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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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The Draft Starts In Mobile!… Next Week

| January 22nd, 2024


With the NFL’s divisional round of the playoffs wrapped up, 28 out of 32 fanbases are free to pivot towards previewing the NFL Draft. And if you know anything about the Reese’s Senior Bowl… you know ‘The Draft Starts in Mobile, Alabama’.

I’m credited to cover the Reese’s Senior Bowl again this year, which means I’ll spend next week watching some of the 2024 NFL Draft Class’s best prospects as they showcase their skills in practice sessions on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.

The Senior Bowl rarely features players sure of their draft status (like last year’s Myles Murphy or this year’s Marvin Harrison Jr), but all kinds of talent will be present next week — last year we saw Darnell Wright, John Michael Schmitz, Keanu Benton, Jayden Reed, Michael Wilson, Tyrique Stevenson, JuJu Brents, and plenty of other soon-to-be high-rounders compete and win throughout the sessions, and I expect to see the same this year.

But if you read this blog consistently, you know that I couldn’t go to Mobile unprepared — I’ve been drinking down as much college film as I can stand to fit into my life over the last two weeks and, throughout this week, will do my best to get you caught up on names I’ve found to watch throughout draft season.

You probably know the big names — players like LSU WR Malik Nabers or Washington WR Rome Odunze need no introduction, but it’s players like:

  • Georgia Z/Slot WR Ladd McConkey
    • One of the nastiest route runners in an already loaded class
  • Texas A&M Z/Slot WR Ainias Smith
    • Heady route runner that blocks like he hates his opponent
  • South Carolina’s massive Z WR Xavier Legette
    • Massive, dynamic athlete with great hands
  • Auburn Free Safety Jaylin Simpson
    • Whose tape I’ve loved
  • Penn State CB Kalen King
    • His tape can be messy, but he’s got all the natural physicality of a Tyrique Stevenson-type plus more agility than most CBs his size
  • Rutgers CB Max Melton
    • Brother of Bo Melton, Max is long, physical, and fast. High-motor player

That may be under your radar right now. They’re the names to know, because they could very well be targets in the key Day 2 rounds (2nd & 3rd) that fuel a draft class’s success.

I’ll be focusing on skill position players this year — practices in Mobile are split, with DBs & WRs in one endzone and OL/DL in the other, so I won’t try to be everywhere at once. As I prep for my trip, I’ll post as many draft cut-ups as I can — if draft prep is starting for me, it might as well start for you too!

Here’s to a great 2024 draft season! Now back to the film room — I’ll see you soon.

Your Turn: What position are you most looking forward to drafting after Round 1?

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Improved Bears, Tired Broadcast: Reflections on the 2023 NFL Draft

| May 1st, 2023


It wasn’t a particularly interesting draft for the Bears, content-wise. They had lots of picks, and lots of needs. They used those picks to address those needs. Simple as that.

But we’ll start with our club.

  • The Bears clearly have two elements required to be a successful franchise: an identity and a plan. They want to be fast and athletic (who doesn’t?) but they also want to be tough. They drafted a whole bunch of tough guys this weekend. Ryan Poles is not going to be swayed by popular perception. He stands pat, he trusts his evaluations, he makes his picks. It’s refreshing to see.
  • As of now, the offensive line looks to be Braxton Jones – Teven Jenkins – Cody Whitehair – Nate Davis – Darnell Wright. Thoughts on this:
    • While many, including myself, wanted to see the Bears select a center, it is quite understandable that they didn’t see the position as a priority. Offensive lines need SOME veteran leadership and outside of Whitehair, the average age on the rest of this line is 24.
    • The offensive line was poor last year, outside of Jones and Jenkins. Ryan Poles has replaced the other three positions.
    • Lucas Patrick and Larry Borom can now fill their appropriate roles, with the former as swing depth inside and the latter as swing depth outside.
  • The Bears were manhandled in the middle of their defensive line throughout the 2022 season. Look at the size they have added inside:
    • Andrew Billings is 6’1, 311
    • Rasheem Green is 6’4, 279
    • Demarcus Walker is 6’4, 280
    • Gervon Dexter is 6’6, 312
    • Zacch Pickens is 6’4, 300
  • There is no reason to get overexcited about day three selections, but running backs tend to be the exception. And the Bears are wild about Roschon Johnson. Don’t be surprised if they give this kid an opportunity to be their starting running back.
  • Tyler Scott is a speed addition, protection for Velus Jones’ struggles in 2022. Does this mean Velus’ roster spot is tenuous? It might. If Scott shows he can steal those jet sweeps and go routes, while also contributing on specials, Velus could find himself looking for a home this summer.
  • The Bears are improved on both lines, hypothetically. If the hypothesis becomes fact, they’ll be playing meaningful football in December.

As for the rest of the league…

Read More …

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