell Lewis, Jalen Harris, Jalyn Holmes, D’Anthony Jones

This group is bad. Like, really bad. The saddest part is that this is still a significant improvement to what they had after trading Robert Quinn away last year, as Walker is clearly better than the departed Al-Quadin Muhammad, and Green improves the depth. Trevis Gipson is a capable rotational pass rusher when he’s not the guy opposing offenses are worried about, so I’m hopeful he can have something of a bounceback 2023.

This position group is the perfect storm of bad veterans and also no rookies to even consider getting excited about. Unless Dominique Robinson takes a massive step up from a disappointing rookie season, this should easily be the worst position group on the roster (and one of the worst overall in the NFL). It’s still possible Ryan Poles finally makes the defensive end signing he’s been teasing at for a few months, but even then the available options will likely take them from awful to bad.

Defensive Tackles: 2

Key Players: Justin Jones, Andrew Billings, Gervon Dexter Sr., Zacch Pickens

Others: Travis Bell, Andrew Brown, Donovan Jeter

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Grading the Roster: Offense

| July 19th, 2023

Camp approaches, which means it’s time for me to grade the roster. Like I’ve done the last few years, I’ll grade on a 1-10 scale, with 1 being the worst in the NFL, 10 being the best, and 5 being an average NFL unit. Let’s get right down to it.

Quarterback: 4

Key Players: Justin Fields, PJ Walker

Others: Nathan Peterman, Tyson Bagent

I should start here by noting that I’m grading based on past production so that I don’t project what I personally think will happen in the future. After a terrible 1st month, Fields more or less spent the bulk of his sophomore campaign as an average passer and elite runner, though he also took a ton of sacks, and a decent number of them were his fault. There is some hope he can make a Year 3 leap towards superstardom, but until he does, it’s hard to rank him much higher than average.

The overall grade gets dinged because of depth; Fields has missed multiple games due to injury in each of his first two seasons, and PJ Walker seems like a less than ideal backup with a career 58% completion rate, 6.4 yards per attempt, and 5 TD to 11 INT. Peterman and Bagent will compete to be the practice squad QB, and we can only hope that we don’t see either of them take a meaningful snap this season.

Running Back: 5

Key Players: Khalil Herbert, D’Onta Foreman, Roschon Johnson

Others: Travis Homer, Trestan Ebner, Khari Blasingame, Robert Burns

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